Source: LibriVox (Act 1 | 2 | 3)
Length: 2 Hours, 11 min
The play: “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” John Worthington, a.k.a. Ernest, has been leading a double life. In London, his friend Algernon knows him as Ernest. In the countryside, his ward Cecily knows him as Jack or John and believes that "Ernest" is Jack's black sheep brother in the city. This being a comedy, the double life comes back to bite John, and everyone tries on new identities for parts of the play, leading to more confusion. It's an old device that recalls Shakespeare's comedies, but Wilde (who knew a thing or two about putting up a false front) twists it beautifully until the false identities become more real than the actual identities.
The funniness of the piece holds up, even after almost 100 years. Although it is meant to poke fun at British upper-class society, much of the humor is in Wilde's wonderful use of language. One-liners like "To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up," are funny even out of context, but the mounting absurdity of the play's plot make them even better. The great lines are almost too much to keep up with at some points and I found myself relistening just to catch the full wit of the words.
The readers: Librivox does an interesting trick of having the actors record their lines separately, then has an editor paste all the lines together to make a finished recording. It shouldn't work, but somehow in this example, it does. There are places where the sound quality noticeably changes between readers, but I didn't mind so much. The actors themselves do a remarkably good job, despite the impediment to comedic timing. I'm impressed that they were able to overcome the limitations of this style of compiling a play.
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