Stuart Bousel on Oscar Wilde

In preparation for our September WILDE CARD event, director and producer Stuart Bousel had this to say about the man, the work, and working with the man’s work.

Oscar Wilde- brilliant, egotistical, tragic- is one of those historical/literary figures whose interest and appeal never seems to fade- something Wilde himself would have been happy to know, considering his penchant for extravagant parties, flashy clothes and double-edged wit. The man aspired to not just create art, but also to live art, creating a very dramatic- and very public- persona that made him the toast of the London social circuit before becoming one of the Victorian Age’s blackest of black sheep. He believed deeply in art for art’s sake, beauty as an end unto itself, and never doing anything in bad taste or cheaply if one could help it. Though before the press and audiences he espoused scandalous philosophies such as atheism, homosexuality and amoralism, he was also a surprisingly humane and compassionate man who believed one could appreciate ideas one didn’t believe in, extoll the lifestyle of the rich without turning one’s back on the poor, and love deeply and truly to the point of sacrificing one’s self entirely to sustain the joy of another person’s existence. He was a romantic at heart, even as he helped bring about the end of romanticism. He saw the value in almost anything, so long as it was done in a way that enriched the tapestry of the larger world.

Wilde’s early work is marked by soaring, florid language and an almost comical melodramatic flair to the personalities he explores: women who love to the point of murder, men who are devoured by their own emotional hysteria, scathing wits and ascetic intellectuals, deeply superstitious and plebeian commoners, terrifyingly holy and untouchable religious icons. He was particularly fascinated by the conjunction of the beautiful and the cruel- whether that cruelty was found in the blind vanity of an adulterous set of lovers, like in The Florentine Tragedy, or in the exacting nature of divine perspective the requires one to abdicate all earthly pleasure to achieve sublime grace, as in La Saint Courtesan. His works are simultaneously over the top in their twisting verbal acrobatics of descriptions and details, and simple in their presentment of human emotions as essentially uncomplicated but often too powerful to be controlled. His characters often do and say outrageous things and yet somehow also come off as helpless and vulnerable, his point being that even the wisest and strongest of us are often reduced (or elevated, depending on your view) to vitriolic children when gripped in the strong claws of passion, desire, despair and wonder.

The two pieces we have chosen for theater pub are ones that are rarely performed. Though The Florentine Tragedy- which according to legend Wilde never completed because he lost the original draft in a taxi coach- has in the last fifty years become a staple of one-act collections, La Saint Courtesan is only finally achieving the recognition it deserves as a thematic and stylistic pre-curser to Salome. Both pieces make for excellent introductions to the world and style of Wilde- a genius whose output was tragically cut short in part by the prejudices of the time, but also by his own hubris and failure to control his own passionate nature. Becoming the very type of person he so frequently chose to write about, Wilde was ultimately able to achieve his goal of living life as boldly as a work of art. Unfortunately, the story of his life became more tragic than romantic.

WILDE CARD, which features performances of Oscar Wilde’s The Florentine Tragedy, La Saint Courtesan, and original music inspired by the writer performs once and only once on Monday, September 20 at the Cafe Royale Bar (800 Post, at Leavenworth). Admission is free, with a suggested donation. Performance begins at 8pm.