Oscar Wilde, was an Irishman of uncommon wit, reached the pinnacle of his career with the opening in London of his highly acclaimed farce, The Importance of Being Ernest, in February of 1895. Within four months, Wilde began serving a sentence of two years at hard labor in England’s Redding Gaol that would ruin his health and bring about his early miserable demise.
A hundred years later, David Hare (another greatly admired British playwright) wrote a play about the troubled end of Oscar Wilde’s life. Hare titled his play The Judas Kiss.
The Theater at Boston Court in Pasadena presented the play in an intimate setting that allowed Los Angeles to see the play with great attention to the writing.
Hare’s award-winning work in film and television as well as stage should have been sufficient enough to draw local audiences to the production. Also, while the script’s first presentation in London wasn’t the success everyone expected, it involved an above-the-title name from many a Hollywood film. Indeed, most people put the play’s initial failure down to the casting of movie hunk, Liam Neesom as the aging Oscar Wilde. Commercial, yes – appropriate, not really. He’d just been playing title roles on screen in films like Schindler’s List and Rob Roy, as well as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables (non-musical). A star, yes – but as a disgraced homosexual?
In 2012, Rupert Everrett revived the play in London and took it to New York two years later. A more sympathetic casting to be sure, and one that garnered better reviews (and spurred Everrett to write, direct, and play Wilde last year in his own end-of-Oscar’s-life film The Happy Prince).
The script began on the fateful day Oscar Wilde allowed himself to be goaded into
facing prosecution for “gross indecency” rather than taking the opportunity provided by the courts to go abroad and avoid trouble. It ended with Wilde’s self-imposed exile in Italy when the cause of the accusation walked out on him. Wilde had been involved with a number of men in London, most particularly flaunting a love affair with Lord Alfred Douglas – the selfish, troubled, son of the Marquis of Queensbury [he of the gentlemanly code of boxing rules]. Wilde’s aesthetic love for Douglas (no less than his physical passion for the young man) required of Wilde that he stand on principle: the love of beauty demands it be admitted. And so he did, and so he was convicted and imprisoned, and died alone far from the island of his success..
Reportedly, David Hare has said he was trying to use “the Wide-Douglas-relationship as a prism through which to examine the phenomenon of sacrificial love.” Sacrificial to English hypocrisy and xenophobia. To honor and to love – Wilde would say. And as one would expect, Hare does it with wit – Oscar’s and his own. As for the details of the plot? You should have seen it at the Theater at Boston Court.