Playwright: Moisés Kaufman. At: Black Elephant Theatre at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N. Clark. Phone: 800-838-3006; $18-$22. Runs through: Nov. 14
"Heroism is always very nice in retrospect" observed Moisés Kaufman, speaking of his 1997 docudrama recounting the excoriation of Oscar Wilde at the hands of a vindictive English society as intent on punishing the author for his audacious opinions as they were on upholding an already-crumbling moral standard. As with all tragedies, Wilde's undoing is fraught with hindsight speculation: If he'd only ignored the harassment of his boyfriend's crackpot father. If he'd only been caught consorting with underaged female prostitutes. If he'd only fled jurisdiction to live contentedly in exile with his paramour. But we in 2010 know too well the fate of those who proclaim themselves too big to fail.
Whatever part he may have played in his own ruin, it earned Wilde his place in the highest echelons of gay history's martyrs. And just to underscore his example to audiences in 2010, Black Elephant Theatre director Michael Rashid has introduced a framing device to Kaufman's text: instead of a courtroom, we find ourselves in a small after-hours bar called the Green Carnation. With the arrival of a "regular" bearing a playscript, the karaoke machine is silenced as the others assembled proceed to act out the final days of their patron saint, with annotative commentary from, among others, George Bernard Shaw, Queen Victoria and modern scholar Marvin Taylor.
This conceit inevitably calls to mind Joe Calarco's more-often produced Shakespeare's R & J. The mostly-young men begin their charade in a jocular tone, reveling in camp postures and cartoonish voices, while improvising costumes and props from their taproom's ersatz fin-de-siècle decor. As the inexorable journey progresses, however, the mood grows more somber ( and the production values more overtly professional ) until an unforeseen epilogue propels us back to the present, where the persecution of homosexuals continues.
It's not easy to conjure a tearful denouementand playgoers are advised to bring their hankies for this onefrom a scenario initiated by hugs, swishes, and the ubiquitous "Don't Stop Believing" ( "Glee" arrangement ) . Although the ensemble is uniformly committed to their multiple characterswith only Kevin Bishop and Casey Chapman, as Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, respectively, playing single roles throughoutthe heavy-lifting honors go to Danne W. Taylor, whose Marquess of Queensbury and two prosecuting attorneys strike just the right note of menace amid the pretty boys for whose sake Oscar Wilde chose to die so courageously and unnecessarily.Read more story below....