Boys gone Wilde

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Bill Ware as Oscar Wilde pleads his case with actors Tom Connell and Alexander Biber.

Bill Ware as Oscar Wilde pleads his case with actors Tom Connell and Alexander Biber.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 3.0

Two things made me angry during Brüka Theatre’s opening night performance of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The first was the cell phone that rang during Act 2. To the owner of that phone: You’re an idiot, and you should be forbidden from ever entering another theater.

Second, although the events portrayed here took place more than a century ago, the issues of ignorance and intolerance this play raises are still, sadly, just as prevalent in America today. And that pisses me off.

Oscar Wilde’s story is an important one to tell, and I’m glad someone’s telling it. Gross Indecency, written by Moisés Kaufman (playwright of The Laramie Project) and directed here by Jim Bernardi, is essentially a courtroom drama. Comprised of nothing more than letters to, from, and about Oscar Wilde, court transcripts and legal records, the play follows the real-life fall of Oscar Wilde as he is tried and convicted for “gross indecency"—or, more specifically, homosexuality.

Virtually the entire play takes place in a courtroom, and the audience becomes the unwitting jury. Bill Ware plays Oscar Wilde just as I imagine him, with flamboyance and humor, wearing a cranberry-colored shirt, pin-striped suit and ascot. As the play opens on the first trial, we learn that the Marquess of Queensbury (Lewis Zaumeyer), who is the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (Andy Luna), has accused Wilde of being a “somdomite” (sic). So Wilde is suing him for slander.

Through four narrators (Adam Whitney, Alexander Biber, Jack Peck and Michael Tunseth), as well as through Wilde, Douglas and Queensbury, we hear transcripts, excerpts from Wilde’s work and various letters that illuminate the loving relationship between Wilde and Douglas. Consequently, Wilde’s lawsuit backfires; the court finds Queensbury’s accusations correct. Against his friends’ urgings to quickly leave the country, Wilde stays and is tried for “gross indecency.”

During this second trial, four young men (our four narrators play multiple roles) parade into the courtroom wearing nothing but underwear. These “rent boys” say Wilde solicited them for sex, and (ALERT: spoiler ahead!) even though a hung jury forces a mistrial, the things the men reveal force a third trial. It is this trial that eventually dooms Wilde to several years in prison.

Throughout the play, Wilde’s own words, and the words he has so beautifully written in various books and poems, are actually used against him as evidence. Thus Wilde argues, how can art be either right or wrong? Is art a true representation of the artist’s life? And how can the love between Wilde and his beloved Bosie (Lord Douglas) be a crime?

The play’s ideas are important, but it suffers from Kaufman’s journalistic style, which starts to feel like a dissertation. I wanted to know more about Wilde the man, but I was kept at a distance from that as the play really became a debate about gay rights.

In this performance, many of the lines were flubbed, which made the dialogue-heavy play even tougher to follow. However, I’d chalk that up to opening night jitters and a desire to rush through too much script too quickly, so don’t let that stop you from going.