TAYLORSVILLE — Oscar Wilde reached his social and literary zenith in 1895 with simultaneous productions of his comedies running in London’s West End and praise still being heaped on him for the earlier publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Sadly, that same year he was persuaded to file the lawsuit that lead to his downfall and death within six years. A century later, Utah audiences are still enjoying several productions of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband each year. In 1997, Moises Kaufman created a “newspaper theatre” style script titled Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, with text pulled directly from court transcripts, contemporary writings, and even from an interview with Kaufman himself. Together these fragments weave the story of the three trials that would define Wilde’s life.
Director Patrick Kibbie‘s powerful staging highlights Kaufman’s documentary style with the eight ensemble actors remaining on stage throughout the action while dressed in modern outfits. As the action proceeds they pluck pages of scattered text from the floor around their chairs to quote aloud as needed. There is a lot of reading and rereading of text in this script, all vital, much of it beautiful, but certainly a mouthful. The actors are to be commended for keeping this text heavy script moving at a zippy pace. There are a few moments I would have preferred for them to slow down, improve their diction and aid me in taking in the powerful text.
In the role of Wilde, Luke Harger is excellent. His expressive face beautifully matches his clear physical presence. He demonstrates Wilde’s fall from the heights of popularity to public shame with all its ferocious pain. Wilde is, by turns, filled with haughty pride as he bandies with lawyers, and is then haggard and vulnerable in his pain as he fights to live freely in a society that views his sexual desire as “the gravest of crimes.” I also appreciated that Kaufman and Harger don’t shy away from showing Wilde’s internal reckoning with pushing his hedonism too far as a man of 40 who used his fame and influence to purse and pay off young men half his age for sexual favors.
All other actors are juggling performing two or more characters and accents. Ethan Hernandez gives an impressive display with a wide range of characters, all given equal interest and clarity. Sterling Shane Allen, as the lawyer working against Wilde, is charming and a pleasure to listen to. Ryan Kinville who I recently enjoyed very much in the Parker Theatre’s Christmas Carol, was over-doing his villain roles for my taste, playing the uncouth, ill mannered father of Wilde’s lover at the center of the first of the three trials. While I usually enjoy a bit of scenery chewing from a baddy, Kinville’s take on Queensbury is out of step with the realism and deep emotion given by the other actors. Alicia Kondrick has several powerful moments in her various roles, and I was particularly struck by the moment when, as one of Wilde’s allies, she is confronted with his confession that the accusations of homosexual acts are all true. While taken aback by the revelation, she shares a moment that many of us are familiar with, the coming out of a friend, and the realization that their sexuality doesn’t change our love for them at all.
This is a high quality production and I hope that the small audience I sat with will be the exception for the remaining run of the show. The script is grappling with a wide-range of conflicts that are still relevant to our social discourse: nationality and class, religion in law, art versus morality and more. The drama surrounding Oscar Wilde’s life is an excellent vehicle for exploring how these conflicts are still shaping our society so many years later. The team at Wasatch Theatre Company are to be commended for choosing this unique, timely, thought provoking script. As a side note, it was also a pleasure to see this performance in the newly opened Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in Taylorsville. As a West Valley resident I appreciate the chance to see important and high quality work closer to home than usual. This is a gorgeous space which I look forward to frequenting often in the future.