Gross Indecency:
The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

Kansas City Rep

February, 2000

Tom Story

“The case for theater’s relevance was made with painful eloquence Friday night at Missouri Repertory Theatre.  As anti-gay protesters braved the cold with mean-spirited signs on Rockhill, theatergoers assembled for the Rep’s classy production of an important play depicting with chilling clarity the destructive nature of a homophobic society mired in sexual hypocrisy.

“Director Paul Barnes has assembled a strong cast that includes several veterans of previous productions of Gross Indecency, and the result is acting of a generally high order. . . It’s refreshing to see a dramatic work that manages to be cerebral and visceral.

“The quality of the acting—not to mention creative work from scenic designer Gary Wichansky and particularly lighting designer Victor En Yu Tan—renders the play’s stylized approach accessible, compelling and often comic. This is serious theater, but it’s also grandly, audaciously entertaining, reminiscent in some ways of Amgels in America.

“Arthur Hanket doesn’t look much like Oscar Wilde—he’s handsome and Wilde was not—but his performance is an impressive piece of work, richly detailed and memorable for his delivery of Wilde’s frequent witty rejoinders.  Tom Story finds ways to make Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s young lover, sympathetic despite his maddening, manipulative behavior.

“The “Greek chorus” of David Reed, Mark Silence, Tom Woodward and Michael Shipley provide a succession of brief but memorable performances.  They bring a satirical edge to the production that allows it to escape a fate worse than death—self-importance..

“This is . . . an impressive production of an exceptional play that needs to be seen.”

    Robert Trussell

    The Kansas City Star

“Once in a great while a critic is called upon to review a theatrical production that is essentially flawless, and to say anything negative would be to do injustice to everyone connected with said production.  Such is the case of the riveting production, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, currently housed as a theatrical treasure at Missouri Repertory Theatre.”

“[Director Paul Barnes] has cast a spell upon the production . . .  that results in nothing less than perfection.

“From set design by Gary Wichansky, which incorporates every level and inch of the vast Missouri Reps stage to lighting design by Victor En Yu Tan which happens with split-second accuracy to the impressive talents of dialogue coach Louis Coliani, who has managed giving each actor exactly the right clipped English accent ranging from highbrow to cockney, the play unfolds at a mesmerizing pace.

“A total of nine actors, all male, judiciously create no less than twenty-eight separate characters . . .  and do so with the precision of a military drill team.  The staging is so explicit and exacting, that there is not one beat of time that is empty in this production.  

“. . . Arthur Hanket . . . plays only one character, Oscar Wilde; his performance is compelling.  Hanket resists the tempatation of playing the great literary celebrity of England in 1895 as an imperious, elegant pansy.  Hanket gives us an Oscar Wilde who is passionate about his art as was Leonardo da Vince or Michelangelo and Shakespeare.  Wilde is seen as a visionary, a man far ahead of his time who would see all of human society lifted up and enlightened by all of the arts.  Hanket is a strong, masculine force whomanages to convery the passion and abiding love that Oscar Wilde had for Lord Alfred Douglas, sensitively played by Tom Story with just the right combination of adoration, youthful naivete, and a beauty that would appeal to persons of any gender.”

“Not much has changed between 1895 and the present day.  The power of media, innuendo, gossip, scandal, false morality and human judgment is rampant and present.  Those who see this work will come away with their own opinions; not the least of which should be that we all be more forgiving of another’s sins.”

    Taylor Pero

“Every now and again a play will come around that truly captures the essence of the power of theater in our modern world, a play that brings to life the toils of society in its quest for uniformity, a play that presents its case in a stimulating and educational format.  The Missouri Repertory Theatre’s production of Moises Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde is such a play.

“Even if an audience member is unfamiliar with Wilde, the play is mesmerizing.  If one is versed in the playwright-poet’s life, the production is entrancing.

“What makes the production shine so brightly is the method of presentation mixed with a talented cast that is committed to the subject matter.  The play’s first act is present in an almost verbal ballet.  The timing and characterization are so moving that the two-hour-and-30-mnute running time flies by.

