“No one in the world could rule a dinner table like Oscar Wilde.”
So says emerging playwright, actor, and performance artist Mark Mauriello, a soon-to-be Harvard graduate and the creative mind behind OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name, a genre-bending multimedia performance that will celebrate its world premiere at OBERON.
“This is my second original theater piece, and it’s on a much bigger scale than I’ve ever done before, which is exciting and terrifying all at once,” he says.
Mauriello fell in love with Wilde during a seminar he took in his sophomore year that centered on the life and works of the Irish writer and poet known for works like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray among many others. What started as admiration for a fellow artist soon grew into an adamantine inspiration for Mauriello.
“He was more of a 40-foot statue than he was a person,” Mauriello says, breathlessly. “His life and the work that he did, the way he walked down the street and interacted with people, were so performative and so—I think in an interesting way—something I’ve always thought about as very contemporary in a 150-year old figure.”
Wilde was enigmatic, seductive, and incredibly witty. Despite his marriage to a loving wife with whom he sired two children, he was a flamboyantly active social butterfly in the London social scene, and also regularly partook in passionate flings with young men, one of whom would alter his life forever: the spoiled, capricious poet Lord Alfred Douglas. The two entered into a torrid love affair with Douglas’ father attempting to drive them apart. A libel trial gone awry between the father and Wilde landed Wilde with a charge of gross indecency, two years of hard labor in jail, and a complete and total fall from grace.
“I think the story of what happened to him is in many ways not dissimilar to today’s popular culture and media and how we treat celebrity events,” Mauriello says. “A lot of my work has to with the ways in which we all create and craft ourselves, whether that may be through Facebook or Twitter, or through the clothes that we wear. The way that we actually walk into a room. People are very aware that they have that as a power and use that to their great advantage, and Oscar Wilde was someone who did that.”
In order to portray the parallels between Wilde’s descent into infamy and our own modern obsession with pop culture consumption and online gawking and shaming, Mauriello partnered up with his close friend, musician Andrew Barret Cox.
“The music [Cox] writes is pop; very electronic. It’s certainly not period appropriate to the 1890s!” Mauriello states. “That was exciting to me, to infuse this historical story with a very, very contemporary sound. And what also just happened is that, through that music we get this understanding of Oscar Wilde kind of as this pop star—not literally, but kind of as this grand performer who puts on these giant spectacle shows, which he did in his life.”
Wilde’s rise and fall mirrors the elusiveness of fame today, more than a century later, and the danger of living our lives so constantly in the spotlight. It also captures the timeless fervor of lust and young love, and the lengths to which we go when we find ourselves caught up in unhealthy but intoxicating relationships. Mauriello, who will be performing as Wilde himself, always knew that he had to play the part.
“There’s another layer to the show, which for me is this question of, ‘Is the show about Wilde? Is the show is about me? How does this relate to my personal experiences?’ It’s something that I’ve been digging into alongside the work of the show,” Mauriello explains. Ultimately, he says the performance at its core sets out to ask and potentially answer a fundamental question.
“How do you separate that image that gets so put out into the world from what we might understand about who [a person is] inside, who they are when they’re completely alone?”
OBERON SHOWS (IN ASSOC. WITH THE HARVARD DEPT. OF SPECIAL CONCENTRATIONS AND THE HARVARD-RADCLIFFE DRAMATIC CLUB) PRESENTS: OSCAR AT THE CROWN AND THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME. OBERON, 2 ARROW ST., CAMBRIDGE. APRIL 15-17. $15-35. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT AMERICANREPERTORYTHEATER.ORG