Running from now till June 6 at the Harvey Lichtenstein Theatre at BAM, David Hare’s “The Judas Kiss”, starring Rupert Everett as the legendary Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, tells the story in two acts of the lead-up to Wilde’s two year incarceration for “gross indecency” (read, homosexuality..) and his life post-prison, respectively. It was not without a sense of irony that the opening night, last Tuesday, May 17th, fell on the same day as International Homophobia and Transphobia Awareness Day, as we the audience watched in a discomfort relative to the freedoms we feel in contemporary New York at the turmoil experienced by Wilde at his imprisonment and subsequent fall from grace.
As stated, in 1895 Oscar Wilde was thrown into prison under the charge gross indecency. His lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensbury, had attacked Wilde for being a sodomite. Wilde, at the urging of his lover, took him to court for slander. After three trials the judge sent him to prison with two years hard labor – oh, and the judge got a standing ovation. This was all while Wilde’s theatrical masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, was sold out on stage in London. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was Irish, the courts were English. He died destitute in a Paris hotel at the age of 46 in 1900. The dawn of a new era.
The two acts of “Judas Kiss” are starkly different in staging – the first, a grand hotel in London, the second a destitute house in Naples. This helps highlight the depths of Wilde’s fall, both dealing with the lead-up and aftermath of his incarceration. Much of this revived play starring the masterful and transformed Rupert Everett is about people telling Oscar Wilde how to live his own life – the courts, friends, lovers. critics. In this instance in Act I whether to flee or to face his sentence; and in Act II, the conditions under which he must live out his days and continue his relationships.
Watching Mr Everett inhabit this role presents a rare opportunity to see an actor of age come into his full power of technique and understanding. The dashing Everett seen here misshapen, with limited mobility uses his humor, wide vocal range and physicality to give us a portrayal with pathos and humor and a multifaceted view on Wilde. To quote his character, “I am cast in a role. My story has already been written. How I choose to play it is a mere matter of taste.”