The Anglo-Irish Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900), unabashedly carried the banner of aestheticism into fashionable circles of after-university London. Known for quick, biting wit and flamboyant dress, he authored poetry, lectured on art (in America), and was employed as a journalist before embarking on the successful career of fiction, playwrighting, painful memoir, and epic, prison verse for which he’s artistically best remembered. Wilde, who was gay, kept up pretense, marrying and siring two children whom he adored and for whom he wrote his wonderful fairy tales.
Charlie Rowe and Rupert Everett
The artist’s other historical prominence, his destruction and downfall, can arguably be said to have been brought about by young, pretty, spoiled Lord Alfred Douglas with whom Wilde was besotted. Almost everything written about the icon describes his being lead astray by the oblivious young man. Not that the author hadn’t maintained a secret life, but his had been discreet, while Douglas, fueled by permissiveness and protected by rank, frequented low clubs and rent boys (lower class prostitutes). Wilde became reckless, though never as quite reckless as Bosie, his nickname for Douglas.
Lord Douglas’s father, The Marquess of Queensberry, became increasingly suspicious of the boy’s relationship with the public figure. At first, Wilde was able to mollify him. Things reached a head when Bosie’s father left his calling card at the author’s club inscribed “For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite.”
Lord Douglas was angrier than his lover and misguidedly convinced Wilde, who knew the possible consequences, to sue for libel. The only way the Marquess could defend himself was to prove his accusation. He naturally hired private detectives who set out to make a case that this more worldly man ensnared the youthful and naïve of his own sex. Wilde’s friends advised him to flee, but Bosie would not have it.
Rupert Everett, Cal MacAninch, Charlie Rowe, Alister Cameron, Elliot Balchin, Jessie Hills
The trial, for sodomy and gross indecency, what they called “The love that dare not speak its name,” was a bloodbath. Playwright David Hare begins this piece on the day Wilde (Rupert Everett) decides either to allow himself to be imprisoned or escape to France. Even the government wants him gone and waits to make the arrest.
Wilde’s old, dear friend, ex-lover, and eventual executor, Robbie Ross (Cal MacAninch), has arranged everything, but petulant Lord Douglas (Charlie Rowe) is convinced he can get the artist off. There’s no question that the victim knows the truth of his situation.
The three take temporary refuge in a hotel room attended by Head Butler Sandy Moffatt (Alister Cameron), Bellman, Arthur Wellesley (Elliot Balchin), and Floor Maid Phoebe Cane (Jessie Hills). All three actors do an admirable job, with Cameron ready to crisply buttle tomorrow and Hills standing out.
Act II finds us in Naples after Wilde spent 2 horrific years in four different prisons at least two of which were at hard labor, and some impoverished time on the continent. He takes full responsibility for consequences suffered. Bosie has found a villa. Wilde supports them as best he can with meager earning from his writing and, up till then, a small allowance from his wife, Constance.
Bosie does what he likes with whomever he likes. The breathtakingly beautiful Italian fisherman, Galileo Masconi (the refreshing, fully present Tom Colley), is his current companion. Unexpectedly, Robbie, who continues in his regard for Wilde, appears with a message from the author’s estranged wife, Constance which will, in its way, determine the rest of Wilde’s life. Hare has stated that these two pivotal, “incomprehensible actions” are the nexus which inspired the play.
Charlie Rowe, Rupert Everett (Tom Colley behind)
Wilde’s principles of morality dictated that each man bears responsibility for himself to such a degree, other’s intentions or actions are literally blameless. Art was his religion, beauty, his God.
Oscar Wilde died of cerebral meningitis on 30 November 1900.
Charlie Rowe’s Bosie is an imperious, self indulgent child. His (and the director’s) interpretation never takes advantage of the playwright’s often brutal dialogue which can aim for the jugular with ego-inflated glee.
Cal MacAninch is superb as Robbie (Robert Ross). There isn’t a moment of emotional falseness in his performance. One can palpably feel the character’s frustration, commitment, and heartrending love as well as fear of discovery. MacAninch moves with the precise grace of a self-made man in a world above his station. Even his posture is conscious. In Act II, we empathize with his fatalism.
Rupert Everett resembles Oscar Wilde. Benevolent generosity and subservient response appear natural around him. The actor wears an over-inflated sense of aesthetic appreciation with finesse. We believe this Wilde to be both willful and bound by irrational attraction to which he voluntarily submits. Though Everett chooses to present himself as less flamboyant than that which we expect, perhaps Wilde tamped itdown among intimates.
What we don’t believe is inner turmoil and pain which is impossible to discount. There’s no indication of struggle with decisions that must spell doom. Even resolved, the icon is unlikely to have been oblivious. When Hare shows us a dramatic moment of decisiveness in Act I, he indicates, I think, that his hero is suffering. During Act II, Wilder lives with ongoing humiliation, yet there isn’t even a halting pause in flip reaction. Everett appears to have eschewed emotion in favor of intellect.
Director Neil Armfield uses the large set with great skill. His pacing is pitch perfect. Characters move and speak within class designation. Stage business is realistic. I would disagree with his take on Wilde.
David Hare’s The Judas Kiss (as in Judas’s betrayal of Jesus) is literate, insightful, and illuminating, allowing questions rather than answers to arise. His portraits feel authentic, dialogue plausible. Facts, of course, are undeniable. The surprise opening of the piece is inspired. Still, the play never takes flight.
Dale Ferguson’s Set Design manages to reflect exactly where we are with sharp detail and minimal fuss. He makes beautiful use of curtains. Costumes by Sue Blane are as if second skin. Varied accents (Charmian Hoare) are excellent. Of particular artfulness Rick Fisher’s Lighting Design is evocative and painterly.
Performance Photos by Cilla von Tiedemann
Opening: Rupert Everett
The Judas Kiss by David Hare
Directed by Neil Armfield
BAM Harvey Theater
Through June 12, 2016