Wilde play ‘horrifically’ emotional

By Judah Taylor | @KyKernel

jtaylor@kykernel.com

There are few works of art that give the viewer profound pause at their conclusion. Regardless of how it is induced, the pause is always the same. It is a momentary lapse of reason where doctrine and belief are thrown out the door. It is a brief moment when the viewer looks inward, searching both brain and heart for answers. Like life, this moment’s conclusion is irrelevant. Its existence is sufficient enough for praise.

I felt that way when “Lost” aired its final episode in 2010, and I stared at my ceiling for an hour afterward. More prominently, I feel the same every time I view either version of “Apocalypse Now.” The final words whispered by Marlon Brando’s character, “the horror … the horror,” resonate a chilling reality and send shivers down my spine.

I know it is weird to start a review this way, but I know of no other way to portray or embody the emotions that swelled in me at the play’s crescendo. It was a moment where Oscar Wilde is in complete despair. He is writing to Lord Alfred Douglas, his lover, about “the horror.” As both men are seemingly brought to tears at Wilde’s certain fate, the prosecuting lawyer mocks and condemns Wilde.

Later, as the light fades on Michael Sheehy (Wilde) in the play’s conclusion, I heard Brando echoing in my head again; “the horror … the horror.”

It was a different kind of horror than that of Martin Sheen’s when he tracked down Colonel Kurtz in the Vietnam jungle in “Apocalypse Now,” though.

It was the horror of seeing a man who, at the beginning of the play, was so full of life, so full of charm and whit, being reduced to a sobbing, slouching shell of his former self.

Wilde lived his life full of passion, without labels or constraints. If life were a horse, he never once rode with a saddle. He rode long, and often, but did so without reins or recourse.
Throughout the play, we see the British legal system continually berate and beat him for not putting blinders on his horses.

He had several chances to leave the country, to flea to America or France for safety, but he chose to stay in England, to try to prove that he was not a grossly indecent human being.

As he accepts his fate, he refuses to accept that anything he did was immoral. But he can no longer live with himself. The scorn, hate and desire lead him to declare that it is as if his “heart (was) beating itself to death.”

The play “Gross Indecency” isn’t just about Wilde, though. It is subtly about English society as a whole and how it deals with homosexuality.

Director Russell Henderson communicated Moisés Kaufman’s subtleties in the play masterfully through a beautiful set and brilliant stage directions.

None of Kaufman’s prose or Henderson’s direction would have mattered if a lesser actor had been given the lead role of Oscar Wilde.

The spotlight performer, Sheehy, embodied the nature of Wilde in a grossly charming and chilling way.

He begins the play as the charming socialite with a quick tongue. The audience could feel the magnetism that drew men and women to be fascinated with Wilde even more than 100 years after his death.

His transformation was slow, but haunting. By the end of the play, Sheehy was magnetizing for a whole new set of reasons. Sheehy became a man who made horror and moral terror his friends. Like Brando, Sheehy kept the audience’s attention, whether they wanted to give it to him or not.

Full of laughs and tears, the worst horror may be missing out on this production. “Gross Indecency” is the must-see performance in student theater this year.

Final performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for general admission at the Singletary Center box office or finearts.uky.edu/
singletary-center.