The Judas Kiss: Theater review by David Cote
Like Oscar Wilde’s tragic dalliance with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, The Judas Kiss is a frustrating, asymmetrical affair. David Hare’s 1998 tribute to Wilde in extremis—two long scenes portray him on the day of his arrest for “gross indecency” and then his melancholy existence after two years’ hard labor—lands uncertainly between tidy radio drama and sub-Shavian play of ideas. It seems suited for audio consumption because the play is so talky and action-free. Hare struggles to find a fresh ideological angle on a tale every literary student knows: A romantic iconoclast throws away his life and genius on a spoiled, aristocratic boy-toy. But Hare only manufactures Wildean quips and schematic pathos. This revival, while bolstered by an exquisitely layered central performance by Rupert Everett, can’t remedy the essential thinness of the drama.
Director Neil Armfield’s production is handsome enough, with spare but sumptuous furnishings by Dale Ferguson and moody lights by Rick Fisher that caress the space with palpable sensuality. And Everett struts about in a padded suit, tossing off epigrams, as if he’d stepped out of a Max Beerbohm sketch. In the second act, after Wilde’s soul-breaking time in jail, Everett does one of those all-too-rare acting tricks: looking like he’s aged 20 years. As written here, Wilde is physically too restrained—he broods in a chair, guzzles wine, eats lobster salad, broods in a chair some more—but Everett imbues the passive role with grace and magnetism.
These are technical and design virtues and don’t offset the fact that Hare’s other characters exist as expository devices or sounding boards for Wilde’s canned observations on love, art and bourgeois hypocrisy. Bosie is a shrill, selfish cad (how Shaw would have turned that assumption on its head!) and Charlie Rowe makes him shriller than one would think possible. Cal McAninch frets diligently as Wilde’s loyal friend, Robbie Ross, but his is a thankless part. And Tom Colley, an actor in excellent shape, lolls about nakedly in the second act as Bosie’s latest pickup, an Italian fisherman. If the promise of prolonged man-candy makes you tarry after intermission, well, like Wilde, you’ve been warned.—David Cote
BAM Harvey Theater (Off Broadway). By David Hare. Directed by Neil Armfield. With Rupert Everett, Cal McAninch, Charlie Rowe. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.
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