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A CurtainUp LA Review
The Secret Fall Of Constance Wilde
by Laura Hitchcock

The smallest new space in town, with a production budget to match, turns out some of the most interesting works with top-notch performance values. The Celtic Arts Center's minuscule space is enhanced by a pub at the back and never misses a beat in the intricate stage instructions devised by Irish playwright Thomas Kilroy for his surreal study of the emotional triangle of Oscar and Constance Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde's lover, familiarly known as Bosie.

The three speaking roles are supported by half a dozen masked mute Attendant Figures who brandish puppets portraying the Wildes' children, the judge who sentences Oscar and others. They also manipulate such props as the progressively smaller discs that become the flight of stairs down which Constance takes her traumatic fall and the velvet curtain which they throw over Oscar and Bosie when they make love. The devices lend themselves extremely well to such a tiny space and the Attendants are impeccably choreographed by director Peter Wittrock.

The play, however, rests on the shoulders of the principals who approach Kilroy's lyric muscular writing with thoughtful sensitivity. Karen Ryan creates a Constance of delicate beauty and steely determination. Craig Aldrich finds the outré charm in Oscar and understates the famous bon mots. Christopher Michaels, whose fine singing voice one wants to hear more of, makes an intelligent waspy Bosie. The plot traces the Wildes' lives from their first meeting in Merrion Square to their last in the prison where Wilde is jailed. More than just linear, Kilroy goes for psychological insights not only on relationships but on the nature of art and the dynamics of politics and the English class system.

Kilroy's dialogue for all three characters includes lines that sound extremely Wildean. Although its impossible to totally separate Wilde's lines from Kilroy's, a goodly share of them can be attributed to Kilroy.

Constance's secret fall is problematic. Although history tells us she fell on the stairs in her home causing the crippling injuries which eventually killed her, the climax of this play is a confession Constance makes to Oscar about childhood molestation by her father, barrister Horace Watson Lloyd who was found guilty of exposing himself. I've never heard the story of his molesting Constance but, whether its true or literary license, Kilroy hasn't integrated it effectively into this play.

Constance tells Oscar she felt safe in her marriage until "the truth was you were drawing me into horror, step by step, like a dangerous guide, the horror of myself." Whether this is misplaced guilt or the surfacing of a hideous memory, child abuse doesn't correlate somehow with Wilde's bisexuality and the ultimate sacrifice he made by going to prison. But there's no debating the dramatic fascination of this play, the skilful suspenseful structure and the perceptive dissection of the characters.

Wittrock has served the play well by never going over the top. None of these characters are easy to play. Michaels perhaps has the most difficult task in trying to move Bosie from an effeminate stereotype. He's still feeling his way on how far to go with this but makes an arresting figure and succeeds in projecting the autocratic anger of the young aristocrat.

The back walls and floor are mottled in the pastel shades reminiscent of the end papers of Victorian novels, another tribute to the artistry of this fine new group.

Playwright: Thomas Kilroy
Director: Peter Wittrock
Cast: Karen Ryan (Constance Wilde), Craig Aldrich (Oscar Wilde), Christopher Michaels (Lord Alfred Douglas). Attendants: Steve Gunning, Louise Lennon, Alessandro Trinca, Henry Kemp, Dee Nelson.
Lighting Design: Joe Morrissey
Scenic Design: Timothy Ford Hannon
Costume Design: Shon LeBlanc
Puppet Design: Yolanda Yott
Sound Design: Charles Dayton
Producer: Thom MacNamara
Running Time: Two hours. One intermission
The Celtic Arts Center, 4843 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Studio City, Ph: (818) 760-8322
April 6-May 12, 2002
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on April 7.
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