“Director Paul Barnes did well in assembling such a strong cast, but he took the production to the next step by giving them the tools to succeed.  His willingness to explore and often magnify the humor of the production worked well.  Kaufman could not have asked for a better production of his work.

“The treatment of Oscar Wilde was both disturbing and sympathetic.  Arthur Hanket handled the character deftly.  Hanket plays all levels of Wilde in a fashion of which one could imagine Oscar EWilde himself would be proud.  Wlde’s gentle manner, mixed with fear and commitment to his ethics, was strongly evident, and the entire production company appeared to treat the work with the deserved respect. . .  The ensemble cast. . .  was so unified that in the first act I was forced to remind myself that there was very little movement.  The blocking was so well developed that the play appeared to be spinning its way through the journey at all times.  All characters worked together as one heartbeat of art, leading to an obvious and artistic conclusion. Adding to the artistic elements of the production was wonderful work by the team’s technical crew.  

“. . .  plainly, theatre at its best.”

    Ron Simonian

    The Pitch


What I learned. . .

Being picketed on opening night of Gross Indecency at Missouri Repertory Theatre was a real first.  The Reverend Fred Phelps of the infamous Westover Baptist Church in Topeka, was offended by the play’s subject matter and sent a small core of his minions to protest the production.  What was almost as sad as the horrifying, hateful placards the protesters carried that night, was the fact that the majority of the parka-clad group, bundled and braced against the fierce Midwestern winter cold, was their age: save for a couple of adults, I’d estimate the majority of the group (maybe 10 people in all) were teen-agers or kids, aged 14, 12, 10.   (Staff members at the Rep assured me that these sorts of protests were a common occurance in and around Kansas City. Just the week before, a contingent of Westover Baptists had protested an appearance by Julie Andrews, in response to her work in the film Victor/Victoria.  I did take a bit of comfort in the thought, “what’s good enough for Julie. . .”)

Shortly after opening the production, I drove from Kansas City to Denver where Moises Kaufman was previewing The Laramie Project at the Denver Center Theatre Company.  Having met Moises during rehearsals for the San Francisco production of Gross Indecency, I sought him out at intermission, re-introduced myself, and showed him photographs of the Westover Baptists that a cast member had taken from the car as we approached the theatre on opening night. Moises studied the snapshots for a moment, sighed deeply and said, “Oh, you Americans. . .”

But directing Gross Indecency was memorable for other reasons as well.  Great script that was getting a lot of attention as the play began being produced at regional companies across the country, and the opportunity to work in a non-traditional style.  I loved the challenge, but I also benefitted from having Michael Fitzpatrick and Mark Silence, two veterans of the San Francisco production, in the cast, both of whom brought “1st generation” inherited wisdom to Kansas City.  Details Michael and Mark could pass along, such as the exact way Moises preferred to have a document or a book held in the hand, helped make our production that much more specific and authentic.  And once I got the hang of the “style” and gained some confidence, we were off and running.

Often it’s the ‘little’ lessons of a directing experience that have the most or the longest-lived impact.  I credit text and vocal coach Louis Coliani with one of the greatest language lessons I’ve had on my journey as a director, and that’s the importance of not stressing the word “not” in a sentence.  The language of Gross Indecency is heightened, elegant. . . not unlike Shaw and Shakespeare.  Louis relentlessly drilled us on not emphasizing the “not” in a sentence, and I quickly came to realize what a seemingly minor but ultimately significant impediment the word “not” is to the need to get to the operative word in a sentence, and by extension, a line of verse.  We Americans rely on the word “not” as a matter of habit in daily speech, and it takes constant attention (as many an actor who has worked under my direction since Gross Indecency can tell you) to rid ourselves of the habit.

I’ll be forever grateful to Louis for that small but vital lesson, to Moises Kaufman for creating his beautiful, timely play, and to George Keathley, may he rest in peace, for hiring me to direct Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde at Missouri (now Kansas City) Repertory Theatre.  It was an exceptional and fortunate experience, protests and all.