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PlayMakers Rep’s De Profundis Is a Work-in-Progress That Might Just Be "Your Cup of Tea"

>Nicole Villamil will star in Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay's workshop production of <em>De Profundis</em> Jan. 11-15 at PlayMakers Rep (photo by Ken Huth)

>Nicole Villamil will star in Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay’s workshop production of De Profundis Jan. 11-15 at PlayMakers Rep (photo by Ken Huth)

PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 series is hosting a new work this weekend: De Profundis, co-created by Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay, directed by Mertes, designed by Findlay, and performed by Nicole Villamil. This piece would be more aptly referred to as “performance art,” rather than a “play.” It chronicles a performer’s attempts to approach a text, to assimilate (and be assimilated by) the text, and to actually perform the text.

The road is rocky for both the performer and the audience. We feel (indeed, we experience) the performer’s frustrations at the fits-and-starts that she encounters as one approach after another proves inadequate to the task of affording her with “ownership” of the text. We, likewise, share in her victory when she is finally able to deliver. And the victory is multifaceted, because of the truth and beauty of both the text and the ultimate delivery.

The text in question is an 80-page letter written by Oscar Wilde during the last several weeks that he spent in Reading Gaol after having been convicted of “gross indecency.” The letter is addressed to Lord Alfred Douglas (a.k.a. “Bosie”), Wilde’s former lover.

For two years, Wilde — a sensitive, sharp-witted, prolific writer — had been denied the opportunity to express himself through writing. He had also spent the entire time not seeing or hearing from Bosie. Now, just a few months before his eventual release, he has been granted the “medicinal” privilege of writing one page per day. The result is this letter, which is a soul-searching examination and indictment of himself, of his former lover, and of his society.

This production is heavily laden (but not overladen) with symbolism and visual metaphor. The various props, the onstage costume changes, the technical choices, and the activities all convey details of the performer’s attempts at interaction with the text. Her fears and reservations, as well as her preconceptions and prejudices, are variously hinted at and brought to light. (Note: This show only includes selected, edited portions of Wilde’s letter.)

Nicole Villamil plays the part of “The Performer” with an honesty and conviction that makes it easy for us forget that she is playing a role. She shows a wide range of skills and nuances.

The seating in PlayMakers’ Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre has been rearranged for this production. It is performed on a narrow raised stage that runs the width of the space across the center. Half of the audience is seated on each side, and the house lights are kept on during key portions of the show. Audience experience is thus augmented by the experiences and reactions of fellow audience members. Technical effects are accomplished by unconventional, often interesting means

Villamil, Mertes, and Findlay arrived on campus 16 days ago. The work being showcased this weekend is the product of their intense immersion in this process.

Our Department of Picky-Picky would like to encourage Villamil, Mertes, and Findlay to consider shortening some of the preliminary sequences. For example, the piece begins with an extended stop/start attempt at reading from a photocopy of the first page of Wilde’s manuscript. The device works, demonstrating the pitfalls when one approaches and tries to assimilate a text. We, however, felt that we understood and appreciated it after three repetitions — continuing beyond this led us to impatience and frustration.

De profundis is Latin for “from the depths,” and what we experience here comes from the depths of the souls Oscar Wilde and The Performer and, by extension, from those of the entire creative team. Indeed, we felt that the show intended to encourage us to mine the depths of our own souls and the collective soul of our common humanity.

Experimental theater, by its very nature, is “outside the box,” and the creators and audience alike take chances. If you are looking for a unique, thought-provoking experience, this could easily be your cup of tea. Likewise, if communing with Oscar Wilde and/or other marginalized individuals interests you, this might be your cup of tea. If, however, you simply want easily accessed, light entertainment, you might want to look elsewhere.

Note: A six-hour and 13-minute reading of Wilde’s actual letter — in its entirety — can be accessed at

Nicole Villamil will star in Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay's workshop production of <em>De Profundis</em> for PRC on Jan. 11-15 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill (photo by Ken Huth)

Nicole Villamil will star in Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay’s workshop production of De Profundis for PRC on Jan. 11-15 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre at UNC-Chapel Hill (photo by Ken Huth)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 11th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 10th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell and Jan. 12th review by Dustin K. Britt, click and, respectively.)


PlayMakers Repertory Company presents DE PROFUNDIS, a workshop production co-conceived by director Brian Mertes and designer Jim Findlay and starring Nicole Villamil, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-14 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15-$48 ($10 students with ID).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY,, or

GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529),, or




PRESENTER:,,,, and

PRC BLOG (Page to Stage):



NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.

NOTE 2: There will be a post-show discussion after each performance, with members of the show’s cast and creative team and subject-matter experts.


De Profundis (1897 Oscar Wilde letter from Reading Gaol): (Wikipedia).

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

Brian Mertes (adapter and director): (official website), (PlayMakers Rep bio), and (Facebook page).

Jim Findlay (designer): (official website) and (PlayMakers Rep bio).

Nicole Villamil (performer): (Brown University resume), (PlayMakers Rep bio), and (Facebook page).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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