BWW Review: GROSS INDECENCY at Slipstream Theatre Initiative Embraces Creativity Through Imaginative Production Design
Slipstream Theatre Initiative in Ferndale has done it yet again. Since their incredible run of On The Exhale finished last month, you can now see their next production until June 30th, a play entitled Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Written by Moisés Kaufman and produced by the Tectonic Theater Project, Gross Indecency premiered off-Broadway in February 1997 to rave reviews, and it later received several productions in California.
If you're anything like me, you've heard of Oscar Wilde and his only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, but you don't know much about him. As a poet and playwright, Wilde was one of the most popular artists of the 19th century. He was also put on trial for his "gross indecency" with men, which was illegal at the time. As such, Gross Indecency is a play all about his three trials regarding this scandal. If you don't know much about Wilde, don't let that deter you from seeing this play. Instead, I strongly suggest doing some brief research before seeing the show.
Personally, I had first been exposed to Gross Indecency by reading it as a freshman in college. I remember enjoying the play, but it didn't resonate with me so much at the time. Revisiting it now as a college graduate with a deeper perspective of how the world treats LGBT+ people, I appreciated it a lot more. It was especially powerful given that it's being performed during Pride Month.
There were several things I loved about Slipstream's production, all of them having to do with the creativity involved in building the whole production.
The very first thing I noticed was the set design, which was designed by Jackson Abohasira (who also plays Bosie Douglas in the show). Immediately upon walking into their back theatre, I was intrigued by what I saw. There's graphic stuff written and drawn all over the walls in chalk. There's Christmas lights dangling across the wall, coming together behind a pile of tires, where Wilde is on trial throughout the performance. There's even miniature slides and street signs hanging off miniature staircases, both of which are used in the show by the ensemble.
Next, I thought that the costumes added significant amounts of interest to every scene. Designed by On The Exhale's Tiaja Sabrie, each and every one was just plain unusual, like nothing I'd ever seen before. A police hat covered in stickers, pilot goggles on top of a ratted knit hat, a creepy green masquerade mask, and shiny patterned suit jacket were just a select few of the clothing items that intrigued me the most.
Throughout the performance, it was evident that the actors took the uniqueness from the production design and implemented it into their acting. While they were quirky and generally fun to watch, perhaps my favorite part about them was how they took primarily-nameless narrators and gave them personalities.
An obvious standout amongst the cast was Richard Payton, who played Wilde himself. It was brilliant how he could go from cracking jokes at one moment to reciting an emotional soliloquy in the next, both of which flawlessly. Until I see another production, I don't think I can picture anyone else in this role.
Slipstream's production of Gross Indecency, much like On The Exhale, is a play that will make you think. Furthermore, it's not a play for mindless entertainment. It will challenge and enthrall you in ways that quality theatre should. I can't recommend it enough.
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