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Play recounts the ruination of Oscar Wilde.(Entertainment)(Moises Kaufman's script uses the story to examine the act of censorship Wayne Eastburn

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

When the Marquis of Queensbury in early 1895 slipped an accusatory note about the writer Oscar Wilde to a waiter at his club, he set in motion a series of events that would eventually result in Wilde going to jail, artists squirming under the threat of censorship and Moises Kaufman writing a provocative play dealing with all of that.

To demonstrate how the celebrated man of letters fell from grace, Kaufman in "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" gets down to the heart of the matter through trial transcripts, personal correspondence, interviews and other source material.

Joe Zingo, co-artistic director of Actors Cabaret of Eugene, is directing a production of the play that opens this week. According to Zingo, "Gross Indecency" is "a very literate script. Very well written. An actor's dream."

The way Zingo tells it, and the way the play presents the story, the Marquis of Queensbury and the father of Wilde's young lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, left a card at Wilde's club bearing the phrase, "posing sodomite."

Wilde sued the Marquis for criminal libel.

In the trial, the defense denounced Wilde's art and literature as immoral, indecent and corrupting, whereupon the prosecuting attorney declared, "It would appear that what is on trail is not Lord Queensbury, but Mr. Wilde's art."

Queensbury was acquitted, and the evidence gathered against Wilde compelled the Crown to prosecute him for "gross indecency with male persons." With Wilde's arrest, his hit plays (``The Importance of Being Earnest,'' among them) in London's West End were forced to close, and Wilde was left destitute. A second trial ended in a hung jury, and Wilde went for a third trial.

This time, he was convicted and sentenced to two years imprisonment at hard labor. Separated from his wife and children, he wrote very little for the rest of his life.

While the play concerns three trials, Zingo assures that it is `not at all a trial play, like `To Kill a Mockingbird' or like `Inherit the Wind.' '

Instead, it jumps around, with the result that "you go in and out of time, past and present," Zingo says.

As a result, Zingo says, there is more to this play than meets the eye. `The topic is Oscar Wilde and his promiscuity. But actually the play is more about Oscar Wilde being condemned for his literary art, or `censorship.' That was the first time that people looked at literature and made a decisions whether it was good literature or bad literature in a court of law.'

ACE veteran Michael Watkins plays Oscar Wilde, and Jesse Lally is the Lord Alfred Douglas.

As Zingo puts it, "Everything we're doing is to try to get the audience to think about what is censorship ... the political question of whose right is it to censor material?"

OPENING THIS WEEK

Gross Indecency

What: Subtitled "The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," Moises Kaufman's drama documents the famous downfall; directed by Joe Zingo

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 7-8, 14-15 and 21-22; also 2 p.m. March 9

Where: Actors Cabaret Annex Theater, 39 W. 10th Ave.

How much: $17 in advance ($22 day of show), through the ACE box office (683-4368)

CAPTION(S):

The cast of ACE's production of ``Gross Indecency'' includes Michael Watkins (center) as Oscar Wilde, Jesse Lally (left) as Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas and Harold Baker as Sir Edward Clark.
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Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 23, 2003
Words:572
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