'Gross Indecency' fleshes out controversy around Oscar Wilde

'Gross Indecency' fleshes out controversy around Oscar Wilde

November 4th, 2011 by Clint Cooper in Chattnow Art

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

At the height of his success, author and playwright Oscar Wilde found himself in a bit of a sticky wicket.

"Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," which opens tonight on the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's CircleStage, deals with those issues in what director George Quick says is "first and foremost a courtroom drama."

The Irish author and playwright, who wrote the novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and the play "The Importance of Being Earnest," was accused of violating an 1885 British law -- repealed in 1967 -- of "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons."

The docudrama was written by Moisés Kaufman, who also wrote "The Laramie Project" with other members of the Tectonic Theater Project about the town of Laramie, Wyo., a year after the kidnapping and beating death of Matthew Shepard in the town and a century after the events involving Wilde.

"Gross Indecency," according to Quick, is similar to "The Laramie Project" in that it tells a linear story with interjections.

The mid-1890s trials are covered chronologically, he said, but the script often flashes forward and backward with commentaries by people -- the narrators among the cast of nine -- who wrote books, letters and memoirs about the events.

While the play is "very literary," with commentary by Wilde's author friends and the author's own witty banter, it is not as dry as a Victorian-era courtroom drama might sound to some, Quick said.

"It's very lively," he said. "One of the things that attracted me is [that] it's so much fun to watch what the actors do. It's satisfying [just to see how they handle] Oscar Wilde and his wit and his facility with the language."

Wilde's first trial, a libel suit he was advised not to file, was against his lover Lord Alfred Douglas' father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for leaving a calling-card reference of Wilde as a posing sodomite. Although Wilde dropped the prosecution during the trial, the Marquess of Queensberry was found not guilty.

The next trial, in which the information from the first trial formed the basis for a charge of indecency against the playwright, ended in a hung jury. In the third trial, he was found guilty and spent two years in prison.

The trials, according to Quick, were "hugely sensational" at the time and caused the closing of two of Wilde's popular plays, "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "An Ideal Husband."

Nevertheless, he said, eight years after his death in 1900, Wilde's plays were produced everywhere and by the 1920s were wildly popular. Their popularity, he said, has ebbed and flowed since then.

Quick said he wanted to do the docudrama in the same season as the CTC stages one of the playwright's most well-known works, "The Importance of Being Earnest."

IF YOU GO

  • What: "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde."
  • When: 8 p.m. today, Saturday, Nov. 11-12, Nov. 18-19.
  • Where: CircleStage, Chattanooga Theatre Centre, 400 River St.
  • Admission: $18.
  • Phone: 267-8534.
  • Website: www.TheatreCentre.com.

ADDED ATTRACTIONS

Several performances of "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" will offer additional activities.

  • Tonight: Opening night celebration at 7 p.m.
  • Nov. 11: Director George Quick and actors will talk back to the audience following the production.
  • Nov. 18: Free adult beverages and snacks offered for Girls Night Out.