A play about adoption
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is, at it’s heart, a play about identity. I saw a production of it Saturday that was a perfect confection. The play is a classic, written by Oscar Wilde, and first staged in London in 1895. Chockfull of wit and humor, it mocks social conventions. And, though the word adoption is never uttered, it’s also a play about adoption and coincidence.
The complicated plot
The plot is immensely complicated with one farcical turn after another. But suffice it to say that the play’s main character, Ernest (a.k.a. Jack Worthing,) lives a double life and invents a fictitious younger brother as an excuse to avoid certain social obligations. As the play opens, his best friend, Algernon, good-naturedly traps him in his lies. And so things begin to unravel most comically.
Ernest is known as Jack at his house in the country where he lives with his ward Cecily and her governess Miss Prism. Jack frequently excuses himself to travel to London, ostensibly to rescue the made-up brother he calls Ernest. Keep in mind that he himself is known as Ernest to those who keep company with him in the city. Because Cecily has a mad crush on the fictitious Ernest, she longs to meet him. Finally, she gets her wish when Algernon, in his plot to unravel Jack’s lies, shows up at the country house, impersonating Ernest. Unfortunately, Jack has ,moments before, in an effort to simplify his life, announced that Ernest has suddenly died.
The big plot twist
Meanwhile, Algernon and Cecily fall in love. Jack gets a visit from Gwendolyn, the London girl to whom he’s engaged, (remember she knows him as Ernest.) And in the ongoing investigation of Jack’s suitability as a husband, Gwendolyn’s mother, Lady Bracknell, (who is also Algernon’s aunt) prods Jack into revealing that he was a foundling. With his parents unknown to him, his standing in London society is jeopardized.
A few twists later we learn that it was the governess Miss Prism who accidentally left the infant Jack in a large handbag in a train station when she worked for Lady Bracknell’s sister. Are you ready for it? Yes indeed, the friends, Jack and Algernon, are really brothers. Jack investigates further to find out what his original name was before he was re-christened after being taken in by a benefactor. You guessed it….Ernest!
Real life adoption coincidences
Most adoption/reunion stories I’ve heard are full of co-incidences. They’re just not as funny. You need somebody like Oscar Wilde, I guess, to pull that off.
My search for my son yielded its own amazing coincidences. He was adopted in a closed adoption in a state that still has sealed records. Yet a coincidence led me to a person who helped me find him. After I learned my son’s name and whereabouts, I called directory assistance, (which was where he happened to work) to double-check the phone number I’d been given for him. He answered my 411 call.
Who’s in the audience?
I love “The Importance of Being Earnest.” And I’ve seen it at least a half-dozen different times over the last few decades. I love how the audience always gasps when Jack finds out who he really is. Every time, I think about all those strangers I’m sitting with in the dark as they realize they’re watching a play about adoption. How many of them are adopted? Do they have brothers or sisters they don’t know? How many would give anything to know the name they were given at birth? And how, in real life, that’s not funny at all.