Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Judas Kiss"

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note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Larry Stark

"The Judas Kiss"

by David Hare
Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Scenic Design by Richard Chambers
Lighting Design by Yael Lubetzky
Costume Design by Jana Durland Howland
Stage Manager Laurie A. Light

Phoebe Cane..................Corinne Dekker
Arthur Wellesley..................Craig Houk
Sandy Moffatt........................Dale Place
Robert Ross.........................Bill Mootos
Lord Alfred Douglas.........Britton White
Oscar Wilde.................Steve McConnell
Galileo Masconi..........Jason Schuchman

When a play works, the hardest thing for the audience to see is the work of the director. The work of Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos on his Lyric Stage of Boston's production of "The Judas Kiss" is flawless. First he chose a complicated play that injects dramatic conflict and character judgements on historic events. Then he assembled a cast of what he loves to call "seven Boston actors" the major players in which had all worked at the Lyric before. He probably decided that Richard Chambers should make the thrust stage of The Lyric into rooms with melted walls, but that he and Jana Durland Howland the costume designer could spend their money on precise details, and he asked for dramatic light-effects from Yael Lubetzky that "painted in" emotional overtones even in all-over area lighting. And then he went to work with his actors.

In the second act, Steve McConnell playing an Oscar Wilde at the end of his economic and emotional rope gives a textbook course in acting, during nearly all of which he remains sprawled in a chair up stage-right. He watches the lover he went to prison for wake in bed with another man, rails with vicious irony at the world's indignities, and yet maintains and indomitable pride and integrity both vulnerable and admirable. He looks with dispassionate admiration on the naked beauty of his lover's latest toy-boy, and breaks down only realizing that choosing his lover over his wife means he will never see his beloved children again. He looks, at times, like Prometheus, chained to a rock, with eagles pecking out his liver --- and even then with a purple ascot and an elegant tie-pin.

Britton White as his lover Lord Alfred Douglas is the Judas in playwright David Hare's eyes. Never admitting or even understanding his narcissistic self-absorption, he always works himself up into storms of emotional righteous conviction in order to defend what turn out to be obvious self-serving decisions. In England, it would be obvious that this son of the Marquess of Queensberry was protected by class from the prosecutions that threw Wilde into prison and into penury; here in America he comes across simply as protesting too much. It is a credit to White that his selfish motives always peek forth from an always righteous facade.

The voice of reason here --- Oscar would say "mere" reason, ignoring passion --- is Bill Mootos' Robert Ross. In both acts he advocates safety and compromise, out of love for Oscar, and he is incredulous that Oscar would accept ruin rather than give up the man he loves. That Mootos can argue toe to toe with McConnell is evidence of how much he has grown as an actor in his days with The Lyric Stage.

David Hare's play deals directly with the hierarchy of English society at the end of the century. Bosey Douglas is a Lord; Oscar and Robbie Ross are gentlemen; then there are servants. Hare sets act one in a "house of assignation" --- a hotel that turns a blind eye on the sexual activities of clientele. Dale Place is the manager here, obeying orders and maintaining place yet grateful to Oscar for treating himself and his staff with unexpected dignity. At the opening of the play --- establishing the identity of the hotel --- the butler (Craig Houk) and chambermaid (Corinne Dekker) are discovered in the shadows in ardent sexual embrace; in act two, Jason Schuchman as a young Neapolitan fisherman struts and lounges in unashamed nudity, exchanging with Oscar the Italian that Bosey can't understand. In all this, David Hare graphically illustrates the ways in which social mores tempered and dictated sexual ones. It is a credit to this production that the focus of attention remains on character and action rather than skin, and questions of "good taste" never arise.

Director Veloudos --- take a bow!


"The Judas Kiss" (till 16 April)
140 Clarendon St. BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide