Ben Seidensticker and Dennis Yadon in Madison Theatre Guild's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
Audience members are not only invited to witness the proceedings in the courtrooms of Victorian London, they are asked to participate by sitting in one of three jury boxes as they enter the theater. Director Steve Noll uses this device effectively as the actors reenact the legal proceedings that made Wilde, a celebrated playwright, society wit and intellectual, fall from grace precipitously. Condemned and vilified by the same public that had exalted him, he was ultimately sent to jail for being gay.
Moises Kaufman's script illuminates the subject and the era through a collage of primary sources, including court transcripts, letters and newspaper clippings. Although the actors meticulously reference these sources to reinforce the authenticity of the story, the play feels more like a well-researched encyclopedia entry than a story of love, fascination with eccentric public figures, and puritanical attitudes about sex.
Dennis Yadon was an understated Wilde. He misses the opportunity to revel in the character's wit at the outset of the proceedings, and to fully demonstrate the magnitude of Wilde's loss at the conclusion. This, compounded with a lack of chemistry between Yadon and Ben Seidensticker, who plays Wilde's companion Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas, lessens the story's emotional impact.
Although the overall effect is more academic than dramatic, this production is still a worthy exercise, executed with clarity and precision by the large ensemble cast. Eric Andrus (Sir Edward Clark) and Jason Compton (Edward Carson) give very strong performances as the lawyers on each side of the libel case. Costumed beautifully in colorful vests, capes and even kilts made by Raven Albrecht, the rest of the actors command the unorthodox performance space as narrators, judges, witnesses and friends.