Between the Lines

Omissions

Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 10, 1998. All rights reserved.

In New York

Why have we suddenly gone hog Wilde over Oscar? What

is the compulsion that has spurred writers to such ardently renewed

investigation and to the almost non-stop re-evaluation of the Irish

playwright just as we near the centennial year of his death in 1900

at the age of 46? Is the recent deluge of new critical appraisal of

Oscar Wilde, as well as what seems like a rash of films, plays, and

biographies, going to collectively cast a new, more illuminating,

light on the man and his already indestructibly lustrous work? I think

not.

But are we, in this modern age, preparing a forum for a proper

repentance?

Perhaps we are seeking to reward Wilde with belated martyrdom, to

restore the mantle of respectability to this high priest of the

cultural

elite who was publicly reviled and condemned to prison by a sexually

hypocritical British society for his bisexuality. If so, Wilde would

love it.

At the very least, the enviably unhypocritical Wilde would have

appreciated,

were he alive, the sort of wildly diverse esthetic considerations

he is getting today. In "The Judas Kiss," the didactically

inclined playwright David Hare ("Plenty," "Racing

Demon,"

"Skylight") chooses a problematic dramatic route. It is a

route without surprises, without excessive passion and posturing,

and without torrents of familiar bon mots. Yet, as the play

reveals an uncommonly subdued and plaintive Wilde, it also reveals

Hare’s agenda, a more ruefully philosophical than patently polemic

theatrical experience.

Although it is not particularly exciting — it is, in fact, a

rather

static drama — "The Judas Kiss" is often wry and wise.

Under Richard Eyre’s respectful direction, the play resonates with

the most private truths. In Hare’s choice of two of the most

speculated-about

times in Wilde’s life, we are privy to some rather bright talk and

a few brisk confrontations.

The first, in Act, I centers on the more fact-driven episode in the

Cadogan Hotel suite where Wilde takes refuge following the loss of

his libel action against the Marquess of Queensberry. It is here,

and immediately prior to his arrest on April 5, 1895, that we

encounter

Wilde (Liam Neeson) along with his former lover Robert Ross (Peter

Capaldi), and the current passion of his life, Queensberry’s son,

Lord Alfred Douglas, affectionately called "Bosie" (Tom

Hollander).

The dutiful Ross and the faithful Bosie are here to help Wilde

consider

his options: Whether to heed Ross’ plea to flee to France, or to give

weight to Bosie’s urging for Wilde to remain and fight. But, as we

see, Wilde is a man governed by his heart. Tangentially we see the

temperaments and the failings of the immature, romantically

intoxicated,

and tiresomely pretentious Bosie and the weak, rigidly paternal Ross.

It is one of the play’s most courteous conceits not to be overly harsh

on these lovers, old and new, who would prompt Wilde to say, "Only

when we love do we see the true person."

In Act II, we encounter the exiled Wilde, ill after two nasty years

in prison, and with literally no money to sustain either himself or

Bosie in a modest rented house in Italy. Here we have Hare’s

speculation

on what their last day together might have been like. An

anti-climactic

visit from the solicitous and similarly impoverished Ross is quite

touching. While Act I opens titillating enough with a lively sexual

encounter between two of the hotel staff (Stina Nielsen and Alex

Walkinshaw),

and Act II allows for a brazen Bosie to have his bare-ass romp with

a Neapolitan fisherman (Daniel Serafini-Sauli), this sexual embroidery

merely punctuates the urgency we feel about Wilde’s personal dilemma.

Not required to be either foppishly flamboyant nor aggressively witty,

six-foot-four Neeson’s Wilde is, nevertheless, realized as a

larger-than-life

figure with a magnanimous, sad heart and a glittering, perceptive

mind. Notwithstanding these scripted qualities, Neeson, who remains

confined to a chair for all of Act II, works hard to create a Wilde

other than the one we are used to. Neeson shows us a Wilde whose

impassioned,

yet passive, resistance to his fate is instinctively fired more by

tender emotion than by intellectual prowess. If you expect to see

a dandy in ruffles and a poseur offering pearls to the swine, you

will be disappointed. Be prepared, instead, for Wilde observed as

a man of gentle largesse, honest maturity, and fading brilliance.

