GROSS INDECENCY: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde

by Moises Kaufman


The Footlight Players

Charleston, South Carolina

May 2001

Spoleto opening on target


Post & Courier - May 26, 2001

Out-of-town festival-goers should take themselves to the Footlight Players, the atmospheric little theater on Queen Street, where Moises Kaufman’s brilliantly written Gross Indecency has just opened. The play is about the trials of Oscar Wilde, and it is funny, hair-raising, shattering and unforgettable. If you don’t know much about Charleston’s theater scene, here’s your chance to find out: the town’s best actors are on view.

Oscar Wilde, of course, was the literary giant whose self-assurance got the better of him when he locked horns with the London legal system of his day (1895). His was a classic example of a man cutting his throat with his own tongue. Mr. Wilde was hugely successful, had a wife and two children, then in middle age took up with a handsome young man half his age. The youngster, Lord Alfred Douglas, had a father who protested and publicly insulted Wilde. Douglas, who couldn’t stand his father, urged Wilde to sue for slander, and Wilde did.

He lost, and in the process found his private peccadilloes hauled into court under the most humiliating circumstances. Three trials ensued, the last ending in Wilde’s being imprisoned for two years at hard labor. The experience broke his health, obliterated his fortune, and crushed his spirit. He died three years later, only 44 years old.

Gross Indecency is constructed from actual documents and includes many memorable Wilde witticisms. It contains layer upon layer of meaning, and it questions the meanings of Art, Society, Sexual Orientation, Morality, along with a lot of other things that worry “civilized” people as much now as they did in Wilde’s day. The play will rattle your misconceptions and exercise your brain. As if that isn’t enough, it will give you an invigorating evening of theater.

Steve Lepre’s production is highly theatrical and thoroughly effective. Michael Locklair plays Wilde with dignity, refusing ever to indulge in easy camp, and he beautifully manages Wilde’s descent into catastrophe. Todd McNerney makes a terrifying prosecutor, and David Reinwald is a nasty, manic Marquis of Queensberry.

If the show has a star, though, I’d say it is Scott Adams as Lord Douglas, aka “Bosie.” Mr. Adams looks exactly like pictures of Bosie, and he is pretty enough to justify Wilde’s extravagant descriptions and smug enough to have set off alarm bells to anyone less blind to reality than Oscar Wilde. It’s a delicate, strong performance with lots of subtlety in it.

.... You should go. And when you go, don’t fail to grab one of those broadsides the actors pass out in the lobby before the show begins. In it you’ll find an actual interview with Oscar Wilde that appeared in this newspaper on July 7, 1882. Wilde had come to Charleston on a lecture tour, and had submitted himself to a properly dazzled, but definitely suspicious, reporter. The results are fairly priceless.


​​Actors Shine in Fascinating Play on Wilde’s Trials​


Post & Courier​ - May 28, 2001

Oscar Wilde once said, “A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

As a dreamer, a prolific writer and aesthete, Wilde was perfect for the Victorian era during which he became one of the most popular figures of his time. He was not only famous for his writings, but also for his homosexuality.

Playwright Moises Kaufman, captivated by Wilde’s writings and witticisms, delved further. He researched accounts of the famous man’s trials and from that constructed a penetrating work resulting in Gross Indecency: the Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. The Piccolo offering opened Friday at Footlight Players.

The play begins before the house lights dim. The actors stroll through the audience distributing “Wilde Newspapers,” eventually winding up on the sparsely set stage. At first their actions seem aimless. However you soon realize that director Steve Lepre has meticulously choreographed every move as they begin to dress Julie Ziff’s authentic Victorian set. Plaudits also to Ziff for her scrupulously thought out costumes.

Then the quandary: what does this modern music with references to Clinton and others have to do with Oscar Wilde? Suddenly it sinks in. People have always been fascinated by courtroom activities: Watergate, Clarence Thomas, O.J., Clinton impeachment, TV dramas, Judge Judy, and don’t forget Court TV. When sex is involved, the media really get worked up and the public clamors for it.

Exquisitely directed by Lepre, his well-disciplined players glide through scenes as smoothly as skaters on black ice. Also to his credit, the actors react rather than act - a most professional achievement sometimes found lacking in community productions. Lepre keeps his cast focused on the action. The drama is definitely not a clambake, but there is humor throughout.

