I can’t remember when or how I first became intrigued with Oscar Wilde, but my obsession with All Things Wilde has been ebbing and flowing for over 30 years now.
Despite seeing several stage and film treatments of Oscar’s famous plays and enjoying the biopic Wilde, starring Stephen Fry, and after immersing myself about ten years ago in all the books about Wilde and his circle I could lay my hands on, I had decided that Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant 1984 novel The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde was the best fictional treatment of Oscar’s last days.
I’ve changed my mind about that after seeing, last night, a local production of David Hare’s 1998 play The Judas Kiss.
Hare’s play deals with two critical moments in Wilde’s extraordinary story: the night of his arrest for “gross indecency” and an evening in Naples over two years later – after Wilde’s two-year-long imprisonment at hard labor, during Wilde’s horrific exile from England.
Hare’s exquisite (and enthrallingly performed) script examines the complicated and conflicting beliefs, agendas, and delusions embodied by Wilde himself, by his young companion Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), and by his oldest friend (and confidante of Oscar’s wife Constance), Robbie Ross. The interplay between these three is completely plausible, and immensely compelling.
Even someone unfamiliar with the details of Oscar Wilde’s life would be riveted by the pyrotechnics of these three very willful characters and the terrifying clash of ideas and ideals they represent. Fortunately, the characters are believeable, flesh-and-blood realizations instead of stand-ins for particular concepts, and none of these three tragic characters is demonized by Hare’s treatment of them or incapable of eliciting sympathy from an audience.
The Judas Kiss continues at Actor’s Express through June 11th. If you live in or near Atlanta and have even the slightest interest in Wilde, I urge you to see it.