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David Oakes is John "Jack" Worthing.

Too many Ernests? Or not earnest enough? You can decide

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arts and entertainment Red Wing, 55066
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

A ridiculous case of mistaken identity is at the heart of "The Importance of Being Earnest," Oscar Wilde's farcical comedy which is being staged April 4-7 by Phoenix Theatre actors at the Sheldon Theatre.

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The play, set in the 1890s, tells the story of two gentlemen -- John (Jack) Worthing, played by David Oakes, and Algernon (Algy) Moncrieff, played by Chris Heineman.

Both create a fictitious character named Ernest. They use him as an excuse to get out of social obligations that they consider burdensome, such as stuffy dinner parties.

The situation becomes complicated when Jack proposes marriage to Gwendolen, played by Marcy Watzl, and Algy becomes engaged to Cecily Cardew, played by Anna Ostendorf.

Both women think their fiancé's name is Ernest Worthing. When the women meet, director Julie Martin said, "both of them think they're engaged to the same person."

Another complication comes in the person of Gwendolen's domineering mother, Lady Bracknell, played by Helene Olson-Reed. "Everyone's a little afraid of her," Martin said.

Also complicating the advancement of true love is the mystery surrounding Jack's background. A handbag is the critical clue to figuring out his past.

Rounding out the cast are Sara Hoffman as Miss Prism, Cecily's prim and proper tutor; Greg Nixon as the celibate Rev. Canon Chasuble, who may or may not be called upon to perform christening rights on the two gentlemen to resolve the name issue; Dan Williams as Algy's butler, Lane; and Mary Ann Valentine as Merriman, head servant in Jack's house.

Working with Martin is assistant director/stage manager Kim Chalmers. Sara Shannon is in charge of period costumes and accessories. Jeff Chalmers is set designer, and Sandra Nelson is property master.

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