Presented by Boston Actors Theater
Adapted by Elizabeth DuPré and Nicole Howard
Directed and Choreographed by Danielle Lucas
Review by Gillian Daniels
One of the very best and worst things about Oscar Wilde is that his reputation proceeds him. His piercing one-liners and scathing insults are quoted extensively in speeches, jokes, and birthday cards. Wilde’s private life is largely viewed as decadent, however factual that is. Because of this, it’s surprising that the fairy tales he wrote during his career, in sharp contrast to his perceived debauchery, are syrupy and Victorian. Boston Actors Theater attempts to marry the brevity and wit of Wilde’s legacy with the softer side of his stories for children and the result, while enthusiastic, is uneasy.
Though called Dancing Wilde, each play is accented by dance numbers rather than centered on them. This is unfortunate as the dancing can be very charming. Among the most talented of the performers is Kendall Aguier, who plays the “ugly dwarf” in The Birthday of the Infanta and a personification of fire in The Young King. The dialogue is forced to do the brunt of the work but it competes with an introduction where the dancers introduce themselves by quoting some popular Oscar Wilde witticisms. Though the actors, and, I assume, the playwrights, give it their all, the source material they’re working with comes off as either benignly saccharine or uncomfortably anachronistic.
This is best seen in The Birthday of the Infanta, where a Spanish princess (Bailey Libby) is entertained by the antics of the previously mentioned “ugly dwarf.” It’s a challenging thing to bring to the stage in a contemporary era. So is The Harlot’s House, a poem that shows both displeasure and interest in the goings-on of a house of ill-repute. While the material for either can be made into an effective show aimed at younger audiences or the innuendo and historical anachronism can be mined for older theater-goers, it seems as if the Boston Actors Theater tries to do both with mixed success.
As an Oscar Wilde fan, I’m sad to say while the show has its sweet moments, it’s uneven. The stories are interesting in theory but feel stilted. It’s all surface, which is part of Wilde’s charm, but not the whole of it.
The strongest scenes are in The Young King where the titular character dreams of the excesses of his kingdom and just where the riches he enjoys come from. Played by the engaging Drew Linehan (who previously showed her chops both for drama and comedy in Happy Medium’s Baby with the Bathwater), the Young King appears naive yet thoughtful, lost in the well done dream sequences that spiral into nightmares. It’s a poignant moment in the play, where the layers of cloying cuteness are excavated to reveal something more grim. It’s promising, but I wish this momentum had pushed through the rest of Dancing Wilde.