Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
by Moises Kaufman
Directed by Michael Carleton
Starring Jim Helsinger, Eric Hissom, Richard Width, Richard Watson
It’s not easy being a sissy. Oh, sure, you can have two successful plays running and a clutch of great novels, poems, and sonnets, but it’s still a tough job. There always some loser who’ll accuse you of sodomy and bad taste, and next thing you know, you’re in the dock defending your personal letters to some Slim Gilt Soul or another. What’s an aesthete to do? Oscar’s (Helsinger’s) strategy singularly misfires. When the Marquis of Queensbury (yes, the guy who invented prize fighting) accuses him of “posing as a sodomite,” Wilde foolishly hauls him to court, hoping to protect his lover and the Marquis’ son, Bosie (Width). Too bad Wilde isn’t just posing, and quite a few people slither out of the woodwork to confirm this nameless vice in court. He’s not only doing it, but he actually enjoys it! The only decent thing left to do is prosecute, prosecute, and prosecute until they get a conviction, and then auction his stuff to the lowest bidder.
With nearly every line followed by citation, chapter and verse, Helsinger and company overcome the preachy nature of Indecency to deliver a cautionary tale of hubris in public life. Wilde steps into the witness box, astride the world and confidence oozing from every pore, but a single small slip plummets him to the depths with a speed any MTV pop star would appreciate. While Width’s Bosie appears ready to burst into tears at any moment, raging against dread old daddy’s homophobia, the twin Rumpoles of Hissom and Watson spit venomous lather, each hoping for the glory of saving or slaying such a glorious preening peacock.
At every decision point, Wilde makes the worst possible choice for the best possible reason. With multiple opportunities to rectify the damage done, he spurns safety and plunges headlong into ever more disastrous pursuits, all in the name of protecting himself and his friend. The noblest actions, standing honorably and not taking French leave like a coward or reasonable man would, lead to misery and dishonor for all. Sic transit, Oscar.