The Duchess of Padua
Written by Oscar Wilde
Reading by Studio Theater
Directed by B. Marshall
Strange advice from a mysterious stranger strips young Guido Feranti of his only friend and thrusts him into the court of the vile Duke of Padua. Waiting for the cue to slay his father’s slayer, he falls madly in love with the abused and despised Duchess. That is, until he comes to despise her and she to love him. Oh, wait, now she despises him, he despises her, they love each other, they don’t… it’s opera without arias. Someone knifes Duke slimeball, and Guido and the Duchess now take turns confessing and not confessing and dying and not dying. At long last, they agree, love one another, AND die, so this counts as a tragedy.
Long on words and short on wit, this is Wilde’s second play, and by far the longest. Judicious cuts by director Marshall help the ears and behinds of the modern audience. Occasional bits of Wildean epigram float to the surface, but get dragged back down by Elizabethan pretense. Weak as theater to today’s sensibilities, Duchess is really a work for the scholar attempting to understand Wilde’s evolution as a dramatist and attempt to find his voice as a playwright. With austere staging, the reading was well-presented by 6 somber players dressed completely in the black livery of the arts. Sitting motionless and stony when not emoting lines, each pops to life on cue, and lovingly creates the character at hand. Despite the difficulty of the material, this turned into an enjoyable view of this dusty corner of modern literature.