Brian Pastor’s remounting of his 2016 gender-blind production of Moisés Kaufman’s 1997 nonfiction play about the slow, painful judicial destruction of one of the 19th century’s greatest writers is not perfect. Some of the acting is rough. The performing space is a little cramped. The set is perhaps too spare. And it’s clear that the production has been put together on a shoestring. But it is, at its core, inspired theater.
At the heart of the show are two actresses, Jamie Bragg and Heather Smith, who perfectly embody Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, the lovers at the center of this tragic story. Bragg is great as Wilde, playing equally well his highs and his lows; his fine, high-flying wit; and his dark depression after he’s sentenced to two years of hard labor at Reading Gaol. And Smith is terrific as the mad, impetuous Douglas. Her nuanced performance shows there’s more to the man than the beautiful spoiled brat he’s usually been portrayed as. And together these two are incandescent. From the moment they appear together onstage their love speaks its name loudly and clearly. In this production it’s clear that this tragic tale is also a love story of the highest order.
Of course the show is built on a very strong foundation: Kaufman’s script is first-rate. His research is sound and exhaustive, his deconstruction of the texts and Victorian era thorough. Yet the show also works as fine, entertaining theater. v