Fading brilliance is also integral to Bob Crowley’s grandly used and

abused hotel suite and the Spartan, sun-drenched white room in Italy.

Unlike Wilde, the roles of Ross and Bosie are less complexly written

and more superficially exposed. Capaldi is impressive as Ross, who

though sincere to a fault is an emotionally shallow fellow who seems

to lack either the pluck or charm that would have turned Wilde’s head

at any point in time. As a coyly cloying Bosie, Hollander exercises

his option to make the most of his character’s teasing and petulant

behavior. But we may wonder what it is about Bosie that makes Wilde

willing to expend so much energy just to be able to tolerate the

obnoxious

little twit. There are still many unanswered questions. And we may

be well advised to heed Wilde when he said, "The public have an

insatiable curiosity to know everything — except what is worth

knowing." HH

— Simon Saltzman

The Judas Kiss, Broadhurst Theater, 235 West 44,

800-432-7780.

$15 to $55. To August 1.

Top Of Page
Between the Lines

On the Monday morning after Sunday night’s three-hour

Tonys extravaganza, Broadway critic Simon Saltzman called U.S. 1’s

Preview editor, Nicole Plett, with a mea culpa tone in his

voice.

Here at the office we were marveling at Saltzman’s correct picks for

16 out of 21 categories in the annual Tony sweepstakes — but the

critic was busy criticizing himself (or was it the Tony committee?)

for missing "the two big ones." For best play, Yasmina Reza’s

"Art" (which Saltzman found rather effete and irrelevant)

beat out his guess for winner, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane"

(which did sweep best director, Garry Hynes, and leading and featured

actresses). We told him we enjoyed the French playwright Reza’s

gracious

acceptance speech — and besides, we had already heard acceptance

speeches from two members of the Irish cast of "Leenane."

But on the musical front, Saltzman had firmly opted for

"Ragtime"

over "The Lion King." And on Monday morning, he still wasn’t

reconciled to the facts.

"How can the show (Ragtime) that won best book, best original

score, and best orchestration not win best musical?" he

asked us (of all people). "And how could the show (Lion King)

that won only technical awards for scenic design, costumes, and

lighting,

be voted the best musical on Broadway?"

At that point we had to quote to Saltzman from his own Tony preview

(U.S. 1, June 3): "Far be it from me to remind you that the reason

the all-substance no-style `Ragtime’ received 13 nominations, and

the all-style, no-substance `Lion King’ received 11 nominations, was

because . . . they simply outclassed the field." So the Tony

committee

chose all-style over all-substance. So, we asked Saltzman, what else

is new?

Saltzman, incidentally, does indeed have other news for us in this

issue: A behind-the-scenes look at the design and construction of

the new home of the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, the F. M. Kirby

Theater on the Drew University campus in Madison (page 30). For us

the article was especially interesting because the architectural firm

handling the renovation and expansion was Ford Farewell Mills and

Gatsch, U.S. 1’s former landlord at Mapleton Road.

As Saltzman writes in his architectural piece, he will withhold final

judgment on the new theater until he attends a performance there.

But we will hope that this creation is a proper combination of

substance

and style.

Top Of Page
Omissions

Our 1998 health and fitness directory failed to list

a psychologist who had submitted information about her practice. Ellen

G. Horowitz PhD, at 14 Washington Park, Suite 602, in Princeton

Junction

(609-275-6246) specializes in life transitions — birth, loss,

childhood problems, marriage, divorce, relationship and career issues;

individuals, families and children.

We appreciate corrections and additions to any of our directories.

And while your changes can not be reflected in the print version until

the next printing, they are made within days on the Internet version.

See U.S. 1’s home page www.princetoninfo.com for the wealth

of information now on line.

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