Cygnet’s current production is not one, but two plays, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Travesties by Tom Stoppard, performed in rep by the same company of actors. We sat down with Jordan Miller to learn a little about performing in these two classic comedies.
Who are you playing in both shows? What are their similarities, and what are their differences?
I’m playing “Algernon” in The Importance of Being Earnest, and “Henry Carr” in Travesties. The character of “Henry Carr” is inspired from the real life Henry Carr who fought in WWI and who played “Algernon” in a production of Earnest that was produced by James Joyce. The duality of the role in the play is taken from this real-life experience and forms the basis for the nods to The Importance of Being Earnest by Tom Stoppard. Both characters exemplify the “dandy” and boast very elevated and witty language, but “Algernon” is everything “Carr” wishes he was! While “Algernon” is always debonair and relaxed, “Carr” is self important and haughty, “Algernon” always wins in the end, and “Carr” is always left holding the bag. “Algernon’s” opinions and platitudes are always lighthearted but true, and “Carr’s” are always deeply passionate but often one-sided and flawed.
What is the funnest part(s) of playing multiply characters in Rep?
I don’t know if “funny” is how I would describe it but something that has been a delightful frustration for everyone is when the dialogue from one show creeps into the other, especially when the lines are so similar! And what is a great reveal in one show is played upon in the other, often with the substitution of a single word, and when in the moment you forget which show and line it is, it can make for some panic moments inside your head and for your scene partners!
What are some of the challenges you are facing?
With “Algernon” the biggest challenge (as Sean warned!) is constantly eating all the cucumber sandwiches and muffins and still speaking your lines eloquently! The text of both plays is a huge part of what makes them so wonderful; however, the language in both, once it finally gets into your memory, has a tendency to run away with you because it is so musically structured, and while it may be fun for the actor to rip through the dialogue it can become far too fast and clipped to be comfortably followed. With “Henry Carr,” he is more demanding because in addition to his substantial and complex “Old Carr” stream of consciousness memory monologues (Stoppard’s nod to “Ulysses”), he has several heated and impassioned scenes which can, like the dialogue, engulf you in the emotion and suddenly the scene becomes too heated and real and loses its comedic elements. Both characters are delightful to play, and tackling both at once has been an artistically rewarding challenge!
Are their any Rules of Etiquette from the era of Earnest that you wish were still around today?
I think basic rules of etiquette and manners are things which could stand to be reinforced today! Oh, and modern fashion could take some lessons as well.