Not Quite “The Passion of Oscar”
Would you spend your Saturday night watching a dramatic reading of a college thesis?
Think twice before saying no. Boston’s Bad Habit Productions will stage Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at the Boston Center for the Arts later this month, a play that’s “an interesting mesh between a research paper and a play that you go see for entertainment,” in the words of cast member Luke Murtha.
It promises to be witty, entertaining and tragic—much like Mr. Wilde himself.
Wilde became a literary superstar in Victorian England writing hit plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and A Woman of No Importance. But Wilde’s fame turned to notoriety in 1895 when his lover’s father accused him of homosexuality. After a libel suit, Wilde was arrested, tried twice for gross indecency, and sentenced to two years hard labor. The play chronicles these three trials, with author Moisés Kaufman drawing the dialogue almost exclusively from trial transcripts, biographies, and Wilde’s works. Murtha, who plays a “rent boy” who testifies that he slept with Wilde, said a narrator interrupts the dialogue during the play to cite sources.
Don’t be fooled by footnotes—Gross Indecency, which will be staged in the round at the BCA’s Virginia Wimberly Theater, is no stodgy historical reenactment. Cast members said the play explores a panoply of issues still relevant in 21st century America, from media sensationalism to whether art should be judged on its morality.
“I think it’s about the distinction between artistic statements and public policy, which I think is still very relevant. We’re still constantly evaluating the work of artists and whether it’s moral,” said Kyle Cherry, who plays Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s lover.
Cherry said a large portion of the play involves the courtroom searching for illicit themes in Wilde’s works, such as his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which has homosexual undertones.
Director Liz Fenstermaker said Bad Habit Productions chose the play partly because of the gay rights theme.
“This is an election year, and you’re seeing Chick-fil-A dragging into the battle over gay marriage. These are things people are really talking about,” said Fenstermaker. “It’s kind of amazing, the similarities between what people were saying then and what they’re saying today.”
Murtha said he hoped the audience would be inspired watching the struggles of a man many consider an icon.
“Oscar Wilde made it real for people,” said Murtha, who appeared in Bad Habit’s production of Arcadia last summer. “We all to this day respect Oscar Wilde so much, and I hope this play helps make that struggle real for some people.”
The theme of gay rights struggles also appears in Kaufman’s most famous work, The Laramie Project, a play about a hate crime perpetrated against gay college student Matthew Shepard. But despite the serious issues underlying Gross Indecency, this play is no dour tragedy.
“We can’t play it as the ‘Passion of Oscar,’” said John Geoffrion, who plays Wilde and who also appeared in Arcadia. “There’s a balance in the tone: light and funny and witty moments, larger-than-life and theatrical moments.”
GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE
BAD HABIT PRODUCTIONS
SATURDAY 8.11.12-SUNDAY 8.26.12
VIRGINIA WIMBERLY THEATRE IN THE STANFORD CALDERWOOD PAVILION AT THE BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS.
527 TREMONT ST.
TIMES VARY/ALL AGES/$18