Oscar Wilde had no intention of becoming the icon for the gay movement, but that is how history has painted him. We remember The Importance of Being Earnest, which seems to pop up as a major play in several theatres’ canons. However, nobody thinks much of Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, Woman of No Importance, or Salome, which was so shocking to the Victorians that only Sarah Bernhardt was brave enough, in her forties, to play an adolescent Biblical siren, but she played in France in a French translation done by the Marquess of Queensberry’s own son, “Bosie,” Oscar Wilde’s nickname for Lord Alfred Douglas.
Christmas has always been, for me, a day of seeing great performances. Last year was My Week with Marilyn, the year before, The King’s Speech, and in the not-so-distant past, A Life in the Theatre, CATS, Candide, La Boheme, The Tales of Hoffman, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake and Gross Indecency, which doesn’t have a holiday ring to it.
Gross Indecency is penned by The Tectonic Theater Project, the same group which presented The Laramie Project. “The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” are win, place, and go to jail(!) for two years in Reading under hard labor. My father was stationed in Reading during World War II, but he was bunked in the Manor House; Wilde wasn’t. I wanted to go to Reading to see where my dad was billeted, and perhaps to see the gaol where Wilde was incarcerated.
I had been able to take a boat trip to the Dry Tortugas’ Shark Island to see where Dr. Mudd was jailed. Someone in this community had once said my name was Mudd, so I felt an obligation to pay homage to a man who had saved so many lives during a yellow fever epidemic and perhaps had only gone to jail because he practiced his Hippocratic Oath.
On the day Oscar Wilde was arrested, six hundred gentlemen left England for the continent; every train to Dover was crowded, every steamer to Calais thronged. When Wilde went to prison, he had two plays running in the West End, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband. His name was taken off the poster and eliminated from the program. Everything he owned was sold at auction. In the chaos, several original manuscripts, yet unpublished and lost to us now, were pilfered. His family changed their names. While waiting for the train to take him to prison, a concerned citizen pelted Wilde with spoiled produce. His response was, “If this is the way Queen Victoria treats her prisoners, she doesn’t deserve to have any.”
There are two more staged readings of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, featuring Colin Ryan as Oscar Wilde and Gregory Pember as Lord Alfred Douglas, along with Josh Bernaski, Ryan Bowie, Ted Jones, Travis Kendrick, Ashley Laverty, Brandon Meeks and Phil Whittinghill: tonight and Saturday at 8pm. All tickets for theotherspace are $10.
See you at the theatre!