Characters and costumes over the top in the Guild’s Earnest

The play, set in Victorian England, features elaborate costumes designed and created by Mary Spani and Chrystal Romano

J.D. Dueckman plays Earnest

Chilliwack Players Guild presents The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Guild veteran Clint Hames,  Oct. 17-20 and Oct. 24-26 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.

The play, set in Victorian England, features elaborate costumes to emphasize the larger-than-life characters, and they’re designed and created by Mary Spani and Chrystal Romano, with many Guild productions and costumes to their credit over the years.

Spani got her start back in 1966 when she saw performances by the theatre group The Vagabond Players out of New Westminster.

“I thought it looked like fun, basically,” said Spani.

Her mother taught her how to sew when she was young, and, despite no formal education or training in the costume arts, Spani’s natural talents stemming from an enthusiasm and passion for clothing and fashion helped her successfully design costumes for numerous plays over the past 47 years.

“I don’t know how many plays I’ve done [costumes for],” Spani said, but estimates at least 75 in total. She and Romano are in charge of costumes for the Guild, and make up an enthusiastic and creative team.

Spani jumped at the chance to do the costumes for the Guild production of Earnest.

“You should have heard her,” Romano said, “even before she was asked!”

Spani agreed, admitting her favourite part of costuming is designing the hats. It can take Spani hours to create the perfect Victorian hat, but she loves every minute of it. “You can make them as big and as ridiculous as you want for this kind of period,” she said.

Wilde’s characters consistently push the limits of Victorian society and explore the hilarious consequences of what happens when those who are attempting to break out of these imposed structures come into conflict with those who are still embedded within them. In order to reflect this contrast, Spani and Romano designed their costumes to combine both traditional and modern styles of dress.

The costumes for Earnest, though remaining stylistically true to the era, must also be functionally adapted for the stage, said Spani. In past productions, she has utilized zippers, Velcro and even magnets to ensure her designs are easy for actors to work with, especially during shows with quick costume changes.

Getting to know the individual characters is important to costume designers like Romano and Spani. The personalities of each character influence the clothes they wear, so the costume team spent significant time both studying the script and watching rehearsals. A bold comedy like Earnest, set in Victorian England, allows for a lot of creativity and “over-the-top” designs, said Romano.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs Oct. 17-20 and Oct. 24-26. Tickets $25 /$20 for seniors and students with the Oct. 17 performance offering $5 off. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. except for Oct. 20,  a 2 p.m. matinee.  Tickets are available by phone at 604-391-SHOW or by going to the Chilliwack Cultural Centre.

–By Gillian Hames  – special to The Progress