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
But are we, in this modern age, preparing a forum for a proper
Perhaps we are seeking to reward Wilde with belated martyrdom, to
restore the mantle of respectability to this high priest of the
elite who was publicly reviled and condemned to prison by a sexually
hypocritical British society for his bisexuality. If so, Wilde would
At the very least, the enviably unhypocritical Wilde would have
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
"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
Although it is not particularly exciting — it is, in fact, a
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
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
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
The dutiful Ross and the faithful Bosie are here to help Wilde
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
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
on what their last day together might have been like. An
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
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
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
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
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
— Simon Saltzman
$15 to $55. To August 1.
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
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
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
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
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
chose all-style over all-substance. So, we asked Saltzman, what else
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
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
(609-275-6246) specializes in life transitions — birth, loss,
childhood problems, marriage, divorce, relationship and career issues;
individuals, families and children.
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See U.S. 1’s home page www.princetoninfo.com for the wealth
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