Perfectly simple, simply elegant and elegantly touching, “Ever Yours, Oscar” provides a minor-key look at the life of Oscar Wilde to accompany the C-major exercise in hilarity Brian Bedford has made of Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest,” also in the Stratford season. Both shows are playing to SRO audiences, which is a tribute to Bedford’s undiminished drawing power in this, his 27th season at the festival, as well as the public’s appetite for first-rate material presented with a minimum of fuss.
Bedford’s approach to this compilation of Wilde’s letters assembled by Peter Wylde takes the no-frills approach to a surprisingly satisfying extreme. On a stage bare except for a lectern and a giant photo of Wilde, Bedford enters in a sleekly tailored modern suit, takes his place centerstage and doesn’t budge for the next 75 minutes.
During that time, he simply throws himself into Wilde’s letters, using the briefest of biographical narration to link the material. With his customary taste, Bedford strikes a fine line between reading and over-emoting. He offers just enough, never too much.
Yes, there is plenty of humor, but on balance, most of the material is achingly melancholy. Wilde’s prison years help to provide a real sense of gravitas, with the longest (and most heart-felt) passage in the entire show devoted to Wilde’s plea for better treatment of the young children who were confined to prison.
It’s hard to imagine a show more handily portable and easy to sell than this elegiac look at one of literature’s great writers and the stormy journey that was his time on this earth. The phrase “a class act” has never been more apt.