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Oscar Wilde’s Wife

Oscar Wilde's Wife (Odyssey Theatre; 99 seats; $ 22.50 top) Brushfire Prods. presents a drama in two acts by Ronda Spinak. Directed by Mark D. Kaufmann; set design, George Landry; lighting design, Marianne Schneller; costume design, Shon LeBlanc. Opened, reviewed, May 17, 1997. Runs through June 15. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min. Cast: Stacie Chaiken (Constance Wilde), Wendy Johnson (Penny Lushing, Nursemaid), Michelle Yahn (Priscilla Fullock), Carla Von (Penelope Fullock, Prostitute), Stacy Rukeyser (Laura Troubridge, Adrian's Wife), Christopher Gasti (Constable, Adrian Hope), Gregory Lawson (Will Waverly, Alfred Wood, Young Poet), John Vance (Edward Brick), Paul Eiding (Horace Lloyd), Stu Levin (Arthur Riches), John Michael Morgan (Oscar Wilde), David George (Arthur Humphreys), Norman Victor (Lord Alfred Douglas, Justice Wills). Fine performances by Stacie Chaiken, John Michael Morgan and David George are not enough to breathe life into this stifling biographical drama about Oscar Wilde's unfortunate wife, Constance. A flat and predictable script and muddled, plodding direction make for a long evening. Constance Wilde (Chaiken) is hardly the ideal subject for a drama. The somewhat fragile heiress of a wealthy Irish family, Constance provided Wilde with a convenient cover for his homosexuality in Victorian England, as well as a generous budget for his expensive taste in clothes and decorating. Playwright Ronda Spinak attempts to enlist sympathy for the hapless Constance as she struggles to maintain her dignity and devotion to Wilde in the face of mounting scandals that finally result in Wilde's conviction and imprisonment on morals charges. Spinak never succeeds in conveying more than Constance's victimhood, and that in mostly simplistic terms. Not surprisingly, Wilde himself, as performed by Morgan, is the more challenging and charismatic character. Spinak, building on some of Wilde's famous aphorisms --- "Nothing succeeds like excess" --- emerges as the tortured man that he was. Even as he crashes into Victorian society as a kind of superficial style-monger --- "out with mahogany and in with white!" --- he wrestles with the higher calling of the artist's muse. And while he became the author of hit plays and is a highly sought-after speaker, he is never powerful enough to overcome the stringent mores of his era. Many of the compelling themes of Wilde's life are tossed haphazardly into the jumble here, along with a sort of nascent, confused feminism that emerges from Constance's views on womanhood in general and her predicament in particular. But few of these themes are pursued in dramatic terms , and Spinak's choppy and overwritten script is ultimately unsatisfying. Equally fatal to the production is the direction by Mark D. Kaufmann, which slows the already tedious script to a crawl. Numerous scene breaks are needlessly extended , and the entire pace is in muddied slow motion. The blocking also is stilted and clumsy, lending an artificial flatness to the proceedings. In odd contrast to the flaccid direction is the frenetic lighting by Marianne Schneller, which constantly calls attention to itself with numerous adjustments of brightness and tone throughout the many scenes. There are several excellent performances, unfortunately none strong enough to save the play. Morgan has found a core reality to the character of Wilde, who has often been portrayed in a foppish or cartoonish way. He manages to convey much of the poignant inner-conflict of Wilde, despite the weaknesses of the script. Chaiken is also strong as Constance , although she had some shaky moments on opening night. She brings a delicacy and vulnerability to the role that are never forced. And George is delightful as Constance's perennial suitor finding a few moments of much-needed lightness in an otherwise leaden piece. With the exception of Stu Levin as the sprightly butler, the rest of the ensemble cast is surprisingly weak, creating a lamentable gap in the levels of performance.

With:
Cast: Stacie Chaiken (Constance Wilde), Wendy Johnson (Penny Lushing, Nursemaid), Michelle Yahn (Priscilla Fullock), Carla Von (Penelope Fullock, Prostitute), Stacy Rukeyser (Laura Troubridge, Adrian's Wife), Christopher Gasti (Constable, Adrian Hope), Gregory Lawson (Will Waverly, Alfred Wood, Young Poet), John Vance (Edward Brick), Paul Eiding (Horace Lloyd), Stu Levin (Arthur Riches), John Michael Morgan (Oscar Wilde), David George (Arthur Humphreys), Norman Victor (Lord Alfred Douglas, Justice Wills).

