Volume I, Issue II Winter 2002

Finding humanity in a troubling time

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
Written by Moisés Kaufman
Directed by Rosina Reynolds

Diversionary Theatre
4545 Park Boulevard, Suite 101, San Diego, Calif.
Through March 8

Self-designated political theater tends to make for strident politics and bad theater.

Good theater, however, is fully as capable of tackling political and social issues as well as any other universal themes.

What brings this to mind is Diversionary Theatre's production of Moisés Kaufman's "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde."

Kaufman has shown elsewhere that handled with sensitivity and care, politics need be no more controversial nor divisive than more accepted themes, like love and betrayal. When he and his Tectonic Theater Project wrote and performed "The Laramie Project" in the wake of the beating death of a young gay man in Wyoming, they never preached nor judged the townspeople they portrayed. Instead, they brought their stories to stage in a thoughtful, balanced manner.

And so it is with "Gross Indecency," in which Wilde's persecutors are not by and large portrayed as evil, but as products of their times and fears.

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Staged as a series of courtroom scenes throughout Wilde's libel lawsuit against the Marquis of Queensberry, and his own trial on charges of "Gross Indecency," the play moves through 19th-Century England's own conflict over private behavior and public morality. The English themselves never seemed particularly clear on what the limits of private sexual behavior ought to be.

Farhang Pernoon is absolutely riveting as Wilde - utterly confused as to why anyone would want to criticize him, sure he did nothing wrong. Pernoon, who was also zanily wonderful in last fall's "The Mystery of Irma Vep" at Diversionary (see review), is proving himself one of Southern California's best independent-theater actors.

Also to be noted is the performance of Douglas L. Ireland as Queensbury, who suspects his son and Wilde are having an affair and publicly accuses Wilde of such – eventually bringing Wilde's career and life to a halt. Ireland is so utterly vicious and evil in the role that he actually got some old-school boos after the show – high praise indeed for a villain!

David Weiner owns Diversionary's small, asymmetric stage the way Tiger Woods owns a golf course. Weiner's set design for "Gross Indecency" is his third or fourth in a row at Diversionary, and like the others transforms the cramped space into a larger than life world all its own.

As for the play's moral, it is Kaufman's restraint that makes his point about injustice even more powerful. If good, decent people can persecute a genius like Wilde for being different, then something is wrong with society itself – and not simply with those who carry out its wishes.

Review by Jim Trageser. Jim is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif.

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