9:37 am Feb. 8, 2011
The downfall of novelist, playwright, and bon vivant Oscar Wilde has been brought to the stage many times, most successfully in Moises Kaufman’s brilliant Gross Indecency. The life of one the Victorian era’s most successful writers, accused of being a “posing somdomite” by Marquis of Queensberry, has all the right ingredients: a tragic central figure, a tense courtroom showdown, and lots of off-the-cuff witticisms.
The life of Wilde’s lover Bosie—more formally known as Lord Alfred Douglas—would seem to be at least as dramatic. After Wilde’s death, the Englishman endured more than a dozen trials, mostly because of his own quick temper and impolitic comments.
He sued Wilde’s literary executor for libel after the posthumous publication of Wilde’s prison epistle De Profundis, formally denouncing Wilde in the process as “greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last 350 years.”
He himself was charged with libel by no less a personage than Winston Churchill, spending two years in prison at Wormwood Scrubs.
After converting to Catholicism, Bosie campaigned against vice, railed against “sodomitical treachery,” and was a public and enthusiastic anti-Semite, publishing one of the first English translations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Little of this comes up in Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy’s My Scandalous Life, currently being presented the Irish Repertory Theatre. In Kilroy’s retelling, which takes place in a drawing room belonging to Bosie’s gravely ill wife, he’s a kindly old poet with only the best intentions.
(Kilroy isn’t the only one interested in rescuing Bosie; Caspar Wintermans did the same in his 2007 biography Alfred Douglas: A Poet's Life and His Finest Work.)
It doesn’t bode well that Bosie (played with courtly airs by Des Keogh) announces at the start that he doesn’t intend to discuss Wilde. He also skips anything else the least bit scandalous, making the title seem more than a bit misleading. What’s left is a wan domestic drama focusing on Bosie’s relationship with his schizophrenic son Raymond (unseen except for a hokey tableau vivant at the end). An Irish maid (the wild-haired Fiana Toibin) bustles in and out, but this is mostly a 90-minute monologue during which Bosie fiddles with Edwardian gewgaws and restlessly moves from armchair to settee.
Kilroy knows this material inside-out—he also wrote The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, a play about Wilde’s relationship with his wife—so he might just be bored of telling the story he thinks everybody knows. Everybody doesn’t know it, and it’s why they bought a ticket to this show. But the story of a father unable to connect with his son—that’s a tale we’ve all heard before, and enjoyed more.
My Scandalous Life runs through March 6 at the Irish Repertory Theatre's W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Tickets are available at 212-727-2737 or at www.irishrep.org.
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- 'Hands on a Hardbody' is a challenging experience for everyone