at Firehouse Theater Company

by Mona Lott

The wit and nuance of Oscar Wilde is very much on display in Firehouse Theater Company’s most recent production. Gross Indecency was written by Moises Kaufman in 1997 and is described as a Docu-drama as the lines were taken from numerous transcripts of Wilde’s and his contemporaries. Wilde was an Irish poet and playwright who became immensely popular in London during the 1890’s. The play chronicles the 1895 arrest of Wilde for “gross indecency”: and the events leading up to it.

The term “gross indecency” is antiquated in its use and refers to a sexual relationship between men. In this case the relationship between Wilde and a much younger man, Sir Alfred Douglas. Wilde, deftly portrayed here by Andrew Uhlenhopp was his own worst enemy, bringing attention to his relationship and the ultimate downfall of his celebrity by bringing suit against Lord Alfred’s father, The Marquis of Queensberry. Queensberry performed with so much bluster by Wes Munsil that it almost seems too much for the small stage at The John Hand Theater was the defendant in Wilde’s suit after publicly accusing Wilde of being a sodomite.  

When Queensberry provides viable proof of Wilde’s behavior, Wilde drops the case and is subsequently brought up for charges of gross indecency in a second trial that goes undecided until a third trial that spells the doom of Wilde’s career and good standing.

The play is well staged by director Owen T. Niland, challenged with the difficult task of bringing movement and interest to a play void of much action. The nine actors move swiftly from narrating to portraying numerous characters and the staging is effective and intriguing in its theatricality.  Less effective is the ambitious lighting design by Steven Tangedal. Though it was creative and served to successfully direct focus, there were many instances on opening night whereby the actors rose to speak lines in the dark. No doubt, these were technical wrinkles that have been ironed out.

The costuming by Susan Rahmsdorf-Terry was a little confusing. Only Lord Alfred seemed to be in period garb while the rest of the cast seemed more contemporary with the exception of the young men who appear in period underwear to testify against Wilde.  To Rahmsdorf-Terry’s credit, the suggestion of period clothing may have been due to a limited budget. The nontraditional casting of women playing defense attorney Clarke and prosecutor Carson, both male characters provided another costuming challenge.

The casting of women in these roles seemed almost at odds with the historical significance of a trial that had everything to do with gender, but perhaps was a nod to the non-binary gender codes of today. Darlene Grandy as Clark is subtle, but effective in her defense of Wilde, while Kelly Uhlenhopp as Carson proves to be a fine actress with a command of the stage and presence that overshadows the fact that she is playing a male character.

Bradley James Gibbons brings nuanced affection and petulant anger to the role of Sir Alfred as he recounts his side of the relationship cultivating in a goodbye kiss with Wilde. Uhlenhopp as Wilde brings the play to its conclusion with an emotional performance of a man confused and exhausted by the fate he has endured. The rest of the cast, Philip Walter, John Peacock, Zachary Vaughn and Christian Munck round out the play with consummate performances as several other characters.

Homosexuality was a term not yet invented in 1895 and thus Wilde called it “The love that dare not speak its name.” There is no doubt however that after attending this Firehouse production of Gross Indecency you will be inclined to mention the name of this witty and great playwright, Oscar Wilde.

Experience the drama and a history lesson with Firehouse Theater Company’s GROSS INDECENCY:  THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, February 17th through March 17th. Tickets are available at the box office at (303) 562-3232 or The John Hand Theater is located at Colorado Free University at 7653 E. 1st Place in Denver.


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