Monthly Archives: August 2013

Wilde Ideas: A Conversation with Sean Yael-Cox, Tom Hall, and Jim Chovick

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”  – Oscar Wilde

As Sean Yael-Cox, Artistic Director of Intrepid Shakespeare, prepares to direct the company’s upcoming staged reading on Monday evening at the Encinitas Library, one question keeps reverberating in his mind:

“Why isn’t this play performed more often?”

The play in question is Moisés Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which will be presented by a stellar cast of San Diego heavies, among them Tom Hall as Oscar Wilde and Jim Chovick as the Marquess of Queensberry.

“It feels incredibly timely and appropriate to look at this play now because it’s about human rights,” says Sean, citing the recent waves of political change with regards to equality. “It’s a strong play to do now.”

Wilde and Douglas, 1893

Kaufman’s play, assembled in a docu-drama style which lifts direct quotations from historical documents, personal letters, and creative work, follows the later years of playwright Oscar Wilde as he undergoes three lawsuits in England – one which he initiates in order to rebuke a slanderous statement made against him by the Marquess of Queensberry, and two others initiated by the government on the charges of “gross indecency” between Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess’ son.

“A lot of people don’t know what happened to Wilde and how it ended for him,” comments Sean. “I think it says something about his writing that he is known for his wit and his charm and not remembered for the trials.”

Charged with the task of portraying Oscar Wilde is Tom Hall, most recently seen in Intrepid’s production of Hamlet as Horatio. Even though Tom describes the role as “very challenging and very daunting,” he is thankful that the authentic words of Wilde are there to provide a foundation for his real life character.

Tom Hall in Hamlet
Photo: Daren Scott

“You get a strong sense of who he was and how he carried himself through his writing,” says Tom. “Wilde wasn’t just a person. He’s a personality.”

Also recreating an historical figure is Jim Chovick, who will be portraying the Marquess as well as two different prosecuting attorneys in the reading.

“The Marquess of Queensbury is the nemesis,” says Jim, also last seen in Intrepid’s Hamlet as the Ghost. “He’s rather rough and strong arms his way through life.”

What lends credibility to these characters is that their conversations are almost entirely created from historical record, and Kaufman manages to investigate the trials with a modern perspective while maintaining the integrity of the people involved.

“It’s like a crash course history lesson, but it’s incredibly theatrical,” says Sean, who will also take a turn on stage during the reading. “It’s almost like doing an Oscar Wilde play because there are so many excerpts from his writing. It’s the beautiful poetry and a ton of humor.”

Sean Yael-Cox and Jim Chovick in Hamlet
Photo: Daren Scott

Sadly, it is the creative writings of Wilde that are also used as evidence against him when he is put on trial for his “illegal” activities with Douglas. Tom notes that because of this, it is not the actual relationship between the men that ends up under the microscope. It is Wilde’s struggle for artistic expression.

“He was really being tried for his subversive views on art, morality, and Victorian society,” says Tom. “Wilde believed in the power of art to transform man. He believed that art could change the world, could bring about peace, and all of these ideas that were revolutionary for his time.”

Jim agrees. “The playwright knew what he was doing,” he says. “Wilde isn’t defending his actions, he’s saying I’m an artist and art rises above these petty little rules.”

1895 newspaper
(c) The British Library Board

This “rule” that Wilde was ultimately found guilty of was “gross indecency” between males, and while the term was never clearly defined by Parliament, it was used to criminalize homosexuality in Victorian England. It was not repealed until 1967.

The somewhat didactic nature of this play should not be intimidating, however. Anyone familiar with Kaufman’s The Laramie Project will understand his unique ability to take facts and weave them into a compelling narrative.

“The best kind of play is one that will move you emotionally and educate you,” says Jim. “Anything that is well-written will resonate. It’s human nature.”

Rounding out the cast of historical figures is Brian Rickel, Danny Campbell (most recently seen as Polonius in Hamlet), as well as John Tessmer, Ben Cole, and Edred Utomi who are all currently acting in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the musical, which closes on Intrepid’s mainstage on Sunday.

