BWW Review: Literature and Law Combine in CATCO's Latest Production
Mere blocks from the highest court in Ohio, a richly appointed mock courtroom serves as the setting for "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," the latest production performed by CATCO at Columbus' Vern Riffe Center Studio Two Theatre.
Written by Moises Kaufman, "Gross Indecency" combines the fast-talking theatricality of modern primetime legal dramas with engrossing dialogue plucked from primary sources from Victorian England. These elements culminate in a stirring reenactment of the trials endured by Irish author, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde.
Based on historical events, the play begins with Wilde (Josh Katawick) pressing charges against the Marquess of Queensberry (Christopher Moore Griffin) on the basis of criminal libel. This unsuccessful trial, however, further complicates Wilde's life when details of his social behavior and intimate relationships with young men, such as the Marquess's son, Lord AlFred Douglas (Matthew Sierra), are brought up during the proceedings.
Wilde soon finds that the tables have turned when he is arrested, tried and ultimately jailed for the crime of gross indecency over the course of two subsequent trials.
The play's rapid-fire dialogue is infused with electric exchanges that draw upon a mix of trial transcripts, letters, newspaper articles and passages from Wilde's "The Picture of DorIan Gray" and "The Importance of Being Earnest."
On opening night, the demanding pacing of the tongue-twisting script seemed to trip up some of the actors, but the smooth recitation of a diverse range of sources was generally accomplished with relative ease.
The first act focuses on Wilde's charge of libel against the Marquess of Queensberry. Katawick, as Wilde, adopts a self-assured, cheeky demeanor during the cross-examination as he warps the meaning of words and expertly conveys half-truths to the attorneys -- including his own legal counsel, Edward Clarke (Ralph E. Scott).
Following an intermission, the second act begins with a more somber tone. This time, the focus is on the allegations of Wilde's homosexuality as the attorneys' incessant questioning grinds out under the set's blazing spotlights.
The all-male cast morphs to fill a variety of roles ranging from Queen Victoria (Douglas Whaley) to young men who claim to have had relations with Wilde. The result is a dizzying and at times confusing revolving door of personalities, accents and demeanors, which could be interpreted to mirror the exhaustion and confusion Wilde feels as an endless litany of complaints are read from the witness stand.
Indeed, at 2 ½ hours, the dialogue-heavy plot is exacting on the characters, actors and audience. As the end of his third trial nears, an exasperated Wilde slouches in his chair and moans, "Can't you see that I am weary?"
From the squeaking of chairs as some audience members shifted positions and slipped out the door around the play's two-hour mark, it seemed like this sentiment was echoed by many.
Yet, despite the play's extensive details, or perhaps because of them, when "Gross Indecency" comes to a close, the seemingly endless repetition of the trials further connects the audience to the anguished Wilde.
Oscar Wilde might not have found the support he needed from his Victorian-era peers, but if Friday's standing ovation is any indication, it seems as if it would be a very different story today.
"Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" is set to be presented from Nov. 2 through Nov. 20 in the Vern Riffe Center's Studio Two Theatre.
Tickets are available at the CATCO box office, located at 39 E. State St., or by calling 614-469-0939. They can also be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com or by calling or visiting any central Ohio Ticketmaster location.
More information about showtimes and tickets can be found on CATCO's website.
The Vern Riffe Center is located at 77 S. High St.