The Importance of Being Earnest Director Stephen Wrentmore on Adapting Oscar Wilde

Tim Fuller
Stephen Wrentmore takes a less realistic approach to Victorian England.
Director Stephen Wrentmore brings one of Oscar Wilde's most beloved comedic plays, The Importance of Being Earnest, to Phoenix's Herberger Theater Center starting Thursday, October 10, as the season's opener. Judging from Tucson audiences' reception, it's sure to be a hysterical show.

Although the Arizona Theatre Company director is a longtime Wilde fan and has directed more than 50 different productions around the world in his career, this is the Cambridge Univeristy grad's first time directing a Wilde play. His production, set in a not-quite realistic Victorian England, features Anneliese van der Pol of That's So Raven fame as Gwendolen Fairfax and Tucson native Mike Lawler as Doctor Chasuble. Wrentmore spoke to Jackalope Ranch about what his version does differently than others, preparing his actors for Wilde's British subtleties, and the importance of theater for everyone.

See also: Ruthless! The Musical Is a Crafty Campathon at Phoenix Theatre

How did you get into the theater and directing world?
I sort of did what I think lots of kids do -- when I saw theatre, I saw actors so I thought that was what I'm going to be, until I realized that I was a terrible actor. At university, I kind of started directing and then I went on to do a masters in directing at a grad school in London and before I even graduated I got my first directing job and I've been doing it ever since.

What other projects have you directed?
I usually try do new plays or classics... I usually don't get to do comedies because once you start doing things like MacBeth or Hamlet, those are the plays that you tend to get offered. One of the joys of having a job within a theatre company, you get directing opportunities in a lot of different ways. It's been a real pleasure to get to come and direct a comedy. It's the first time I've done it in a number of years.

Who's your favorite playwright?
Howard Barker.

Courtesy of the Arizona Theatre Company.
What did you want to focus on in bringing this classic Oscar Wilde play to the stage?
I wanted to get the sense of playfulness, I wanted to get the celebration of language and I wanted to make sure that what happens when you experience Oscar Wilde, particularly when I'm working with American actors, is getting the technicalities of the accent.

How has it been received in Tucson so far?
The audiences are loving it. There's a huge sense of affection from them... Basically ongoing laughter and standing ovations. We've got huge special effects in the second half that's getting a round of applause every night, which is really reassuring.

Location Info


Herberger Theater Center

222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix, AZ

Category: General

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