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Theater group presents comedy next weekend

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Ochoco Players Community Theatre to perform a parody of Victorian high society March 17-19

HOLLY SCHOLZ - The four lead roles in "The Important of Being Earnest" rehearse a romantic scene earlier this week. Pictured left to right, Tristan Rosenau, Brin McAtee-Rosenau, Sarah Ebey and Jason Jones.

If you enjoy theater, plays on words and double meanings, then you will definitely want to see local thespians when they take to the stage next week to perform a Victorian-era comedy.

Ochoco Players Community Theatre will present "The Importance of Being Earnest" at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17-18 and in a matinee performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 19 at the Bowman Museum Community Center.

Director Lexie Tombleson said the play, written by Oscar Wilde in 1895, is a parody.

"Oscar Wilde loved to poke fun at the English society of his time," she said.

It is set in the Victorian era in the middle to late 1800s and tells the story of two young ladies who are of marriageable age, and they each want to marry a man named Ernest.

"They think that the name Ernest is just the most important thing in their choice of a future husband," Tombleson said. "So, you can see that here we have Oscar Wilde poking fun at the priorities and the thinking patterns of Victorian society."

Producer Tiina Allas says, "We haven't changed all that much. Mothers still want their daughters to marry well."

Tombleson agrees, adding, "The same things they were poking fun at in Victorian England apply today — how people just want to keep up appearances."

The two-hour play is the longest the Ochoco Players has produced in recent years and includes three acts with a short intermission.

Tombleson said she is absolutely up to directing the full-length play.

"We have a great cast — very enthusiastic," she said.

A couple of Ochoco Players members suggested "The Importance of Being Earnest" for their annual spring production, and enough actors auditioned to be able to have a full cast.

"When I reread the play — I hadn't read it for years — I fell in love with it all over again," Tombleson said.

The performance includes nine actors — four lead roles, three supporting roles and two with just a few lines — ranging in age from 18 to mid-60s.

"It's a great play in that respect because it's not a huge cast, and yet it's large enough that you can have people who are experienced, people who are less experienced or maybe don't have the time, and then you have a couple of roles that are ideal for beginning actors that won't be too taxing, and yet it's still fun for them," Tombleson said.

As the producer, Allas gets to find all of the interesting props and costumes.

"It's an aspect of theater that I really enjoy," she says.

Allas knows every thrift store in a 100-mile radius, she laughed, and her budget is "cheap." She added that it's challenging to find Victorian-era props, but they have borrowed items from local antique collectors.

"Home Beautiful Oregon is loaning us furniture, as well as there will be items of furniture missing from each of our homes for the next few days," Tombleson laughed.

Aside from directing, Tombleson also has a small acting role, appearing briefly in the first and third acts.

Another cast member, Sarah Ebey, also serves as the "costume mistress" and as the expert on Victorian manners and customs.

"She's been very helpful in not only making beautiful costumes for us but helping us with period-correct blocking," Tombleson said.

Ebey, who was homeschooled, calls herself a bit of a nerd and is fascinated with books by Victorian-era authors.

"Reading about a time when there were expectations, but the expectations also kept everyone on very good terms with each other because you were required to be polite all the time. I find that fascinating — and they wore way prettier clothes than we do," Ebey laughs. "I really, really enjoy the sense of keeping something beautiful alive 100 years from when it used to be in vogue."

She also loves to sew and makes some costumes from scratch while altering others that she often finds at thrift stores.

"This is not going to be 100 percent authentic because we did cheat, I mean, obviously she's not wearing a real corset, and neither will I be, but we're going for the feel more than the authenticity," Ebey said, while fellow actor Tristan Rosenau quipped, "She likes breathing."

Ebey plays one of the lead female roles — that of Cecily Cardew. Jason Jones portrays Algernon Moncrieff, the play's second bachelor hero.

Brin McAtee-Rosenau plays the other lead lady, Gwendolen Fairfax. The male lead that is paired with Gwendolen is Tristan Rosenau, McAtee-Rosenau's husband, playing the protagonist, Jack/Ernest Worthing.

"This is our first time being leads and romantic leads with each other," McAtee-Rosenau said, adding that they were in theater in high school and college. "Our characters have been dating for quite some time, and she's like, 'When is he going to ask me to marry to him?' I'm in love with the name Ernest. It's all about the name. I couldn't marry a man with another name."

Admission to the play is by donation, which will not only cover the expenses of producing "The Importance of Being Earnest," but will provide seed money for future productions, including one they plan for the fall.

The thespians hope their audiences will enjoy the subliminal humor of "The Importance of Being Earnest."

"It's very fast-paced, very witty, and it's very engaging to the audience," Tombleson says. "That's what I look for in plays — where the audience feels like they are going on the journey with the cast and having a good time."