Sunday, November 15, 2020

Love Speaks Its Name in the Backdoor Playhouse Rendering of Gross Indecency

The late Lord Alfred Douglas made famous the phrase, “the love that dare not speak its name,” in a poem called “Two Loves,” some 128 years ago. 

The love that dare not speak its name is being spoken this week in Cookeville’s campus theater, as part of the tense historical, courtroom drama, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moisés Kaufman. The controversial relationship between the enigmatic Oscar Wilde and his friend Lord Alfred Douglas are part of what get Wilde into trouble, as the trials will reveal. 

This riveting production relies on actual archival documents, such as letters, trial transcripts, and other source materials, for Kaufman to carefully cobble together a coherent and compelling plot. The Playhouse cast members interpret this so brilliantly, that we are transported across the centuries, to see controversies not unlike today’s, tearing apart friendships and careers. 

This love that dare not speak its name has been spoken on the modest stage at the back of the Jere Whitson Building for decades, thanks to the courageous directing of Mark Creter, who has never been shy to challenge our conservative college town with sometimes shocking content.

Love speaks its name at this campus experimental zone, a miracle of countless performances I have witnessed since Creter and company fully captivated our attention with Angels in America some twelve short years ago. Love spoke boldly when energetic ensemble gatherings for screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show inspired a top-notch rendering of the Rocky Horror Show. Love speaks its name at the biennial charity production of Vagina Monologues, with rotating directors and changing casts, and these are only a few examples.

Love speaking its name celebrates the aforementioned and unfortunately marginalized topics of LGBTQetc equality and women’s empowerment, and love also speaks to the passionate commitment to the theatrical arts that are housed in this Playhouse. Love continues to speak when Creter lends this historic venue for gatherings of activists, local public television screenings, open mic nights, poetry readings, reviews by drag queens, rock bands, the list goes on and on.

This irrepressible thespian love suddenly stopped speaking during the Spring 2020 semester. Unprecedented pandemic precautions stopped the plans for Gross Indecency amid rehearsals and production, leading to an indefinite delay. The tricky issues of this theatrical text foreshadow today’s so-called “cancel culture,” but health concerns almost cancelled the performance altogether.

By now it’s November, and the pandemic problems remain. But with actors donning face shields, with air purifiers working overtime, with auditorium capacity shrunk to a mere 32 per show, with audience members wearing masks, with streaming options available, now Gross Indecency has overcome great odds to launch its current run. 

From each cast member to every behind-the-scenes producer, they all speak in the name of love to make this production possible. Many Backdoor stalwarts round out the strong cast, such as faculty lecturer Jeff Kean, whose customary expertise is on the technical side, yet he makes a real impression here with Creter’s coaching. Joe Clark stands out as well, and Clark will soon borrow the director’s chair from Creter come next semester, with a Eugene O’Neill play as the fitting first installment of the Kurt Eisen memorial production. Then most importantly, Thomas Moore moves everyone as Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s friend and lover.  

But finally, there is one conclusive reason why we all need this show, and we need it now. We need James Alder as Oscar Wilde. 

James Lyle Alder has been keeping step with Kean and Creter to keep the Playhouse working, serving as the Shop Foreperson and all-around manager-of-details. And as Oscar Wilde, Alder is playing one of those parts that he was just meant to play, dare I say destined to play, even born to play. 

Alder embodies love in all his hard work and activism and speaks love’s name from the classroom to the scene shop, from the stage to the streets. I don’t want to say that this is his best performance ever, simply because Alder’s best performance is always the one he is currently working on.  This is James’ best performance right now. 

And for those of us who know James Alder, his erudition and enthusiasm don’t subside, simply because he is off-book or out of costume. As an aside, though, if you know James, he may never be out of costume entirely, as he is always well-dressed compared to most, especially since the ways of the pandemic have rendered most of our fashion a little tattered and frumpy.

This entire production of Gross Indecency is an elaborate labor of love that chose to balance precautions with pandemic realities. Love insisted on speaking its name, and you are invited to partake, as one of the limited in-person patrons or at home on your streaming device. The details follow. 

The details:
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moisés Kaufman
Directed by Mark Harry Creter
Remaining performances 
November 16, 17, 20, 21, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.
November 19, 2020 at 10:00 p.m.
November 21, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.
Streaming Performances: November 19, 20, 21, 2020.
In order to safely distance the audience from one another we will only be accommodating 32 people in the auditorium per performance.
Streaming tickets will go on sale on Monday, November 16, 2020 beginning at 9:00 a.m. The cost is $5 plus a servicing fee.
Purchase tickets here to stream Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde on November 19, 20, or 21, 2020 at 8:00 p.m.:
The video capture of the production was filmed and edited by Maison Media.
DONATIONS: Customers can donate during or outside the purchase process.
Donations are only charged a fee of 3.5%.
This video recording was produced by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service and Moises Kaufman. All rights reserved. The performance is authorized for non-commercial use only. By accepting this license, you agree not to authorize or permit the Video to be recorded, copied, distributed, broadcast, telecast or otherwise exploited, in whole or in part, in any media now known or hereafter developed. WARNING: Federal law provides severe civil and criminal penalties for the unauthorized reproduction, distribution, or exhibition of copyrighted motion pictures, Audio and Videotapes or Audio and Videodiscs. Criminal copyright infringement is investigated by the FBI and may constitute a felony with a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000.00 fine.

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