A common thread weaves two repertory gems together


By Diana Saenger

Cygnet Theatre’s artistic director, Sean Murray, will produce two plays in repertory this fall — Tom Stoppard’s Tony Award- winning, absurdly hilarious, “Travesties,” and Oscar Wilde’s amusing classic, “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Murray said he directed both works at North Coast Repertory Theatre in 2002 and enjoyed them so much he wanted to repeat the experience.

“We’ve been putting the two together as more of one big show rather than two shows,” Murray said. “We blocked ‘Earnest’ the first week and rehearsed a few days. ‘Travesties,’ a more complex show, took a few weeks to get up. Then we went back and forth rehearsing both shows.”

The two plays are actually connected by story, Murray said. “Travesties” is based on the true tale of Henry Carr, an elderly man, who during his performance in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” produced by James Joyce, reminisces about Zurich in 1917 during World War I. Because his reminisces go off track, he confuses his own story with the plot of “Being Earnest.” Carr ended up in a giant lawsuit with Joyce, who won.

“That’s the only thing in the play that is actually true,” Murray said. “Playwright Stoppard discovered this story and the fact that the three, luminary revolutionists — Lenin, Joyce and Tristan Tzara, who led the surrealist Dada art movement — were living in Zurich at the same time the city was a hotbed for revolution. ‘Earnest’ is an exploration of what it meant to politics and art, and it’s really a fan’s intellectual Monty Python circus. The plot of ‘Earnest’ is the plot of ‘Travesties,’ only the characters are completely different and the lines blur at times.

“They each need to feel like two separate pieces of theater and stand on their own, and yet be connected, so the parallels that happened between the two are part of the art of experiencing them together. It’s not necessary to see ‘Earnest’ to get the jokes in ‘Travesties,’ but if one has not seen ‘Earnest’ recently, they may want to see it again in order to get more out of the humor.”

What links the two plays is embedded in the plot of “Travesties.” Murray calls it “a crazy vaudeville kind of Monty Python sketch.”

“Stoppard’s plays are the kind where you want to sit back, let it come at you and just take a ride,” Murray said. “ ‘Travesties’ has many facets, and sounds extremely complicated. But it’s easy to follow, a kind of an intellectual vaudeville, as a way of talking about some big topics.”

Murray credits “The Importance of Being Earnest” with being one of the funniest comedies ever written. “Oscar Wilde had a real wit for laying open the hypocrisy and scandals of his time, but a lot of the things he had to say still abide today,” Murray said. “Politically, he was ripping at the Victorian class and social manners, and by having his characters speak with surgical precision through a silly love story, he was able to get away with saying things one normally could not say.”

Murray said it doesn’t matter which play you see first. What patrons learn in one show has a connection to the other one.

If you go

■ What: ‘Travesties’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

■ When: Matinees, evenings Sept. 18-Oct. 27

■ Where: Cygnet Theatre Company, Old Town Stage, 4040 Twiggs St., San Diego

■ Tickets: $24-$59

■ Box Office: (619) 337-1525

■ Website: