The intellectually stimulating, highly entertaining play that author Moisés Kaufman created out of the transcripts of the 1895 trials of Irish author Oscar Wilde on charges of "Gross Indecency" is being given its due in a first class production at the Little Theatre of Alexandria through May 9.
Kaufman’s plays are always challenging because they are highly theatrical, requiring a passel of talented people to design, stage and perform them with a sense of assurance. They invariably dig deep into a historically intriguing, multi-faceted issue. He previously examined the murder of a gay student named Matthew Shepard at the University of Wyoming in "The Laramie Project" and his look at Beethoven’s compulsion to compose, "33 Variations," which premiered in Arena Stage’s theatre in Crystal City, is now playing on Broadway.
This production of his 1997 Oscar Wilde play has all the hallmarks of quality as a very capable cast of eleven fine actors (there are no female roles in the play) establish distinct personalities, many in multiple parts.
Director Frank Shutts II establishes a satisfyingly smooth pace for the play, never seeming to rush even the small interjections with which Kaufman peppered his script, while at the same time managing to avoid a sense of sluggishness in the longer speeches. As a result, the play takes only two and a quarter hours to cover all three of Wilde’s trials which culminated in his imprisonment for homosexual acts which go unnamed because they were considered at the time to be "unspeakable" – at least in polite society.
Shuts cast Christopher Guy Thorn as Wilde. With flowing locks and a certain posture that suggests a Victorian-era version of a fey affectation, he makes clear Wilde’s inability to comprehend the danger involved in his prosecution or the depth of official condemnation of what the young man in question termed "The love that dare not speak its name." What is more, in Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley’s costumes, he actually looks like Wilde.
The young man’s father, whose allegations against Wilde start the chain of events that bring the famous author down, is given a very strong and extremely intelligent performance by Ian Fore. He keeps from making the man a mere object of ridicule, despite not even being able to spell the accusation he famously wrote out on a calling card even though he is a member of the peerage of Scotland. He was the 9th Marquess of Queensbury who is famous not only for his litigious involvement with Wilde but for the boxing rules he endorsed thirty years before the Wilde affair.
Adam P. Downs is his son, Lord Alfred Douglas, and, along with Rich Amada, Lars Klores and Marcus J. Fisk as the trial attorneys, contributes well to the evening. However, it is one of the actors with a host of smaller roles as well as short moments in the spotlight that impresses the most. That is Shawn G. Byers, who combines a talent for comedy with more dramatic skills to portray everything from one of young men with whom Wilde is accused of dallying to a modern day self-styled "expert" on the case and, of all things, Queen Victoria herself. It is he who gives the audience such crucial information as the origin of the concept of homosexuality and the text of the statute Wilde is convicted of violating. He delivers this last detail in the voice of the Queen who, when told the statute might be defective since it only applies to men who commit such acts and not to women, replies with an indignant "Women don’t do such things!"
<i>Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, (www.PotomacStages.com). He can be reached at Brad@PotomacStages.com.</i>