note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
"The Judas Kiss" is David Hare's elegant drama about betrayal: betrayal on a personal level and on a high moral level. Oscar Wilde may have been betrayed by his fickle lover, but society too shares the blame. "The Judas Kiss" was certainly inspired by Wilde's arrest, subsequent conviction and imprisonment for the crime of "gross indecency" but the trial itself doesn't interest Hare. What does is the folly which led to Wilde's arrest, and the heartbreak which follows his imprisonment.
When we think of Wilde we usually recall the searing wit marshalled in the face of adversity...quips like "If this is how the Queen treats her prisoners, she doesn't deserve to have any" or the studied devil-may-care whimsy of "Life is too important to be taken seriously." Hare takes us behind the epigrams to the hubris which inspired Wilde to sue the Marquis of Queensbury and to the self-righteousness which kept him from fleeing England to safety abroad when arrest was imminent.
Hare paints a naive Wilde unable to see he is headed for disaster; yet Hare's Wilde is noble in delusion. Hare is not kind to Bosie, the Marquis' son, on whom Wilde doted, and for whom he sacrificed himself. Director Spiro Veloudos paints Wilde as the hero of the piece in Act One and as a fallen hero in Act Two. This may not be Hare's intention, but it works beautifully given the flawless portrayal of Steve McConnell as Wilde. He is expansive, generous and guileless --- which is remarkable for a man noted for guile. McConnell's Wilde is so childlike and foolhardy, your heart goes out to him...and so broken in Act Two he seems lost and genuinely surprised by life.
The entire cast shines under Veloudos' direction. Britton White is marvellously infuriating as Bosie; Bill Mootos as charming as Wilde's confidant, and Craig Houk, Corinne Dekker and Dale Place quite amusing as the waitstaff. Jason Schuchman makes a handsome boytoy. But the play belongs to McConnell. His Wilde is indelible. I can't get him out of my mind.