Trial of a Century

Unfortunately, a few of the performers mistake bluster for feeling as they overproject and scream their lines--in the relative intimacy of a 300-seat theater, no less--or worse, garble them in the apparent wish to substitute speed of delivery for quickness of apprehension. When combined with a few supporting actors' inability to convey believable and understandable accents (Hyland's British dialect, in particular, fades in and out all evening), the company's collective vocal skills fall considerably short of the standard for professional actors. On the technical side, special effects such as projected titles and stark lighting pique our interest but fail to have much overall impact until the third trial scene, when Williamson's surreal staging attains full flower. Still, the director's choice to change the playwright's bone-dry interview with a Wilde expert, humorously portrayed by Rubald, into a crass television talk show adds just the right amount of impeachment-style flavor. Williamson even adds the words "under oath" to Rubald's irony-laden declaration, "It does look like he lied."

After Oscar is packed off to jail, the actors shuffle amid the detritus of the legal system as they recite "The House of Judgment," a poem that Wilde composed a year after his release from prison. When the performers describe the poet's conversation with God--"Wherefore can I not send thee to Hell?" says God. "Because in Hell I have always lived," replies the Man--we're finally afforded an opportunity to hear Oscar's bitter, though faint, cries and to enter, however briefly, into his anguish. In the silence that follows, we don't ponder whether Wilde was saint or sinner. Instead, we're left wondering what kind of civilized society tramples its artists and persecutes those who differ from the norm. Sadly enough, as the play draws to a close, Kaufman's house of judgment looks suspiciously like a never-ending, thoroughly Wildean hall of mirrors.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, through March 4 at the Ricketson Theatre, in the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex at 14th and Curtis streets, 303-893-4100.

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