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'Earnest' delivers opportunities

May 2014

For the last mainstage show of the 2013-2014 season, the St. Ambrose University Theatre Department mounted a production of Oscar Wilde's comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a rousing, romantic escapade that dishes up scathing social satire that made it one of the most cherished plays in the English language.

The actors used stylish Victorian courtship and manners as the charming bachelors Jack (sophomore Jordan McGinnis) and Algernon (junior Chris Galvan) led double lives to woo two young ladies, Gwendolyn (sophomore Shannon Rourke) and Cecily (junior Brooke Schelly), who have won their hearts. The men are caught in their lies by Gwendolyn's mother, Lady Bracknell (Broadway director Philip Wm. McKinley) and the stage was set for clever manipulations and hilarious confusion. Cecily's teacher, Miss Prism (sophomore Becca Brazel) and the Reverend Chasuble (sophomore Jonathan JJ Johnson) are also in on the fun, as well as Algernon's servant, Lane (freshman Jackson Green) and Jack's servant, Merriman (freshman Nick Pearce).

The company had the wonderful opportunity of working with McKinley, who is often referred to as "Spidey Doc" after being credited with saving Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark on Broadway. After his taking of the reins, the production earned the top box office record, taking in nearly $3 million dollars in one week. He has also credited with directing the five-time Tony nominated Broadway musical, The Boy from Oz, starring Hugh Jackman, and the 128th-133rd and 135th editions of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's The Greatest Show on Earth. Mr. McKinley was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2012 by Augustana College, Rock Island, and delivered the graduation commencement address that same year. McKinley also received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the Augustana Alumni Association for the 2012-2103 academic year.

Not surprisingly, the cast thought it was a huge honor and wonderful opportunity to act with someone such a background as McKinley's.

"Working with Phil McKinley was such a great experience," said Schelly. "I learned so much working with him onstage as well as watching him from offstage. He is a fantastic actor."

"Working with Mr. McKinley was an experience unparalleled by any of my other theater experiences," said junior Meghan McLaughlin, stage manager. "Working with him challenged me to be a stage manager I didn't know existed. I learned a tremendous amount about how important patience is to stage managing a show."

The show was extremely well-attended in the transformed Allaert stage. The stage was adapted to provide seating on three sides of the playing area (a thrust configuration). The number of seats was more limited, but it also provided the wonderful opportunity for the audience to have more of an intimate connection to the show. The seating was packed each performance and between the three productions (April 11-13), 508 people attended.

After the Sunday matinee, a respondent from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) critiqued the show as well as chose two nominees to participate in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition, a national acting competition hosted at KCACTF each year. Schelly and Brazel were chosen for their portrayals of Cecily Cardew and Miss Prism, respectively. They will join sophomore Shannon Rourke and junior Chris Galvan, who were nominated from SAU's production of The Laramie Project.

Congratulations to Brooke and Becca for their nominations and to the SAU Theatre Department on an extremely successful production!

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