CenterPoint Legacy Theatre has a black little secret that is about to see the light of day -- or rather, some stage lighting -- as it presents a "trivial little comedy" that has kept audiences laughing for more than a century.
Oscar Wilde's witty farce "The Importance of Being Earnest" opens Friday, March 30, in the Connie Leishman Performance Hall inside the Davis Center for the Performing Arts in Centerville. Not many people know about the little theater, tucked away in the southwest corner of the new arts center. But theater officials hope this production of Wilde's most enduring work will help to spread the word about the 100-seat black box space.
In 2011, the theater company premiered its first show on the Barlow main stage of the state-of-the-art facility. With its first season under its belt and the debut of this show in Leishman Hall, the company is bringing an even wider buffet of theater to the community.
"It would be really nice to have something going on for the community almost every weekend of the year," said Bountiful resident Jansen Davis, executive director of the Davis Performing Arts Association.
Davis, who grew up in Bountiful, has been involved with theater all his life. He was one of the founders of StageRight TheaterCompany in Salt Lake City and also had close associations with Rodgers Memorial Theatre, which transitioned into CenterPoint Legacy Theatre when the company moved into its new home at the arts center.
Davis is also directing the debut performance in the black box theater, named after the late Connie Leishman, who he said was a great supporter of the arts in the community.
"It seemed like a no-brainer for us that we really needed to develop this space into a fairly steady performance hall," Davis said.
"Earnest" will be the first CenterPoint show in the space, and "See How They Run" will be presented later this summer. The company is also planning to present a yet-to-be-announced Christmas show in the space.
Eventually, Davis said, they would like to offer a full season of shows in Leishman Hall, including nonmusical comedies and dramas, and possibly some Shakespeare and smaller musicals.
"The idea is to release shows in Leishman Hall kind of counter to what is going on the main stage," Davis said. The larger theater seats about 525.
"The Importance of Being Earnest" is a perfect fit for the theater's debut show because it is a solid comedy that has stood the test of time, said Davis, who has previously acted in and directed the show. His cast includes a group of Utah performers who are double-cast, except for one part, he said.
"It's actually one of my favorites," he said of the play. "It's one of the best plays about society and poking fun at that ... I actually think it's Oscar Wilde's best piece."
The play -- subtitled "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" -- is widely considered to be Wilde's masterpiece. First performed in 1895, the play has been performed innumerable times over the past century. It has also been adapted into films and, in 2011, was revived on Broadway.
Wilde is at his bantering best as he tells the satirical story of two young British gents who use the same fictitious name -- Ernest -- to escape Victorian social conventions and court their sweethearts. Indeed, one of the young ladies believes there is no better name than Ernest.
"It is a divine name," declares Gwendolyn to Jack, posing as an Ernest. "It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations."
Troubles arise when the young ladies believe that they are engaged to the same gentleman, but it all turns out in the end as every Victorian comedy seems to do, Davis said. The director noted that the play is filled with one-liners that should keep audiences chuckling throughout.
"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his," Davis said, quoting one of the famous lines from the play.
"It's one of those plays that has weathered the test of time and it's still as pertinent today as it was then," Davis said. "It pokes fun at things like position and fashion and attitude. It's not that far off from what we see today."