Bedford's cast will include Ben Carlson, celebrated in 2008 for his portrayal of Hamlet, as Jack; veteran Stephen Ouimette as Rev. Canon Chasuble; Mike Shara, a Shaw Festival favorite, making his Stratford debut as Algernon; Sara Topham, who was Laurencia in Stratford's 2008 Fuente Ovejuna, as Gwendolyn.
"We are thrilled to have Brian Bedford playing the indefatigable Lady Bracknell," artistic director Des McAnuff said in a statement. "Brian is one of the great actors of our time and has the astonishing range necessary to give what will be an unforgettable performance. Brian's production of Earnest promises to be exuberant and one of the centerpieces of the 2009 season."
Desmond Heeley, returning for his 38th season at the festival, will design the production.
It is not the first time a man has taken on the part of Lady Bracknell at the famed festival in Stratford, Ontario. William Hutt played the role in Robin Phillips' 1975 production (and reprised it twice).
"It's a wonderful and somewhat daunting challenge to play Lady Bracknell," Bedford stated. "When I first contemplated the role, I was a bit apprehensive, but very soon fell madly in love with the play and the character. I don't want it to be a 'drag performance,' but rather as serious and dimensional as possible." After training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appearances in London's West End and with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bedford came to North America in John Gielgud's production of Peter Shaffer's Five Finger Exercise. He has acted and directed in Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington, DC, Chicago and, for 26 seasons, at Stratford. His one-man Shakespeare show, The Lunatic, The Lover, and the Poet, has taken him around the world. Starring in many Broadway productions, he has received six Best Actor Tony nominations and won the award for Moliere's The School for Wives. Other awards include the Obie, Outer Critics Circle, N.Y. Drama Desk and L.A. Critics Award. Bedford has made numerous appearances on television and film, and supplied the voice of Robin Hood in Walt Disney's animated film. In 1997 he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of 14 productions planned for the 2009 season, which will run from mid-April through October. Bedford will also present a companion piece to Earnest, a one-man show entitled Ever Yours, Oscar. Compiled by Peter Wylde, a former dramaturgical advisor at the Stratford Festival, the play tells the story of Oscar Wilde through his letters.
As previously announced, other 2009 productions are Macbeth, West Side Story, Cyrano de Bergerac, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Julius Caesar, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Bartholomew Fair, Three Sisters, Phèdre, The Trespassers, Rice Boy and Zastrozzi.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has already announced the casting of Colm Feore as Macbeth and Cyrano de Bergerac. Further casting announcements will be made as details become available.
The 2008 season continues with Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Caesar and Cleopatra, The Music Man, Cabaret, Emilia Galotti, The Trojan Women, Love's Labour's Lost, Fuente Ovejuna, Moby Dick and Shakespeare's Universe (Her Infinite Variety).