Gross Indecency Still Relevant Today

by Paige Allison 

“If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.”

“Compassion is timeless.”

“One should not be persecuted for love.”

Numerous platitudes are explored in Gross Indecency; The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. Fly Jamerson’s Lincoln directing debut tackles these and more. Jamerson’s intent is to educate, tell the story of Oscar Wilde, and give voice to the indecency of gross judgement. 

The historical litigation of Oscar Wilde’s sexuality has been covered in the film medium as early as 1960. It has been dramatized under several titles. Lincoln Community Playhouse produces the Broadway version by Moises Kaufman. Written in 1997, at the height of our national discussion on homosexuality, Kaufman pulls court transcripts from the actual trials of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and crafts them into something thought-provoking and eternally relevant. Are words art? How much weight do they carry and what is “intent”? What happens when morality is legislated? 

Jamerson’s cast of nine men carry the entire show, many of them playing various characters. The costuming and set are streamlined, austere, and effective. The mono and dialogue carries the story as the audience has a courtroom seat to Wilde’s personal life on trial. The “gross indecency” for which he is charged is a euphemism for his homosexuality. His artistry and intellectual brilliance provide cover for Wilde as do his marital and parental statuses. Wilde (b. 1854, d. 1900) lived in a time where to speak of the nature of his proclivity would have stymied his career. Homosexuality was a criminal offense. Although Wilde would go on to write other great works, the trauma of his conviction and subsequent hard labor contributed to his early death, merely a few years after his judgement. 

Wilde, played flawlessly by Michael Trutna, is involved in an affair with the considerably younger Lord Alfred Douglas, portrayed with equal aplomb by Stuart Richey. The first trial is brought about by Wilde against the father of his young lover, the Marquess of Queensberry (Kirk Monismith) as a libel suit. The initial trial brought to light Wilde’s relationship with Douglas (and others) and in turn, charges were brought against Wilde himself. Wilde’s own prose became evidence of this intention to pursue his young lover(s). In fact, Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Grey (1890) allegedly made suspect Wilde’s inclination. Subsequently, the poem “Two Loves” by Lord Alfred Douglas (1892) referencing “a love that dare not speak its name”, became a lynchpin in Wilde’s trial; a reference to the nature of the relationship between the two men. History informs us that Wilde would be tried on his own written words and those of his paramour. The text is drawn from the transcripts of the actual court documents and headlines of the day. The various highlights woven together by the actors illustrate the intolerance and societal judgement in fact, criminality, of one’s sexual orientation in that Victorian time. 

The Lincoln Community Playhouse production seeks to lend a voice to those persecuted for whom they love. The hope is that the audience feels compassion and this is apparent in Jamerson’s interpretation. Absolutely their intent is to educate and tell the story of this famed playwright; provoking thought as LCP further explores Wilde’s works over the next two weeks. 

Next week LCP will present the well known play, The Importance of Being Earnest, a comedy of mistaken and otherwise assumed identities. (The Importance of Being Earnest was written by Wilde prior to his 1894 trials.) The following weekend LCP will present both shows so as to give a more well rounded picture of the history of one of the world’s renowned writers and the context of some of his works. LCP utilizes the same crew for both shows. 

The talented cast is rounded out by Walter McDowell III, Thomas Hinshaw, Daniel Peters, Noah Mason, Nathaniel Root and Mason Gustafson. The production team includes Scenic Designer Kathleen Turner, Costumer  Kat Cover, and Lighting Designer Josiah Morgan. Adult language and content suggest that Gross Indecency is suitable for mature audiences. 

If you go: Remaining performances of Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde are Sundays, January 26 and February 9 at 2:00 pm, and Saturday, February 8 at 7:30 pm. Lincoln Community Playhouse is located at 2500 South 56th Street in Lincoln. Tickets are available at the box office and online.

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