The program lists Michael Locklair portraying Oscar Wilde. Wrong! Locklair IS Wilde. He is magnificent with every gesture, look and facial expression. He flawlessly runs the gamut from a most confident witty Wilde to the broken, hopeless man he becomes at his conviction and imprisonment. Locklair’s work is brilliant.

Scott Adams is perfect as Lord Alfred Douglas, alias Bosie. He delivers an ideal performance exuding cunning seductiveness and charisma.

Other outstanding performances come from David Reinwald, playing Marquess of Queensberry/Gil/Judge; Todd McNerney as Edward Carson/Narrator.

​Witty Wilde


Charleston City Paper - May 29, 2001

There is a lot to like about the presentation of Moises Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde - fine acting, great costumes, a good looking set, and tough subject matter.

When Michael Locklair, who played Wilde, came out for his curtain call he enjoyed a well-deserved surge of warm applause from the sold-out house. Locklair was able to create a character that balanced both halves of Wilde’s signature wit - anger and intelligence. His Wilde swayed from hubris to humiliation, from word play to crushing emotion, and from jilted lover to fey dandy, all without once falling into the easy trap of playing the famed writer as a bitchy drama queen.

Then, like now, everyone knew he was gay, and the actor made a fine choice not to rub Wilde’s sexuality in the audience’s face. Instead, he gave the play’s most complete and easily its most complicated performance. Some of Locklair’s better choices were in his mannerisms, seemingly copied from photos of the author, but not from his caricatures. He was able to walk the thin line between the Wilde’s intellect and the ridiculous cravat worn around his neck.

And the cravat brings us to the costumes in this period piece. Wilde’s urbane finery was a counterpoint to the costume of his archenemy, the pugilistic Marquess of Queensberry, played by the Midtown Theatre’s old hand David Reinwald. Where Wilde was outfitted in grays and complicated fabrics, costume designer Julie Ziff dressed Queensberry in hunting plaids to accent Reinwald’s affected Scottish brogue. Where Wilde sported a long, slender cane, Queensberry carried a shorter cane that more resembled a cudgel with a gnarled piece of wood for a handgrip.
Scott Adams made for a fine dandy, right down to his haircut. His gaunt features conveyed a combination of youth and dread in the character’s make-up as he struggled to fight an oddly Oedipal battle with his father over his affection for the much older Wilde.

Todd McNerney offered a pointed performance as Edward Carson, the lawyer hired to defend Queensberry against Wilde’s charge of slander and went on to become the writer’s de facto legal attacker. Perhaps “percussive” would be a better word than pointed, as McNerney’s delivery had a concussive crash as he delivered each damning syllable.
Mark Wallace was dead-on as a very believable elder barrister, wearied from the case he’d been dealt.
Though his role largely regulated him to the back of the set, Matthew Crosby did enough good work as Charles Parker, one of the four young gay men who came forward with tales of their sexual conquest at the hands of Wilde, to deserve some future trips to the front of the stage with some juicier roles.

During the second trial, each of the men testifying about Wilde’s advances carried a successively larger codpiece in the fronts of their long underwear, which became more and more apparent as they stripped down during their testimony. (Nice touch, as was the choice to play Judy Garland’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow”over the sound system at the end of the play.)
This was no British farce. A talky history, thanks to the play being culled from a variety of scholarly journals and first-person memoirs.

Director Steve Lepre seems to prefer subtlety to bombast, apparently sticking to the integrity of the play rather than selling out for cheap laughs wrangled out of Wilde’s curmudgeonly witticisms. 

When different viewpoints were read aloud from various tomes, characters voices would trail off, replaced by one of the plays narrators’. Instead of using a harsh transition, Lepre wisely chose to go with a more organic segue that, while a little soft at the beginning, became seamless by the end. Had Lepre chosen a harsher transition, the performance could have degenerated into one-upmanship. Showing his experience, the director stuck to the storytelling as “the thing.”

All in all, this play is intelligent and thought provoking.

​Year in review: A look at Lowcountry art scene’s best...

Post & Courier - December 23, 2001

Footlight Players’ Gross Indecency treated the three trials of Oscar Wilde with delicacy and strength, and Scott Adams was shockingly good as the beautiful and sleazy Lord Alfred Douglas. Michael Locklair was dignified rather than pompous as Oscar, and Steve Lepre directed the Moises Kaufman play with style and sureness.



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