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A CurtainUp Review
The Importance of Being Oscar
To go unnoticed was awful
-- Niall Buggy describing the young Oscar Wilde's earliest flirtation with being different -- and so, noticed
Oscar Wilde - journalist, poet, novelist, playwright and inexhaustible coiner of pungent epigrams -- remains a larger-than-life figure even a hundred years after his death. His witticisms are as quotable as ever. The popularity of plays by him are rivaled only by the growing body of work about him.
The Importance of Being Oscar is a one-person, multi-character omnibus that intersperses dramatized excerpts from Wilde's writing with biographical highlights of his life. It was written by Micheál MacLiammóir as a vehicle for himself. And so it was throughout his life, from the 1960 premier at Dublin's Gate Theatre, to a Broadway production, to his final performance at his own Gate Theatre in 1975.
As part of the even more than usual interest in Wilde during the centenary of his death, one of the Abbey Theatre's most prominent actors, Niall Buggy, has undertaken the first New York production of MacLiammóir's solo piece. While Buggy's credentials take up two columns of the Irish Repertory Theatre's program, there's no mention of any appearances in a Wilde play. Thus he comes to the man and his work fresh and without the original playwright's intimacy with the material.
Fortunately, Buggy has the prodigious acting range and memory skills required to master the script's voluminous material, with an occasional assist from a book, some letters or sheaf of notes judiciously positioned on a desk. Besides acting out whole chunks from The Picture of Dorian Gray (a novel) and The Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest and inhabiting various characters (including Lady Bracknell), he also segues from narrator, to Oscar and numerous other people in his life. These include the the judge who sentenced Wilde after the final of the infamous three trials that led to his imprisonment (the play leaves the audience to "suppose" the actual trials that led to Wilde's imprisonment as taking place during the intermission).
Moving between a desk , several chairs and a chaise lounge, Buggy is sometimes funny and as often evinces deep pain. The much overused term tour de force, truly applies to this performance, especially so during the second act. The intelligence, humor and warmth of the acting notwithstanding, the spade of plays about Wilde to which the public has been exposed since the 1960s and 1970s make some of this material overly familiar. Judging from the sequences listed in the program, some cuts were made during rehearsals in the interest of dramatic impact. However, the evening would avoid some attention lagging with additional trimming -- especially of the Dorian Gray scene and the unabridged reading of DeProfundis.
Charlotte Moore, who has directed twenty-one Irish Repertory plays is also this production's set designer. The rich patina of the furniture and the vibrant reds of the upholstery provide a warm and attractive Victorian atmosphere. The red-pink-mauve drapes serve as a final and piquant link to the wallpaper that drove Wilde to distraction during his final days in a Parisian hotel. (As Wilde put it, "one of us must go!")
This cozy little theater with its semi-thrust stage is not the easiest for an actor to play. When Sinead Cusack appeared in This cozy little theater with its semi-thrust stage is not the easiest for an actor to play. When Sinead Cusack appeared in Our Lady of Sligo, the actress and the director (Max Stafford-Clark) dealt with this difficulty admirably. Being as familiar with the theater's configuration, I was surprised that Ms. Moore, did so little to direct the actor to be more attuned to the visibility needs of the audience in the side section.
We've just posted review of a much heralded London production of The Importance of Being Earnest. The forthcoming New York production of Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love includes an imaginary A..E. Houseman-Oscar Wilde meeting. Clearly, The Importance of Being Oscar won't be the last play you're likely to see by or about the ever interesting Wilde, but it is undoubtedly the most all-inclusive feast of all things Oscar you're likely to see for some time to come.
LINKS TO OTHER PLAYS AND FEATURES
BY AND ABOUT OSCAR WILDE
The Importance of Being Earnest (London)
In Extremis/ DeProfundis (London)
The Invention of Love (London production review of forthcoming Lincoln Center production)
The Judas Kiss
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde