'Gross Indecency' tackles social issues

The Baltimore Sun

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, opening at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis next week, reminds us how social injustice destroyed the most celebrated playwright of his era.

Dignity Players, whose mission is to shed light on social issues and promote individual self-worth, confronts homophobia in its production of Moises Kaufman's play.

In 2004, Sue Struve, Bryan Barrett and Mickey Handwerger founded the all-volunteer theater component of the church's Arts in the Woods program.

"We formed out of a desire to produce theater with strong social messages," said Handwerger, who is artistic director, "In many ways, theater is my form of political activism, a way to express how I feel about social issues in an artistic manner.

"We opted to stick to minimalist theater because we wanted the words of the scripts to be the focus. We want audiences to hear the message as much as we want them to see it," he said. "Our focus is less on the visual aspects of the plays than it is on the message conveyed through the characters and the words they speak."

Barrett said Kaufman's drama ties together theater's goal to inspire and entertain and the church's goal to promote social justice.

"This is an amazing play that examines the diminishing of human dignity told in the actual words of real historical characters through four narrators presenting the story of Wilde's three trials," he said.

Kaufman's play dramatizes Wilde's affair with the son of the Marquess of Queensbury and his 1895 libel suit against the marquess after the nobleman publicly accused him of being a sodomite. A countersuit resulted in Wilde's imprisonment and professional ruin.

Gross Indecency was compiled from several sources, including courtroom testimony, Wilde's writings and the comments of his contemporaries, all in their own words. While defining the prudery of the Victorian era, the play also reveals Wilde's eccentricities.

Directed by Handwerger, Dignity Players' production will feature Jim Gallagher as Wilde and supporting actors Barrett, Jamie Hanna, Dan Kavanaugh, Eric Lund, Frank Moorman, Scott Nichols, Joshua Riffle and Kieran Shea.

Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 5, 11, 12 and 13; 2 p.m. Oct. 6 and 14 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Tickets cost $15 for Thursday nights, $10 for matinees and $20 for Friday and Saturday evenings. Senior citizens and students receive a $5 discount off any performance. 410-266-8044 or www.dignityplayers.org.

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