Gross Indecency at The Eclectic Theatre Company

More than one hundred years ago, Oscar Wilde was brought to court for indecent acts that violated the Victorian law of turn of the century England. More than one hundred years ago, these charges still resonate within the gay community today. Wilde was such an aesthete that challenged the conventions of his time and changed the perception of sexuality. Unfortunately for Wilde, he was pitted against an established regime and his own art was used against him to bring him down.

Moises Kaufman’s play, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde takes official documents, letters, press accounts, and court transcripts to construct a gripping portrayal of Wilde’s three trials, the first of which he brought up against his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas’ father John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The following trials found Wilde the defendent for “committing acts of gross indeceny with other male persons”. Really, what was on trial was the political state of art itself. Wilde was considered a revolutionary and also dangerous for his thought on art, and for that reason, this was a perfect excuse to bring him down.

Kaufman’s play is a brilliant concoction of research that seamlessly reconstructs those trial days while maintianing an emotional distance. His signature style use of a cast that play multiple characters is as effective in this play as his later play, The Laramie Project, in which he also he uses the horrific death of Matthew Shepard to examine the extent of homophobia in the Wyoming town where he was murdered. In docudrama style, Gross Indeceny moves forward, driven by it’s own compelling evidence. And although it is really stripped by emotion, one cannot help but feel an emotional surge for Wilde’s plight of outright injustice in a time when puritanical views reigned supreme (something that even to this day seems to hold true.)

Susan Lee, the director of this production at Eclectic Theatre Company, has successfully managed a moving and involving production of this play with a talented cast capable of cutting to the truth of each character. Her approach seeks to answer the question of who or what dictates morality.

Although Kerr Seth Lorygan doesn’t resemble Wilde, his portrayal in this play is compelling so much so that his persona has you believing all that Wilde encompassed, from his passion for his art to his complicated love for Douglas (Joshua Grant). Still, resemblance to the actual character is inconsequential in a play that aims to answer more universal questions of morality. As for the rival barristers, Dean Farell Bruggeman (Carson) and Darrell Philip (Clarke), command the stage as they switch from the multiple roles that are required in this play. Grant, too, as the effeminate Douglas hell bent on persuading Wilde to press charges against his father for libel, brings a touch of tenderness and pathos – even as Wilde, in his later years, begins to blame him for his downfall.

Supporting actors fill out the rest of the cast of characters, intermittenly falling in and out of multiple roles with swift seamless effort. Beth Ricketson’s George Bernard Shaw and Casey Kramer’s Frank Harris are worthy of mention.

Although not a perfect production, the cast at times fumbled with dialouge throughout, this production is worthy of a wonderful presentation that effectively serves Kaufman’s play wonderfully.

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About Obed Medina
Obed received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of California at Riverside. He has freelanced and volunteered at various theatre companies in Los Angeles since 2002. He launched his own workshop theatre company in 2008 and has produced six original one-act plays and one Off-Broadway hit. Currently, he is living in Ashland, Oregon working on his writing and founder of Collaborative Theatre Project.

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