When you think of writers who have been political prisoners, you might cite Vaclav Havel, Alexandr Solzhenitisyn or Ken Saro-Wiwa (who was executed because of the content of his plays). Add to the list Oscar Wilde, who was imprisoned and broken for crimes against the state.
Bad Habit’s lovely production of Moises Kaufman’s GROSS INDECENCY (at the BCA through Aug.26th) is performed in the round: a heady barrage of court transcripts, actual letters and Wilde’s own transcendent words.
Director Liz Fenstermaker’s ingenious staging follows Wilde’s attempt to sue the Marques of Queensberry for libel, to his fall from grace when, at the Marques’ urging, the court faced about and charged Wilde with “gross indecency.” It took two trials to convict him. Sentenced to two years of hard labor, he emerged dispirited and ill (and died not long thereafter). Always at the ready with a quip, he announced as he left the Reading Gaol, “If this is the way Queen Victoria treats her prisoners, she doesn’t deserve to have any.”
Kaufman clearly demonstrates how Wilde’s idealistic hubris led to his own downfall but he makes the case that the disapproving “powers that be” were more than delighted to bring down the “high priest of decadence.” Straight laced Victorians themselves may have been indulging ---but always behind closed doors. On the eve of Wilde’s sodomy trial, Kaufman tells us, some six hundred Englishmen fled to France, afraid they might be the crown’s next target.
Aside from the wealth of information about Wilde and the Victorian era, not to mention the hilarious epigrams, the play resonates to beat the band with present day parallels about human rights. What sets the Bad Habit production apart is Fenstermaker’s passionate cast and the circular staging which reaches its apex when Wilde (John Geoffrion) and Lord Douglas (Kyle Cherry) enfold each other in the very center of the action, bathed in (Erik Fox’s) glorious light. It’s breathtaking.
Geoffrion captures both the peacock and the wounded sparrow in Wilde, splaying his fingers erotically around Douglas’ leg at his most confidant and collapsing his shoulders into his chest at the realization of defeat. Each and every characterization is meticulously drawn, from David Lutheran’s villainous Marques to Matthew Murphy’s scrupulous attorney, from Gabriel Graetz dogged defense attorney to Brooks Reeves’ loyal friend, from Cherry’s sweet but callous Douglas to each of Wilde’s manipulated accusers. BAD HABIT PRODUCTIONS once again prove their mettle. Don’t miss out.