The Importance Of Being Funny

The play’s the thing at Tulane every summer, where The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival takes over with well-done productions of the classics, workshop productions featuring students and plays taking a different approach to the Bard’s words. This year’s festival got started last month, but you can still catch Incarnate, a production from the New Orleans-based Compleat Stage company that uses dance, live music and visual art, July 15-22; a performance from the All Things Shakespeare student program, Aug. 6-9; and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, July 11-25, directed by Jessica Podewell and featuring local favorite actors including Clare Moncrief and James Bartelle. Podewell spoke to us about the production.

Why was The Importance of Being Earnest chosen for the festival, especially since it isn’t a Shakespeare play?
There are tons of Shakespeare festivals where you get the Shakespeare plays and then you normally get couple of good ol’ standard traditionals from those big, big writers. Old, creaky, wonderful plays. [Earnest] was actually supposed to be a lab production, but we had wonderful success with [theater company] Compleat Stage last year, and they’re coming back to do a full run of Incarnate. So it’s something a lot of fests around the country do, but this had to do with calendars and wonderful opportunities bringing it all together.

Since this a classic play, what approach did you take to it to make it fresh?
I say “creaky,” but Earnest is so vibrant. I teach and the thing that’s so interesting is so often I get kids bringing in pieces they want to work on: half of the time you run into kids still wanting to do Earnest. There’s 18-year-olds who want to do Lady Bracknell monologues. It’s so great. It’s satire: [Oscar Wilde] didn’t like the Victorian upper class. It’s the same group of people who sent him to jail, so it’s biting satire against the upper crust. In a lot of ways it’s still about class structure, a very contemporary issue. It’s just unbelievable funny … you can’t go through three lines without a laugh. I’m not contemporizing it; we’re just doing The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s good goddamn play anyway you slice it.

Your father, Buzz Podewell, was the co-founder of the festival. What is it like to carry on his legacy?
It’s a lovely festival full of lovely people and it really does feel like home. I know he was able to direct Earnest once and had a great time with it. It’s been nice going through and trying to decipher his scribbles in the script. He was very proud of the festival when he first started. It’s a wonderful traditional to carry on.
For more information on The Importance of Being Earnest and the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane, visit



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