Arts & Culture

Wilde drama puts jury on the stand

Arts & Culture Staff Writer
Monday, October 3, 2011

“Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” Sock & Buskin’s current production running in Leeds Theater, plays a neat trick. Throughout the course of Wilde’s 1895 hearings for sodomy, illegal in England until 1967, Wilde’s own letters and literature were seized by his opposition as damning evidence. But now, as the audience bears witness to recreations of the trials, we become the jury and it is Wilde’s accusers who are found guilty.

The play, directed by Kym Moore, assistant professor of theater arts and performance studies, and written by Moises Kaufman, weaves together verbatim court records, press clippings, personal correspondences and excerpts from Wilde’s works. The result is a pointillist portrait of a man of mythic proportions, the wit of a century born a century too soon.

It is impossible to know what Wilde would produce if he were alive today, but I would wager heavily that he would have a Twitter — the man was simply unparalleled when it came to the clever turn of phrase, and he knew it, too. “I have never had adoration for anybody but myself,” crows Brian Cross ’12, who embodies Wilde with every flawless, deliberate gesture. Watch Cross flick back the tails of his silver waistcoat or the twinkle in his eye as he delivers yet another of Wilde’s crisp axioms. His performance is genius and his possession by the spirit of the legendary writer complete, especially as his veneer of cocky charisma is worn down by the humiliations of the trials.

Cross is supported by a uniformly excellent cast of nine actors, chameleons outfitted in dapper vests and ties shifting between characters and nuanced accents with flair. It is clear all involved in the production are having a terrific time and, even more, that they feel they have a story worth telling.

Oscar Wilde’s life ended tragically. It is awful to watch a man who believed so passionately in beauty and art die disgraced and destitute, his copies of his own books sold to fund his legal costs. With each production of this show, and the standing ovation that concluded it Friday night, his legacy receives a bit of the justice that was denied him in the courtroom.

Perhaps Oscar Wilde has made peace with his fate. After all, it was he who said, “Always forgive your enemies — nothing annoys them so much.”