Now through Saturday, the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance will complete its run of Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest, starring a handful of talented student actors and directed by Simon Williams.

Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which my friend John Biggs made into a sparkling and delicious comic opera a few years back, is what I call a perfect comedy. It has, while it unfolds upon the stage, the power to transport the audience to another part of the universe, where nonsense reigns and giddy self-absorption is the standard of conduct.

The three highly successful comedies that Wilde wrote before EarnestLady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband — all addressed some serious contemporary moral or social issue, which the laughs made easier to swallow. Earnest addresses no issues at all — except the need for six of its characters to get married to the person they love. What makes it perfect is that, in our hearts, we desperately long for these frivolous ninnies to find and marry their soul mates. When they do, our satisfaction is infinite.

“Why is it,” Algernon Moncrieff asks his valet, “that at a bachelor’s establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.”

“I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir,” Algy’s manservant replies. “I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.”

“Good heavens!” exclaims the wildly eligible young bachelor. “Is marriage so demoralising as that?”

Susan Sontag dedicated her epoch-making “Notes on Camp” to Wilde, and The Importance of Being Earnest truly does represent the emergence of a new sensibility, one that finds everything is — delightfully— a bit much.

As spokeswoman for the old sensibility, Lady Bracknell’s function is to haughtily deplore everything she sees going on around her. “Mr. Worthing,” she protests, “I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to?”

It is not, moreover, only people in their 20s who long to leave the old, imprisoning attitudes behind. There is Parson Chasuble, 60 if he’s a day, who comes upon Miss Prism and her student, Cecily, a darling ingenue. “I hope, Cecily, you are not inattentive.”

“Oh, I am afraid I am,” she replies, with melting honesty.

Dr. Chasuble forgets himself. “That is strange,” he says, “Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips … I spoke metaphorically. My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem!”

There is not much immediate social relevance to this play, and you will search for it at your peril.

Earnest plays at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, Feb. 18-20, and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 21 in the UCSB Performing Arts Theater, 552 University Road (no late admission). Tickets are $17 for general admission, $13 for UCSB students, faculty, staff, alumni, seniors and children, and they can be purchased at the Theater & Dance Ticket Office, by phone at 805.893.7221 or online by clicking here.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at The opinions expressed are his own.