Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of  Oscar Wilde
A Play by Moises Kaufman

I like to say that Oscar Wilde was the first performance artist.  He was a man who chose to live his life with passion.  And in trying to define his own world in his own terms, he came up against a society that found him truly subversive.  --Moises Kaufman

Reviews (Excerpts)

Robert Tanitch, The Independent (London)

The script, sharp, intelligent, and dramatic, draws on the original trial transcriopts, as well as letters, newspapers, plays, novels, poetry, epigrams and biographies written by Wilde and his contemporaries, including Sir Edward Clarke, Frank Harris, Lord Alfred Douglas and George Bernard Shaw.

Kaufman's production has a physical simplicity.  A nine-man ensemble faces the audience in two rows....For the most part, the case speaks directly to the audience....

Robert Brustein, The New Republic

The conflict between art and morality is the play's theme and subject matter.  Gross Indecency manages to turn relatively familiar material--the trials and imprisonment of Wilde on charges of sodomy and pederasty--into a damning indictment of the way that government tries to regulate our private lives....

Wilde didn't believe in separating his erotic longings from the aesthetic side of his life.  But that was the source of his tragedy--that he tried to turn morality into art during an age that preferred art to be an extension of morality.  One of the powerful things about this play is the way it subtly suggests that such constraints are not confined to the Victorian age....Even in our more permissive time, when what Wilde called "the love that dare not speak its name" has grown a little hoarse from shouting it, the Puritan impulse to impose its prohibitionist will on the private lives of citizens remains as insistent as ever.

Laurie Stone, The Nation

The perversion pumping through Gross Indecency is not homosexuality, but Wilde's refusal to save himself.  Kaufman contemplates the lengths people think they have to go to get love, love that feels like a devotion to the other but gets played out more like devotion to devotion--or frustration....Having cobbled up the piece from an array of bios, court documents, and historical accounts, Kaufman sets up a panel of actors to flash the quoted material.  It's pointless....

Kaufman's achievement is to make history immediate and Wilde's dilemma plangent....Kaufman links Wilde's choice of a lover too selfish to value him to his choosing a fate that will destroy him.  Wilde emerges as a man who doesn't feel guilty of public crimes but of private ones.

David Richards, Washington Post

Under the guise of a fop with a green carnation on his lapel, Wilde was--and remains to this day--a veritable revolutionary, defying traditional authority, inverting accepted values and spurning convention's dreary ways.  Kaufman's play make it evident that Wilde's writings were as much on trial as the man's conduct.

At a time in our own country's life when art and morality seem to clash on a regular basis, Wilde's persecution no longer registers as just an historical aberration.  His assertion that there are no immoral books, only badly written ones, is precisely the sort of thinking that enrages opponents of the National Endowment for the Arts today.

Richard Zoglin, TIME

In Gross Indecency playwright and director Moises Kaufman has dramatized [Wilde's] fall with the sort of rapier stylization that Wilde himself would have admired....It's dazzling coup de theatre, at once compelling history and chilling human drama.

David Patrick Stearns, USA Today

We've been waiting for a great Oscar Wilde drama to be written.  Now it has finally arrived.

This play...deftly tells the story of a great artist with the inevitability and much of the monumentality of a Greek tragedy....As courtroom drama, it's thrilling.  As a social commentary, it's unforgettable, maybe even life-changing.

New York Times

Director Moises Kaufman shaped a sharply intelligent, dramatically fresh take on a subject that would seem to have been exhausted.  This is as much a multilevel study in public perception of class, art and sexuality as a portrait of one man's downfall, yet it retains the pull of old-fashioned courtroom drama.

Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

[Gross Indecency] startles the audience to attention and never lets go....The piece plays like a 2 1/2-hour theatrical epigram, stimulating, unsettling and ruthlessly funny....

The play's indictments, blurry stain of guilt and redemptive power reach well beyond Wilde by evening's end. Gross Indecency touches on a multitude of themes, from the subversive nature of art and changing strictures on homosexuality to the legacy of Victorian Puritanism and "morality" as a sort of shared public hypocricy.  In the end, this remarkable work testifies to the courage it takes to invent a life and live it to the fullest.

The Tragedy of Oscar Wilde: Sex, Lies, and a Sealed Fate
Wilde Trials Homepage