Breathing fresh air into a mosaic of old documents surrounding the three trials of Oscar Wilde, the cast of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde dove into Moises Kaufman’s wordy, intellectual script. Yet despite all of the clever humor and legal formalities, the audience was most truly moved by “the love that dare not speak its name.” Set in an age where the term homosexuality did not even exist and sodomy was considered the worst crime imaginable, the play narrates the accusations of ‘gross indecency’ against one of the most famous writers of all time.
Acting as jury, the audience watched Wilde slowly unravel as evidence regarding his relationships with younger men continued to mount. Led by director Amanda Keating ’12, the cast grappled with the question of whether artists should be judged differently than everyone else.
Tallis Moore ’14 led the cast with a brilliant portrayal of Wilde at both his wittiest and weakest moments. While at times adopting a sardonic superiority and at others scrambling to cover his slip-ups, Moore’s Wilde was a character that the audience struggled to support, despite his sympathetic position. Although Wilde publicly denied his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Mario Mastromarino ’12), justifying it as a necessary “legal fiction,” the tender moments shared between Mastromarino and Moore were touching. John Hawthorne ’13 made a great Marques of Queensberry – a ruthless grizzly bear of a man who first accused Wilde of acts of indecency with his son, Lord Douglas. Among the four narrators, Rob Gearity ’11 shone through with excellent comedic timing, as did Elliot Schrock ’11, whose seamless transition through an array of characters brought us some of the most comic and heartfelt moments in the show. Schrock’s interpretation of the Wilde scholar, with his grasping gestures and stuttering speech, was a great instance of mocking the erudition that Kaufman’s script itself tends toward.
A pointed contrast of individuals was developed between Wilde’s lawyer, Clarke, and Queensberry’s lawyer, Carson. With a strong performance of a weak character, Frank Pagliaro ’14 as Clarke vainly insisted that a man ought not to be judged by his works of art. Meanwhile, Marina Bousa ’13 gave an outstanding performance of Carson as she dug sharply into Wilde’s fictions, using them to draw admissions out of their author. The choice of Bousa, the only woman in the cast of all-male characters, was interesting on Keating’s part but undoubtedly well made. As Cap and Bells had a limited number of female parts this season, it was encouraging to see one of the few available occupied by such a talented actress. However, Bousa’s dignified portrayal of a man contrasted sharply with the attitude of the play towards women in general.
Though they often received well-deserved laughs, the men in the cast portrayed the few women who did enter Wilde’s storyline (his much-ignored wife, his mother, a prostitute, Queen Victoria) as mere caricatures. Whether this was a deliberate choice by Keating or Kaufman is unclear, but in light of Wilde’s own poor opinions of women and their poor social standing in the England of the 1880s, it may have been justifiable.
Among many strong design elements of the show, the use of sound was particularly compelling. From the very beginning, as actors’ voices wove together as they spoke quotations about Wilde, the careful orchestration of the difficult script was evident. Other powerful motifs included a music box that Mastromarino played with to signify the affection between himself and Moore, as well as the repeated playing of “The Entertainer” and other ragtime tunes that, though slightly anachronistic, served to lighten the weighty accusations against Wilde. A ticking metronome kept the tension in the courtroom high, as did a pulsing drum, which could have passed for Wilde’s own heart.
Additionally, Cate McCrea ’13 designed a fantastic set, which was moved around quickly by the cast to create different effects on stage. The scrim created lovely silhouettes, most notably during the second trial, where the shadow of Wilde’s “immoral” behavior lurked constantly in the background. The lighting was also well done; by isolating different areas of the stage, Wilde was moved from the courtroom to Douglas’s chaise lounge without moving an inch.
Wilde was ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labor in prison, which seriously injured his health, leading to his death three years after his release. Holding to his belief that life is only worth living for pleasure, he cried to his prosecutors, “If hatred gives you pleasure, indulge it.” As the stage opened up and Wilde faded into the distance, we were left wondering what legacy his trials left. Having publicly denied his homosexuality, he cannot be championed as a hero of gay rights. Nevertheless, his explanation that it took courage, and not cowardice, to yield to the temptation of “the love that dare not speak its name” is something that still rings true today. Wilde, who wrote so many plays, truly did deserve one for himself.