By Katy Shenk
Student Life Editor
Presiding over the three trials of Oscar Wilde in Tawes Theatre last weekend was a painted “replica” of Lady Justice from the original courthouse in London, framed by the words “Punish the Wrongdoer.”
“Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” directed by senior Jacqueline Glenn, was the first of three senior capstone productions that will be performed this semester.
Written by Moisés Kaufman, the story details the downfall of notable poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, played by sophomore Jake DiPaola, as he undergoes accusations of committing acts of gross indecency with other men. The English Crown’s prosecution of Wilde involved both attacks on the immorality of his literary works and the testimonies of men who had “unnatural relations” with Wilde, who was gay.
With a script primarily told through the letters and auto-biographies of its characters, the play appealed to Glenn’s interest in history.
“When I first came to Washington College, I did play with the idea of being a theatre and history double major, or at least having a history minor. Although those dreams never quite came true, I do think this show is going to give me the power to do something remarkable, to bring history to life on stage for this little college community,” she said.
In Wilde’s first trial, he acted as the prosecutor, charging the Marquess of Queensberry with libel for his statements made about Wilde. The Marquess was the father of Lord Alfred Douglas, who was in a relationship with Wilde, and was extremely displeased with his son’s affection for Wilde.
Junior Alex Ramos played the role of Sir Edward Clarke, Wilde’s lawyer.
“I knew very little about the life of Oscar Wilde prior to being selected for this. Now it feels as if I know everything about him,” Ramos said.
Although Wilde dropped the charges against the Marquess, in light of the evidence gathered by the defense in the trial, the English Crown took up Wilde’s second trial, charging him of “gross indecency.”
DiPaola was tasked with portraying Wilde as a man first confident and eagerly defending of his work to then weary of the repeated attacks on his character.
“Playing Wilde is not only more acting and stage time than I’m used to but it is also a more three-dimensional character than I have played in the past. I’m in the spotlight for 90 percent of the performance and I get to show a wide range of emotion,” he said.
By the end of the third trial, Wilde was penniless, Lord Douglas had fled to France, and Wilde, after much deliberation, decided not to go abroad but instead face the outcome of the trial.
“The three trials of Oscar Wilde are real; they did happen. We see a man with different perspectives beaten down by society,” said freshman Michael Nichols, who played George Bernard Shaw, among other roles.
Both DiPaola and Nichols found Wilde’s final speech at the third trial— “love that dare not speak its name”—to be the most compelling moment of the show.
“It is a last, desperate stand to explain what Wilde stands for and believes in, but it’s also very satisfying to complete a long speech like that without messing up,” DiPaola said.
After two years of hard labor, Wilde was released with an unhealed injury. He never published another play, and three years later, he passed away. His trial, however, carried far-reaching implications for the definition of modern homosexuality as a social identity.
“Wilde was ultimately condemned not just for his decision to sleep with men, but for his subversive ideas about all of the things wrong with the presentational nature of society, the separation of classes, and what art is meant to look like. His trials started a conversation, an examination of sexuality, and a questioning of the meaning of art,” Glenn said in her director’s note.
Freshman Fentress Lynch, costume designer for the show, also touched upon the show’s legacy through a particular line of dialogue.
“My favorite line comes from Oscar himself during the second act, ‘The world is growing more tolerant. One day you will be ashamed of your treatment of me,’” she said.
Another message of the show was the power of art to advocate for and influence social change. Nichols saw the work put into this weekend’s performances as an example of this art as well.
“Just like Oscar, although his challenges were admittedly much more harsh, we persevere to create something beautiful,” he said.