– Tiffany Tang

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde by Moisés Kaufman, a staged reading, will be held at the Encinitas Library, 540 Cornish Drive. Monday, August 19. 6:30 pm complimentary wine/appetizer reception. 7:00 pm reading. Please rsvp to boxoffice@intrepidshakespeare.com and pay with cash/check at the door or purchase tickets in advance. $15.

 

“Midsummer” Tales: Meet the Fairies!

A Fairy Trifecta:
Kevin Hafso-Koppman, Jacquelyn Ritz, David McBean

As Titania the Fairy Queen, Jacquelyn Ritz has a very clear idea of the role she plays in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical.

“I like to think of the fairies as Greek gods,” she says.

Her fellow magical misfits agree with her. Occupying the forest throne alongside Jacquelyn sits David McBean as Oberon the Fairy King. Kevin Hafso-Koppman rounds out the fairy trifecta with his gymnastic portrayal of Puck in this Shakespearean classic, reimagined by Intrepid through the sounds of the 60s.

“They are super human beings with super human powers,” elaborates David. “Since the fairies have such power, they seek destruction in a way that’s different from humans. These things that occur in their lives become so much more important to them. And the results of their feelings affect the entire world.”

The main source of fairy angst is Titania’s adoption of a changeling boy, which infuriates Oberon. Titania’s refusal to hand over the boy further stokes Oberon’s fury, inspiring vengeance in the form of a flowery love potion forcing Titania to fall “head over wings” for a Bottom, a Mechanical metamorphosed into a donkey.

“Oberon has no power directly over her, so he can’t change her,” David explains.

“It’s a very man/woman thing,” says Jacquelyn to David. “You’re constantly trying to tell me what to do and I’m constantly trying to work around you to get to your heart.”

And where does trickster Puck fit into this struggle?

“Puck has his foot in both camps – the real world and the fairy world,” says Kevin, elaborating on Puck’s ability to maneuver and help manipulate both the fairy royals and the lost lovers running through the forest. “The whole story and the whole dream are Puck’s flip of the world.”

From this fairy’s perspective, things are certainly topsy-turvy – the human lovers succumb to the magical spells of things supernatural, while the magical monarchs are reduced to petty humanlike spats and acts of retribution.

“I don’t think it’s petty,” chimes in Jacquelyn. “But I’m Titania, so I have to feel that way,” she adds with a smile.

Another topsy-turvy aspect of this Intrepid’s Midsummer revival is the casting. Both David and Kevin were featured in the 2012 production, but in vastly different roles: David played the Mechanical Flute and garnered rave reviews for his “play-within-a-play” Thisbe, while Kevin soared from rope swings as the lover Lysander.

Opportunely, Kevin is able to incorporate this gymnastic ability into Puck.

“This time around we are getting a lot more physical with the role because we are discovering some different things,” he says. “It’s difficult because the last person did something that was so brilliant and so funny and you want to take those little things and put them into your performance, but also create your own thing.“

For Kevin, that “thing” has translated into the construction of a trapeze atop Puck’s perch center stage, from which he is able to incorporate his athletic approach to his heart’s content.

“We’ve been working a lot with climbing and making this Puck acrobatic and supernatural,” he elaborates. “Almost like in this dream world, gravity is less for the fairies.”

For David, the return to Midsummer also included a role as musical director.

“This time around, I get to be a part of the moments where music adds to the storytelling,” says David. “It’s been a treat for me to be a part of the show in an intimate way and to help the new actors learn the songs. They are so clever and remarkable. It’s been an honor to be directing them.”

For Jacquelyn, who recently relocated from Chicago and is making her San Diego debut with Intrepid, the infusion of music into this play just makes sense.

“Music is a great bridge from this world to something higher,” she says. “When you mix that with Shakespeare, which is another way of taking this world and elevating it through poetry, it just heightens it.”

However, this “heightening” does not serve to exclude the audience from their understanding of the play. In fact, it does just the opposite.

“The music clarifies the relationships,” explains Jacquelyn. “People who maybe don’t know Shakespeare as well, still know music. We know songs, we know how we feel when we are singing to someone else or someone is singing to us. It makes more of a connection.”

These fairies are in flight through August 18. Come see them rock the forest and find your own musical connection.

– Tiffany Tang

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Musical plays through August 18 at the Clayton E. Liggett Theatre in Encinitas. Tickets available here.
(Photo credits: Daren Scott)