By Joseph Hurley
The ability of positive newspaper reviews to transform a modest, completely anonymous theatrical venture into a national, and potentially even international, stage phenomenon has seldom been more graphically illustrated than is the case with MoisTs Kaufman’s play “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” now in its 14th month of mainly sold-out performances at the Minetta Lane Theatre in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.
Kaufman, the son of Jewish immigrants to Venezuela, had worked as a theater director, particularly in a decidedly avant garde context, but he had never written a play before he addressed himself to the story of the Dublin-born poet and playwright Oscar Wilde and his scandalous fall from grace in the final years of the 19th century.
When “Gross Indecency” opened in a showcase production directed by the author, with its cast unpaid and the run limited by union contract to just 16 performances, it was January of 1997. The newspaper response rendered a continuation of the play’s life virtually mandatory, and, after a layoff of a few weeks, during which time the production underwent a certain amount of polishing in the interests of conforming to the realities of the Minetta Lane Theatre, a larger and somewhat more mainstream off-Broadway venue, it reopened in late March of last year.
While continuing its amazingly solid New York engagement, “Gross Indecency” spawned a touring company, which opened to great acclaim in California, playing Los Angeles and San Francisco, where it is still going strong at that city’ s Theater-on-the-Square.
After the national troupe’s open-ended Pacific Coast stand ends, other dates across the country will follow, and, with a success this emphatic, international interest is a given, with British productions, among others, a virtual certainty.
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The current fascination with anything and everything connected to the tale of Wilde and his obsessive, self-destructive love for the shallow “Bosie,” as young Lord Alfred Douglas was more informally known, an overprotected but corrupt young aristocrat, as selfish as he was manipulative, seems boundless. None of the Oscar manifestations, now or to come, however, seems likely to be as illuminating or as clarifying as MoisTs Kaufman’s slightly academic but richly rewarding “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.”
To read a review of “The Judas Kiss,” click here.
To read more about Oscar Wilde, click here.
To read a review of the film “Wilde,” click here.