No Taming This Shrew


Wilde Wilde Life

I'm a completely self-conscious theater whore, to use a friend's description. I love going to plays, I love the theater, I have a total desire to be an actress that I subsume in my rather lively teaching. This past season I treated myself to season tickets at the big Shakespeare theater here in DC. It's a great space with a reasonable track record. This season was one of my favorites from the past 9 years, so I'm grateful. We saw a Pericles that might have been the most magical production of ANY play in my life. Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare, actually) was solid, but Kelly McGillis almost sent me hurtling on stage to throttle her.

[HOW do you screw up a speech like "Unsex me here?" (You do it by panting through the lines in a shrieky kind of voice. "Spirits of the night, unsex me hheeeeeeeeeeeere!" My friend and I were literally laughing out loud by the end. I had to bite my playbook to keep quiet.)]

Then there was Lorenzaccio, which was basically a "French play' -- all classicism and overwrought wailing. GORGEOUS leads, though, so I was a happy camper for 4 hours. Meow, Medici! The Tempest followed, which I could not bear to see again. I've seen the Tempest more than any other play, and I've seen it twice at Shakespeare. WHY NOT TRY ANOTHER PLAY? They did it beautifully once, they need to release it for a while. And last night was Lady Windermere's Fan.

First, I had forgotten the plot. I know Earnest much more fully (did anyone else know that Earnest is a Victorian term for a homosexual and Wilde was playing with that? I just learned that. You could have punched me in the face I was so surprised). Second, I had forgotten all the amazing lines from the play, including a line I really thought was Chrissy Hynde's: "All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Oopsie. My favorite line of Wilde's is from this play: "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

The playbill cleverly contained a contemporary quote from the other man with all the good lines, George Bernard Shaw. He was lauding Wilde's work, which was excoriated by critics at the time for being fluff and stuff that could be written by anyone. As Shaw said, "I seem to be the only man in London who is not capable of writing an Oscar Wilde play. [paraphrasing] Given that his plays remain unique on the stage, it seems that we are indebted to the restraint of local scribes." Damn I'm losing the glory of the quote in my fogged recollection.

I love Oscar Wilde. I was obsessed with him in high school -- who could write such little bits of genius and then get locked up for years and try to take it all back? I cried when I read "Reading Gaol" and "De Profundis" because it was all so unfair and so beneath him. I can see the rage in his plays now, the scathing but delighted commentary on English, particularly London society. Such glory, such wit. Such brilliance in the face of stultifying dullness and propriety.

Wilde also makes you talk like one of his characters after seeing his work. My friend and I walked out speaking in sort of a neutered third person. "When one finds a rainstorm before oneself, one needs to find an umbrella." We couldn't stop! I am so grateful to have access to material like this. It feeds the soul, as my father is fond of saying. So here's to Wilde -- I hope I'm seated at his table in the afterlife.