In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Brooklyn transfer of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss, starring Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde. Here’s an excerpt.
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David Hare would seem a near-ideal playwright to retell Oscar Wilde’s sad, sordid tale, for it is his special genius to steer clear of one-sided characterizations. Just as Mr. Hare almost always gives the (usually conservative) devil his due in his political plays, so does he leave the viewer of “The Judas Kiss,” his 1998 play about Wilde and Bosie Douglas, the playwright’s young lover, in no doubt of Wilde’s own culpability in his fall from grace. Yet the original production of “The Judas Kiss” flopped in London’s West End and on Broadway, and though it was thought at the time that Mr. Neeson, who created the role, was miscast, most critics also felt that the script itself came up short.
So why is it now playing at Brooklyn’s BAM Harvey Theater? Because the successful 2012 London revival, of which this production is a belated transfer, starred Rupert Everett, who was universally regarded as ideal for the part. And so he is: Mr. Everett’s performance is a creative impersonation of breathtaking authority, one that flirts with exaggeration but never crosses the line into caricature….
Only one thing is missing from both play and portrayal. Mr. Hare has spoken of how Wilde “identified completely with Christ,” and Mr. Everett calls him “a kind of Christ figure.” This strikes me as coming it several miles too high, and it points to one of the failings of “The Judas Kiss,” which is that Mr. Hare, much to my surprise, has idealized Wilde’s personality….
More important, “The Judas Kiss” is dramaturgically unbalanced. The first act, in which Wilde is seen deliberately choosing not to run from the police who are en route to the louche hotel where he awaits his appointment with fate, is a textbook exercise in the accumulation of tension, and Neil Armfield, the director, turns the screw with delicious stealth, even daring to put a ticking clock on the wall. But the second act, which shows us Wilde in impoverished exile, unwinds all the anxiety and replaces it with a too-protracted arc of steadily accumulating gloom. Believable? Yes. Involving? Not entirely…
Even more disappointing are the one-note performances of the actors cast in the key supporting roles….
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Read the whole thing here.
The trailer for the Toronto transfer of The Judas Kiss: