February 1, 2010
THEATER: The Relative Importance of Being Cyril
by Audrey Pullet
A small audience attended the first public reading of The Wilde Boy, a new one-act play by C.S. Whitcomb, Saturday afternoon at Artists Repertory Theatre in Portland. The title suggests a story with Cyril Holland, son of the nineteenth century Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, at the center. It springs from a “what if” notion: what if Cyril and his father’s poet-lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, had met?
Still evolving and not yet scheduled for production, The Wilde Boy was written for two actors playing four characters. Michael Mendelson read the older Lord Douglas and Mr. Wilde in his prime. Alec Wilson read Mr. Wilde’s 29-year-old son Cyril and a younger Lord Douglas. Jon Kretzu, ART’s Associate Artistic Director, narrated to add context in the absence of costumes, sets and lighting.
The play opens in London, January, 1915, fifteen years after Oscar Wilde’s death at the age of 46. Cyril has waited for hours in the cold outside Lord Douglas’s residence, looking for some kind of resolution to questions about his father, who had been imprisoned for “crimes against nature,” the Victorian sin of homosexuality, when Cyril was ten years old. His mother had changed her children’s surname to Holland—“[She] made us little Dutch boys,” Cyril says, “to keep the dams from breaking”—and to keep them from ever seeing their father again.
The impoverished Lord Douglas has watched the young stranger from his window. He yields to a sense of fate and lets him in.
“Rest your anonymous limbs on my borrowed furnishings,” he says, and the brandy flows.
The story becomes a series of wind-waves as the characters decide how much, and when, lonely torment should be revealed. Scenes from the past deepen the oral history with pathos and humor.
On Saturday, simple blocking coupled with time and place to show which era was playing. But wasn’t it Lord Douglas, not Cyril, who centered the story, if not the stage? His weariness was heavier, his life more tragic and desperate than Cyril’s erect soldier.
Then again, maybe neither of them was really at the core. Well, sure. It was Oscar himself. The poet Wilde.
Two questions still remain about the fate of a new play waiting for the green light in Portland’s competitive theater scene:
The tickets—how much?
©2010 Pam Wells