The Importance of Being Oscar

Irish actor Micheal MacLiammoir is best known to Americans as the insinuating Iago in Orson Welles’s film version of Othello, but that role merely suggests this remarkable artist’s legacy. With his life partner, the English director Hilton Edwards, MacLiammoir made an indelible imprint on modern Anglo-Irish theater; in 1928 the couple cofounded Dublin’s Gate Theatre, a training ground for such brilliant talents as the young Welles and the playwright Brian Friel. (With Edwards and MacLiammoir at its helm, the Gate was affectionately known in British theater circles as “Sodom and Begorrah.”) A writer as well as performer, MacLiammoir concocted several solo shows for himself under Edwards’s direction; among them is this 1960 tour through the life and art of Oscar Wilde. Though MacLiammoir and Edwards are long dead, the Gate continues to produce new drama (as well as often-brilliant revivals of Beckett, Yeats, etc) and to train actors such as Chris O’Neill, whom Chicago audiences first encountered earlier this year in Goodman’s A Touch of the Poet–he gave a marvelous thick-brogued rendition of the seedy soldier who recounted the tragic downfall of the play’s hero. A onetime Gate board member whose Irish credits include the premieres of Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy and Hugh Leonard’s Da, O’Neill is now based in New York–a journeyman actor who, between jobs in regional theater and TV, tours with a rotating repertoire of one-man shows. His performance of The Importance of Being Oscar promises to be a quirky, authentic reading of MacLiammoir’s script, which draws from Wilde’s poems, plays, and essays to show how the man who started out advocating “the pleasure of life and the pleasure of art” ended up a prophet of “the meaning of sorrow and its beauty.” The intimate TurnAround Theatre should be a hospitable space for this word-rich work. TurnAround Theatre, 3209 N. Halsted, 296-1100. Opens Sunday, July 28, 8 PM. Through August 6: Sundays-Tuesdays, 8 PM. $12.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photograph of Micheal MacLiammoir, uncredited.