Oscar Wilde’s Wife (Odyssey Theatre; 99 seats; $ 22.50 top) Brushfire Prods. presents a drama in two acts by Ronda Spinak. Directed by Mark D. Kaufmann; set design, George Landry; lighting design, Marianne Schneller; costume design, Shon LeBlanc. Opened, reviewed, May 17, 1997. Runs through June 15. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min. Cast: Stacie Chaiken (Constance Wilde), Wendy Johnson (Penny Lushing, Nursemaid), Michelle Yahn (Priscilla Fullock), Carla Von (Penelope Fullock, Prostitute), Stacy Rukeyser (Laura Troubridge, Adrian’s Wife), Christopher Gasti (Constable, Adrian Hope), Gregory Lawson (Will Waverly, Alfred Wood, Young Poet), John Vance (Edward Brick), Paul Eiding (Horace Lloyd), Stu Levin (Arthur Riches), John Michael Morgan (Oscar Wilde), David George (Arthur Humphreys), Norman Victor (Lord Alfred Douglas, Justice Wills). Fine performances by Stacie Chaiken, John Michael Morgan and David George are not enough to breathe life into this stifling biographical drama about Oscar Wilde’s unfortunate wife, Constance. A flat and predictable script and muddled, plodding direction make for a long evening. Constance Wilde (Chaiken) is hardly the ideal subject for a drama. The somewhat fragile heiress of a wealthy Irish family, Constance provided Wilde with a convenient cover for his homosexuality in Victorian England, as well as a generous budget for his expensive taste in clothes and decorating. Playwright Ronda Spinak attempts to enlist sympathy for the hapless Constance as she struggles to maintain her dignity and devotion to Wilde in the face of mounting scandals that finally result in Wilde’s conviction and imprisonment on morals charges. Spinak never succeeds in conveying more than Constance’s victimhood, and that in mostly simplistic terms. Not surprisingly, Wilde himself, as performed by Morgan, is the more challenging and charismatic character. Spinak, building on some of Wilde’s famous aphorisms — “Nothing succeeds like excess” — emerges as the tortured man that he was. Even as he crashes into Victorian society as a kind of superficial style-monger — “out with mahogany and in with white!” — he wrestles with the higher calling of the artist’s muse. And while he became the author of hit plays and is a highly sought-after speaker, he is never powerful enough to overcome the stringent mores of his era. Many of the compelling themes of Wilde’s life are tossed haphazardly into the jumble here, along with a sort of nascent, confused feminism that emerges from Constance’s views on womanhood in general and her predicament in particular. But few of these themes are pursued in dramatic terms , and Spinak’s choppy and overwritten script is ultimately unsatisfying. Equally fatal to the production is the direction by Mark D. Kaufmann, which slows the already tedious script to a crawl. Numerous scene breaks are needlessly extended , and the entire pace is in muddied slow motion. The blocking also is stilted and clumsy, lending an artificial flatness to the proceedings. In odd contrast to the flaccid direction is the frenetic lighting by Marianne Schneller, which constantly calls attention to itself with numerous adjustments of brightness and tone throughout the many scenes. There are several excellent performances, unfortunately none strong enough to save the play. Morgan has found a core reality to the character of Wilde, who has often been portrayed in a foppish or cartoonish way. He manages to convey much of the poignant inner-conflict of Wilde, despite the weaknesses of the script. Chaiken is also strong as Constance , although she had some shaky moments on opening night. She brings a delicacy and vulnerability to the role that are never forced. And George is delightful as Constance’s perennial suitor finding a few moments of much-needed lightness in an otherwise leaden piece. With the exception of Stu Levin as the sprightly butler, the rest of the ensemble cast is surprisingly weak, creating a lamentable gap in the levels of performance.

Oscar Wilde's Wife

Odyssey Theatre; 99 seats; $22.50 top

Production: Brushfire Prods. presents a drama in two acts by Ronda Spinak. Directed by Mark D. Kaufmann; set design, George Landry;

Creative: Lighting design, Marianne Schneller; costume design, Shon LeBlanc. Opened, reviewed, May 17, 1997. Runs through June 15. Running time: 2 hours, 15 min.

Cast: Cast: Stacie Chaiken (Constance Wilde), Wendy Johnson (Penny Lushing, Nursemaid), Michelle Yahn (Priscilla Fullock), Carla Von (Penelope Fullock, Prostitute), Stacy Rukeyser (Laura Troubridge, Adrian's Wife), Christopher Gasti (Constable, Adrian Hope), Gregory Lawson (Will Waverly, Alfred Wood, Young Poet), John Vance (Edward Brick), Paul Eiding (Horace Lloyd), Stu Levin (Arthur Riches), John Michael Morgan (Oscar Wilde), David George (Arthur Humphreys), Norman Victor (Lord Alfred Douglas, Justice Wills).

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