I’m a big fan of poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, whose literary skewering of the late 19th-century British aristocracy is as deliciously satirical, and silly, as it gets. For example, in his comedic play The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s every piercing line of dialogue seems to speak volumes while saying absolutely nothing.
So when I found out that the Long Beach Playhouse would be hosting Intimately Wilde, a production of Olio Theatre Works, I was anxious to see the play depicting the final 24 hours prior to Wilde’s 1897 imprisonment for homosexuality. Yes, it was against the law there and then.
Tim Thorn masterfully portrays Wilde in what practically amounts to a one-man show accompanied by a multitude of lesser characters. Thorn never leaves the stage.
Playwright Terra Taylor Knudson wrote the role with Thorn in mind, and the part is clearly all his. But the gentlemanly kindness and sensitivity that Thorn overwhelmingly imparts to his character struck me as wholly un-Wilde-like, given the poet’s reputation for biting sarcasm and flamboyant public behavior. If I’m right, then the play, and the role, take a good bit of poetic license and demand as much audience leeway.
But Thorn, whose speaking voice is deep and rich, more than makes up for any historic inaccuracies. Torn between family life, with wife Constance (played by Knudson, herself!) and the couple’s two young sons, and his homosexual lover “Bosie” (Ryan Michael Hartman), Wilde’s vulnerability and guilt are palpable. Yet he never appears to fight his impulses, and he feels genuine affection for his wife and children. His passions, however, are with the ill-behaved “Bosie,” who is nowhere near Wilde’s equal. Ah, such are matters of the heart…
Knudson’s Constance, on the other hand, seems every bit a worthy mate. Her quick wit, quiet confidence, and appealing charm render her an extremely sympathetic underdog against the romantically and sexually stacked deck that does not favor her.
Hartman’s undisciplined “Bosie” adds a disquieting color to the play. And it is his disapproving father who ultimately sets in motion the actions that bring about Wilde’s ruin and the end of his marriage.
Courtroom and prison scenes, which might have been heart-wrenching, are instead rather inspiring. Thorn’s determined insistence on his character’s dignity and decency makes them so.
A variety of flashbacks that fill in necessary background events are not necessarily in sequence, but somehow the chronology is always clear.
Gigi Fusco Meese directs this fine production in which other cast members are Alex DesCombes, Derek Long, Pete Stone, and Miguel Solorio. Believe it or not, Thorn also designed the well-detailed set, which cleverly provides for a study in Wilde’s home, the flat where he meets “Bosie,” the courtroom, and Wilde’s prison cell, without the need for any set changes.
Intimately Wilde continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre through Jan. 27. General admission tickets are $20, and $15 for students and seniors. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .