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Conway Dinner Theater to present classic Wilde play

By CAROL ROLF Contributing Writer

This article was published October 16, 2011 at 3:12 a.m.

— A new face with the Conway Dinner Theater will direct an old favorite when the local acting troupe presents Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

The play, first performed in 1895, features fictitious characters, witty dialogue and a plot with many twists and turns.

“It’s a wonderful play,” said the director, Larry Dilday, who teaches writing at the University of Central Arkansas. “The dialogue between the characters is so witty, so sparkling, that if we do it right, it will almost be a musical. That’s just the way Oscar Wilde wrote it.”

Dilday said he appeared in a production of the play when he was a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he received a degree in theater and English.

He completed a master’s degree at the University of Georgia and a doctorate in dramatic arts at the University of California at Davis. He taught at several colleges before coming to UCA in 2006.

Joan Hanna, director of the Faulkner Academy of Arts, which sponsors the Conway Dinner Theater and the Conway Women’s Chorus, shares a quote by Wilde that, in her opinion, “wonderfully sums up his hilarious play”: “That we should treat all trivial things in life very seriously, and all serious things of life with a sincere and studied triviality.”

“The play opens with Algernon Moncrieff,” Hanna said, “an idle young gentleman, receiving his best friend, whom he knows as EarnestWorthing. Earnest has come from the country to propose to Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolyn.

“Algernon, however, refuses his consent until Earnest explains why his cigarette case bears the inscription, ‘From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.’ Earnest is forced to admit to living a double life. Algernon confesses a similar deception: He pretends to have an invalidfriend named Bunbury in the country, whom he can ‘visit’ whenever he wishes to avoid an unwelcome social obligation - primarily, tea with his aunt, Lady Bracknell.

“And speaking of Lady Bracknell, we have a wonderful actor taking his matriarchal debut. Yes, Tootsie had Dustin Hoffman, Hairspray had John Travolta and Conway Dinner Theater has Jay Ruud. I’m sure you’re giggling already.”

Ruud, a veteran actor with the Conway Dinner Theater and chairman of the English department at UCA, said, with a laugh, “I will have to shave for this part, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Lady Bracknell is Gwendolyn’s mother.

Ruud is joined by the following cast members:

◊Jennifer Ruud of Little Rock, Jay Ruud’s daughter and also a longtime actor with the C onway Dinner Theater, plays Gwendolyn. She said of her character: “She’s very into herself. She’s very high maintenance and very confident. She does love Jack, but everything has to be on her own terms.”

Jennifer Ruud is an academic adviser at UCA.

◊Greg Antley of Conway plays Jack/Earnest. “I live the double life,” Antley said with a smile. Antley is a recent graduate of the UCA Honors College with a degree in English and a minor in theater and interdisciplinary studies. He made his acting debut with the Conway Dinner Theater last year in You Can’t Take It With You.

◊Johnny Passmore of Guy plays Algernon. “My character is very proud, overeducated,” said Passmore, a veteran actor with the Conway Dinner Theater. Quoting a line in the play, Passmore said of his character: “He has nothing but looks everything.”

Passmore teaches sixth grade in the Guy-Perkins School District.

◊Amber Addley of Conway plays Cecily. An employee at Hewlett Packard, Addley appeared in the Conway Dinner Theater’s production of Seussical the Musical.

◊Kimberly Norris of Greenbrier plays Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess. “She is very prim and proper,” Norris said of her character. Norris is a training manager for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Pediatrics Department’s Kids First program in Little Rock.

◊Bill Meehen of Conway plays Lane, Algernon’s manservant, or butler. “I baby-sit him,” Meehan said with a laugh. Meehen first appeared with the C onway Dinner Theater in last year’s production of You Can’t Take It With You. He works for CoorsTek, a manufacturer of advanced technical ceramic and highperformance plastic components.

◊Tim Butler of Conway plays Merriman, the “countr y” butler, seeing to the needs of Jack and Cecily. This is Butler’s first time to act with the Conway Dinner Theater. “I’ve done singing on stage - barbershop, in particular,” he said. “But this is the first time I’ve been on stage as an actor.”

Butler is a preacher at North Side Church of Christ in Conway.

◊Keith Jones of Conway plays Canon Chasuble, the rector on Jack’s county estate. Jones appeared in the Conway Dinner Theater’s production of Harvey. He also assists with behind-thescene operations for the acting group. He is employed by Acxiom Corp.

Crew members include Hanna and Barbara Sanders, costumers; Mark Nation and Marcie Cox, set design; KeithJones, technical assistance; and Melissa Dilday, lights.

The Importance of Being Earnest will be presented Friday and Saturday and again Oct. 28 at Wesley United Methodist Church, 2310 E. Oak St. in Conway.

Dinner will be served at 6 p.m., followed by the show at 7:30. The play will also be presented at 2 p.m. Oct. 30; this is a theater-only event.

Tickets are $24 for adults for dinner and theater, and $10 for children. Theateronly tickets are $12 for adults and $5 for children.

The Oak Street Bistro will prepare the meal, which will feature lasagna, salad, bread and triple-layered, flourless chocolate cake.

Tickets may be purchased online at or at Kordsmeier Fur niture, 1023 O ak St., and Oak Street Bistro, 2310 E. Oak St., both in Conway. Tickets are also available by calling (501) 329-7401.

River Valley Ozark, Pages 142 on 10/16/2011

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