Gross Indecency at N.C. State Examines Oscar Wilde’s Passions


Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885; Section 11 (“gross indecency”): Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour [repealed, 1967].

Gay playwright and director Moisés Kaufman is best known for founding the Tectonic Theatre Project, the company that developed and produced The Laramie Project, which the William Peace Theatre in Raleigh will perform on Nov. 10-19, and the 2004 Tony Award® and Pulitzer Prize winner I Am My Own Wife. Like these works, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde — which N.C. State University Theatre will perform this weekend — is based on an investigation into historical events.

Kaufman’s 1997 Off-Broadway smash, which is based on trial transcripts, biographies, and letters, uses the British courtroom of the 1890s to explore Oscar Wilde’s writing, romantic relationships, and the storm of social and legal controversy spurred by both.

With its Open Door Series, N.C. State aims to present content that is more relevant to the lives of their students. Given its examination of sexual morality, queer persecution, and the over-involvement of the government in the sexual behavior of its citizens, Gross Indecency is an appropriate piece to meet that end.

Director Rachel Klem has followed the typical rules of Tectonic’s projects: presentational, nonlinear, and very fluid theater. Actors jump between characters, and very little is to be taken literally. The concept is cohesive; and some engaging choices are made, though the pace could do with some serious quickening.

Laura J. Parker’s hair and costumes are the show’s design highlight. Class structures are very clear, and the earth tones contrast nicely with Wilde’s more colorful and flamboyant fashion, calling attention to him immediately. Small changes are made to delineate character, as very few are needed, given the hard-working cast.

Senior design studies major and scenic designer Alec Haklar combines abstract elements (a towering explosion of manuscript pages) with representational pieces (jury benches and a witness box) with the central set piece — the overly long conference table that serves dozens of functions.

Lighting designer and electrical engineering major Darby Madewell does a solid job clarifying shifts in time and space, while highlighting some dramatic moments. She is at her best when her choices are bold, and a few more of those would have been welcomed.

Choreographer Dana Marks has given Wilde’s young “suitors” a go-go boy routine. The choreography is sexier than these young guys can handle smoothly; and it turns into a very humorous piece, though that may or may not be her intention.

Our titular Irish writer is played by engineering freshman Matthew Coker with terrific focus. He looks slightly like Wilde and keeps his mannerisms tight (perhaps, too tight). He speaks well, and delivers his lines quite clearly, though Wilde’s trademark sass is largely absent.

Playing Wilde’s most famous romantic partner, Lord Alfred Douglas, is junior industrial design major Louis Bailey, who gives one of the production’s strongest performances. He channels the effete Lord Alfred without stepping into caricature. He is warm and endearing — our most sympathetic character.

We get a strong showing from senior color chemistry major Natalie Sherwood, who plays Wilde’s attorney, Sir Edward Clarke. Sherwood embodies the physical and verbal attributes of a gentleman of the British court; gender is not important here. James Poslusny’s mature double-turn as both the Marquess of Queensberry and Sir Edward Carson is impressive, and Parker Gagnier and Nicole Hiemenz give notable performances in multiple ensemble parts.

While the show moves too slowly, the cast give mostly strong showings — especially for non-drama students — and the design elements are befitting a Kaufman piece. Overall, these trials are worth attending if you enjoy Oscar Wilde, queer history, or historical theater.

The show lands firmly in PG-13 territory for some sexual dialogue and racy dancing.

The show stars (from left) Matthew Coker, Louis Bailey, and Natalie Sherwood (photo by Ron Foreman
The show stars (from left) Matthew Coker, Louis Bailey, and Natalie Sherwood (photo by Ron Foreman)

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 20th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 21st Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click

N.C. State University Theatre presents GROSS INDECENCY: THE THREE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21 and 22, 2 p.m. Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-29, 2 p.m. Oct. 30 in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus.

TICKETS: $20 ($6 NCSU students, $12 non-NCSU students, $16 NCSU faculty and staff, and $18 seniors 60+), except $12 on Community Night (Oct. 26th).

BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or






Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (Irish playwright, novelist, and poet, 1854-1900): (Oscar Wilde Society) and (Wikipedia).

Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde (1997 Off-Broadway play): (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), (Tectonic Theater Project), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Denver Center Theatre Company).

Moisés Kaufman (director, playwright, and founder of Tectonic Theater Project): (Tectonic Theater Project bio), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

Rachel Klem (director and NCSU acting coach and instructor): (NCSU bio).