Gross Indeceny Theatre Review - Oscar Wilde takes to the stage

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde opened September 4, 2009 at The Eclectic Company Theatre

While passion and enthusiasm are certainly palpable energies in the live theatre, they are unfortunately not always enough to make a mediocre or amateurish production a successful production.  Such is the lesson with the Eclectic Company Theatre's production of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.  I regret to report that it wasn't much of a true success as a total production- it had many of the awkward and banal implications of a resource-less production.  Nonetheless, there were glimpses of a realized dream here and there that left the viewer wishing, near pleading, that the elements would somehow unite into the manifestation of a polished and exciting piece of somewhat underground Los Angeles theatre.  

Darrell Philip (Standing), Kerr Seth Lordygan (Oscar Wilde)

                                                              The script, penned with near pragmatic perfection by Moises Kaufman, is a highly factual recount of the three trials that ultimately left the laureate playwright Oscar Wilde ( Kerr Seth Lordygan) convicted of acts of "gross indecency", sentenced to hard labor, and ultimately irrevocably and fatally ill.  Prompted by his romantic affair with Lord Alfred Douglas ( Joshua Grant), Wilde instigated the trials by suing Douglas' suspecting and explosive father, the Marquess of Queensbury ( Andrew Hagan), for libel.  In his storytelling, Kaufman pulls a great deal from actual documentation of the trials.  In fact, that sentence would perhaps read more accurately as: in recounting the trial through actual historical documentation, Kaufman tells a story.  The abundance of quotes from court manuscripts, newspapers, autobiographies and books essentially engulfs the audience in a mushroom cloud of information.  In fact, the whole play is somewhat of an arrangement of information and feels a bit like a crash course on the life of Oscar Wilde.  To further this reality, the very few added lines of dialogue are monopolized by simple "he said's" and "she said's".  This continues at great length as the play runs considerably long.  

To the historian, perhaps, this is an enjoyable feat.  As one who revels in history, I admit that I was drawn in by this blatant retelling of a fascinating history.  And in all honesty, Kaufman does jump in occasionally to direct the information toward an actual thesis.  For example the word homosexual, Kaufman seems to argue, found its beginnings in the aftermath of this particular trial.  Men sleeping with men was an accepted but undiscussed reality, rather than a form of identity.  The word "homosexual", we learn, had no weight in Wilde's lifetime.  These conclusions are rewarding but sadly few and far between.  

From left to right: Casey Kramer, Andrew Hagan, JC Henning, Beth Ricketson

                                                                 So what this all meant for the production is that the script was, to begin with, a challenge.  The trap understandably lied in the potential to mount a live History Channel dramatization of real life events rather than a theatrical production.  And in some instances this production avoids this, however, a large portion of the overall arch remains fixed in one particular tone, one particular feeling.  In short, it can feel dry, drawn out and uneventful.  You relish in the moments where facts stop and partially fictionalized scenes begin.  On a positive note, however, it wasn't the sort of pretentious and self-indulgent brooding that can easily and frequently be found in independent theatre trying to prove itself.  In fact, the cast was unassuming and seemingly dedicated to this production.  But the unfortunate part was that the dedication often failed to reach out and pull us in.    

JC Henning (foreground) in one of multiple roles

                                                                  All of this aside, the set and costume design was unforgivable.  To say amateurish would be an unfair misrepresentation of amateurish productions displaying even an iota of artistic choice.  The Eclectic Company Theatre, an intimate, to say the least, and fatally small space has every known challenge in the book.  The design team does little to rectify this.  The set consisted of four blocks that were clearly overused and lacked all creative choice.  Two side panels on both walls of the theatre swung out to isolate individual scenes.  The colors were blindingly vibrant.  Both walls and blocks were painted for probably the hundredth time and showed the cheap glossy look of seventeen layers of paint.  They shined, for whatever reason, in their fresh coat of crayon red and yellow, I believe.  Their color had no correlation to the story and showed the general disregard for a unified production.  The swinging panels were a practical and interesting choice in isolating scene from storytelling; nevertheless, they weren't practically used and still ordained the repugnant red and yellow, which, in itself, was a gross indecency.  

 The costumes were, sadly, just as vague and useless.  It seems obvious to note that a modern suit and shoes with a bright scarf thrown around the neck does not bring us back to the waning years of nineteenth century England.  I don't mind a choice that reinterprets actual history for artistic bravery, but by all means if that choice was there it lived unnoticed.  Each costume looked like the standard "all we could do" getup you see in any production where the actors must pull from their own closets.  Yes, I'm sure budget was an issue, but a choice that acknowledges this and doesn't pretend it away would have been appreciated.

Kerr Seth Lordygan

The actors were a hodgepodge of noticeable and forgettable performances.  Stand-outs included Andrew Hagan as Queensberry, among other characters.  He, like the charming JC Henning, wandered seamlessly from character to character with an enjoyable ease.  Casey Kramer, too, was warm as Frank Harris and subtly amusing as one of the boys with whom Wilde was convicted of gross acts.  The three provided a solid ensemble bass for the production. Kerr Seth Lordygan was an unexpected Wilde, which although approached with an open mind, proved ultimately disappointing.  Images of a bolder Stephen Fry in the 1997 television drama seemed to trump throughout.  Overall accents vary wildly; be prepared.  

In the end the production remained an interesting although sometime lugubrious arrangement of history.  Beyond that, however, there is little to say.  The unique script leaves you wandering back and forth between admiration and frustration and, to its credit, remains effectively lodged within the memory for days to come.  The production is, in fact, an experience, and regardless of your like or dislike, it seems inevitable to leave affected.  

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde opened September 4, 2009 and will run through Sunday, October 11, 2009 @:

The Eclectic Company Theatre
5312 Laurel Canyon Ave (between Chandler and Magnolia)
North Hollywood, CA 91607

Friday & Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday at 7pm

For reservations: call: 818-508-3003


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