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An old story with a new flair

September 11, 2009|Philip Brandes; F. Kathleen Foley; David C. Nichols

Part docudrama, part classical tragedy and part scathing indictment of social hypocrisy, Moises Kaufman's "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" brings strikingly original theatrical flair to an oft-dramatized story.

Kaufman's kaleidoscopic 1997 script masterfully weaves court transcripts, media coverage and first-hand accounts (both published and unpublished) by the major participants into a gripping story whose dramatic possibilities are substantially though not entirely realized in Susan Lee's staging for NoHo's Eclectic Company Theatre revival.

In the title role, actor Kerr Seth Lordygan's opening quote from Wilde's "De Profundis" asserts that time and space are merely accidental conditions of thought that the imagination can transcend. However, I discovered my transcending capacity to be sadly limited when it comes to an Oscar Wilde with shaved head and chin strip beard. Designer Bryce Daniels' well-considered period costumes further accentuate the incongruity -- could someone spring for a wig for those of us with no imagination?

It's an unfortunate distraction, for in other respects Lordygan does an admirable job portraying Wilde's razor-sharp wit, his passionate devotion to art and beauty, and the tragic hubris that brought him down. Goaded by his lover Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas (Joshua Grant), Wilde brought the original libel suit against Douglas' tyrannical father (Andrew Hagan) that backfired with Wilde's overreaching wisecrack on the witness stand.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 03, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 46 words Type of Material: Correction
"Heydrich/Hitler/Holocaust": A review of "Heydrich/Hitler/Holocaust" at the Met Theatre in the Sept. 11 Calendar section said that Adolf Hitler was one of the Nazi leaders who met at the 1942 Wannsee Conference to develop plans for exterminating Europe's Jewish population. Hitler did not attend the conference.

Versatile supporting performances from Hagan (doubling as a prosecutor in the later trials) and Darrell Philip, as Wilde's long-suffering attorney, add dramatic heft to the legal proceedings. The courtroom setting, interspersed with opinionated quotes from contemporaneous luminaries, such as Queen Victoria and George Bernard Shaw, as well as anonymous newspaper editorials, afford an open invitation for grandstanding, at times making the trials of Oscar Wilde seem like a life sentence.

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Philip Brandes --

"Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde," Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Oct. 11. $18. (818) 508-3003. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

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Shakespeare amid old bear caves

The resourceful folks at the newly formed Vesper Theater Company could have second careers as location scouts. The most captivating aspect of "Much Ado About Nothing," the group's first outdoor Shakespeare production, intended as a yearly event, is the locale -- just outside the abandoned bear caves at the old L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park.

Aptly and wittily dubbed "Shakespeare on the Rocks" -- a reference to the cascading man-made boulders that surround the caves -- this initial offering, directed by Tim Landfield, is rough-edged but nonetheless charming, a propitious launch that bodes well for future endeavors.

Of course, Shakespeare's dark comedy about a young Italian gentlewoman falsely accused of fornication at her own wedding is most famous for the delightfully acid repartee between the bride's sharp-witted kinswoman, Beatrice (appealingly feisty Courtnie Sauls), and her equally caustic admirer, Benedick (authoritative Corey MacIntosh), who circle around each another like angry cranes in a mating ritual.

As is the problem with many local Shakespearean productions, certain actors are somewhat overwhelmed by the language, which suffers from occasional mush-mouthiness. However, there are excellent performances to be found, particularly Patrick Blakely's suave Don Pedro, a well-meaning nobleman misled by his scheming bastard brother, Don John (effectively brooding John Dimitri) and Ben Stranahan's Leonato, an outraged father whose emotions, upon hearing his daughter decried as a "stale," run from confusion to dismay to righteous wrath.

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F. Kathleen Foley --

"Much Ado About Nothing," Old L.A. Zoo on Griffith Park Drive. 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Ends Oct. 11. Suggested donation $10. (323) 207-6365. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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One of Hitler's key villains

The name of Final Solution architect Reinhard Heydrich isn't typically remembered among the top tier of Nazi villains, but that's an oversight that playwright Cornelius Schnauber sets out to correct with his new drama, "Heydrich/Hitler/Holocaust," at the Met Theatre.

Schnauber, who heads USC's Max Kade Institute for Austrian-German-Swiss Studies, brings a wealth of historical insight and detail to his account of the pivotal 1942 Wannsee Conference -- where Heydrich, Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders met to develop plans for exterminating Europe's Jewish population -- and its aftermath.

Director L. Flint Esquerra and his fine cast bring the characters to life with intensity and urgency.

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