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The Judas Kiss

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by David Hare

COMPANY : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 4009

SHOWING : May 12, 2011 - June 11, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

All of London has the taste of salacious scandal on its lips as Oscar Wilde faces trial on indecency charges. Though he has the chance to flee, Wilde's equally scandalous lover, Bosie, persuades him to stay. Wilde emerges from prison three years later, broken but determined to reunite with his libertine lover. The Judas Kiss explores the tragedy of betrayal by those entrusted with our hearts and secrets. But are new beginnings possible - even at the very end?


CAST & CREW LIST
Director David Crowe
Oscar Wilde Freddie Ashley
Robbie Ross Christopher Corporandy
Phoebe Jillian Fratkin
Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas Clifton Guterman
Galileo Antonio Pareja
Moffatt John Stephens
Arthur Brody Wellmaker
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REVIEWS

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A Role of No Consequence
by Dedalus
Friday, June 24, 2011
4.0
“The everyday world is shrouded.
We see it dimly.
Only when we love do we see the true person. The truth of a person is only visible through love.
Love is not the illusion, Life is.”


So says Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s 1998 play, “The Judas Kiss.” It is a peculiarly Victorian and Romantic philosophy, and during the course of the play, Mr. Hare proceeds to demolish the sentiment every chance he gets.

The background is familiar to many of us and has been the subject of several plays and films. In 1895, playwright Oscar Wilde was tried for “Gross Indecency” due to his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”) and was sentenced to two years of hard labor. After his release, he left England for good, his literary output diminishing to the single work “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a long work of poetry “commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life.” He was only forty-six when he died, penniless and alone, in Paris.

“The Judas Kiss” two acts give us a “before and after” picture of the writer. In Act I (“Deciding to Stay”), we see him in London just prior to his arrest. His lover, “Bosie” is encouraging him to stay and his friend Robert Ross (who would ultimately bring his collected works to the reading public) urging him to flee. Throughout, he is seemingly indifferent to his fate, concerned more about his lunch than about his upcoming trial. In Act II (“Deciding to Leave”), we see him in exile after his release from prison, broken and destitute, facing the reality of the person he chose to give up his career and reputation to love.

Throughout, we are given glimpses of Wilde’s true genius, his talent for epigram and wry observation, his sparkling (even when piercing) wit, and his true appreciation of beauty and kindness. We are also shown a somewhat disillusioned side, a realization that his fate is out of his hands and is more the result of his status as a British “outsider” and an Irishman, than for his actions. After all, Bosie was guilty of the same “crimes,” yet he goes untried and unpunished due (no doubt) to his status as an English Lord.

I have often found Mr. Hare’s works a bit of challenge, appealing more to ideas and arguments than to emotions and conflicts (“Amy’s View,” “Plenty,” “Skylight”). Here, there are many arguments about politics and friendship and art and (especially) beauty. Here there is much emotion on display -- love and friendship, fear and devotion, loyalty and betrayal. But, typical for Hare, the emotion is kept at an arms’ length – we HEAR about the feelings more than we WITNESS them. Displays of love and friendship are usually accompanied by a cynical sneer or a cruel put-down. Ross, who history tells us never lost his fidelity to Wilde, who always had Wilde‘s best interests at heart, and who, ultimately, had his own ashes interred beside him, is blithely dismissed by Bosie as a “Third Party,” a “Role of No Consequence.” Anytime Wilde expresses his love for Bosie (who is here presented as selfish and shallow), he is reminded that Bosie does not deserve the sort of devotion and sacrifice Wilde is prepared to give.

Still, one can’t help but be moved by Wilde’s singularity of purpose. He seems to be aware of Bosie’s oft-enumerated shortcomings, but, to him, they do not matter. Because of his love, he knows the “truth” of the younger man’s character, a truth he comes to appreciate more fully after the titular “Judas Kiss” of the final moments. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Freddie Ashley’s performance as Wilde brings the writer alive in so many ways – his face a constantly changing mask of hurt and affection and wry distance and weariness and infatuation. Mr. Ashley proves to be as formidable on stage as he is “behind the scenes” when he directs. His Oscar Wilde is itself a creation of beauty, a character we can’t take our eyes (and ears) off of, even when he is surrounded by younger, lovelier, and nakeder actors.

In fact, this cast is key to an enjoyment of this production. Clifton Guterman, bleach-blonde and bone-thin, makes a surprisingly likeable Bosie. Yes, he’s shallow and self-centered (“I am not ashamed to say this – my suffering has been the greater” – this to a man who can barely move because of his two-year ordeal). But he’s also capable of real affection (if not sacrifice), and it’s very easy to see Wilde’s attraction (which, truth to tell, comes across more as aesthetic appreciation than as sexual desire). Christopher Corporandy is also compelling as Robert Ross, transcending the script’s “third-wheel” sycophant to suggesting a loyal devotion more in line with historical evidence. In smaller roles, Jillian Fratkin and Brody Wellmaker start the play off with a bang, playing a pair of randy servants who seem to be fond of Wilde, John Stephens plays their boss, all obsequiousness in the service of his hotel’s guests, and Antonio Pareja is suitably attractive as an Italian fisherman enjoying a one-night stand with Bosie (I’ll leave it to others to judge his Italian dialogue).

One of the biggest problems this cast has been able to overcome is the essential static quality of Act Two. To show the effects of his imprisonment, Wilde spends almost the entire act in his easy chair, moving only rarely, and reacting to the frolicking (and backstabbing) with a mere shift of expression and bearing. Credit to Mr. Ashley, director David Crowe, and the rest of the cast for making this undramatic set-up intensely theatrical. Credit also to the set and lights of Philip Male and Joe Monaghan, who have created a skeletal stage picture that transforms believably from a high-end London hotel room to a low-rent Italian bungalow with little more than a change in furnishings and an adjustment in gel warmth.

I’m a big fan of Oscar Wilde, and always considered his principled stand against London society an act of heroism. His plays provide dialogue that is a joy to both speak and hear, and his observational wit never gets stale. “The Judas Kiss” does justice to the man and to his story, and, if the script stays more in the head that in the heart, this production is memorable and compelling. And Freddie Ashley gives one of the best performances of the year, making me hope he will continue to show his talents in the scene as well as behind the scene.

And, to sum up Wilde’s view of nature and beauty and fate, let’s just listen again to his final monologue:

““All trials are trials for one’s life, just as all sentences are sentences of death, and three times I have been tried. The first time I left the box to be arrested, the second time to be led back to the House of Detention, the third time to pass into prison for two years. Society, as we have constituted it, will have no place for me, has none to offer; but Nature, whose sweet rains fall on just and unjust alike, will have clefts in the rocks where I may hide, and secret valleys in whose silence I may weep undisturbed. She will hang the night with stars so that I may walk abroad in the darkness without stumbling, and send the wind over my footprints so that none may track me to my hurt; she will cleanse me in great waters, and with bitter herbs make me whole …”

And now, thanks to Robert Ross’s constant publicizing of the works of Oscar Wilde, and thanks to plays such as this one, Wilde is remembered fondly, while his tormentors are largely forgotten. Bitter herbs indeed!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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