The Ballad of Reading Wilde – a review of “In the Company of Oscar Wilde”

By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant

Bon mots flow like champagne in the venerable halls of the Frick Art Museum in the U.S. premiere of “In the Company of Oscar Wilde,” a summation of Wilde’s life in the author’s own words.

The presentation is part of a whole Wilde weekend, “Wilde at the Frick,” featuring readings of the author’s fairy tales and a presentation of Merlin Holland’s “The Trial of Oscar Wilde.”

“In the Company of Oscar Wilde,” director and narrator Alan Stanford leads some of Pittsburgh’s finest actors to join the merriment, including Marsha Mayhak, Karen Baum, Martin Giles, and James FitzGerald who fill various roles. There’s also a solid guest appearance from Ingrid Sonnichsen as Lady Bracknell.

Wilde – Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde to be exact – is an Irish poet, playwright and author known for his acidic wit. “Company” offers up intriguing details of the playwright’s triumphs and tribulations. Stanford recounts important facts from the playwright’s history, from the opening of successful plays to his tawdry affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury. There is even a detailed account of Wilde’s trial, a prelude to Holland’s opus presented later in the weekend.

Wilde’s story is delivered in linear fashion, from birth to death. Near the beginning of the evening, Stanford recites “Requiescat,” Wilde’s poetic tribute to his late sister, in a powerful, moving moment.

There are lengthy but brilliant excerpts of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” expertly performed. Sonnichsen’s Bracknell is a tour de force, delivering caustic observations with aplomb.

Her performance is so strong, this audience member yearned for a complete production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” on the spot.

That’s the real problem with the show. “In the Company of Oscar Wilde” is a dramatic presentation that teeters high above the no man’s land between seated reading and full-fledged theatrical production. It’s a reading with movement – very little movement.

The director and cast could have shaken things up. “Wilde at the Frick” runs concurrently with “Undressed, the history of fashion in underwear.” Stanford and company could have performed in their skivvies! Though, Michael Montgomery’s costumes were absolutely exquisite and a highlight of the evening.

Fantastic actors reading brilliant material in a gorgeous setting with lavish costumes should have placed this show squarely in the win column, but, since it was a linear depiction of the artist from birth to death, it came across as a bit monotonous.

Though the presentation ends well with a dramatic reading of “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” Wilde’s poem about the hanging of Charles Thomas Woolridge, which took place in the prison where Wilde was serving his time for gross indecency. It’s another high point. It just takes a little bit too long to get there.

The author and playwright would never have been bothered by a slightly unfavorable review of his work. He would most likely shrug, puff on his cigarette and declare, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

The good news is, more than a century later, everyone is still talking about Oscar Wilde.

– MB

“In the Company of Oscar Wilde” runs until December 10 at The Frick Art Museum, 7227 Reynolds Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15208.  It runs concurrently with “Oscar Wilde: Fairy Tales” and the “The Trial of Oscar Wilde” as part of the Wilde at the Frick weekend. For more information, click here

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