Theater Review: An In-Process Adaptation of De Profundis Is Still Floundering in Oscar Wilde's Seas | Arts
Arts
INDY Week's arts blog

Archives | RSS | Follow on

Friday, January 13, 2017

Theater Review: An In-Process Adaptation of De Profundis Is Still Floundering in Oscar Wilde's Seas

Posted by on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 4:49 PM

click to enlarge 9dc5b5a6_prcindydeprofundiswebtile.jpg
De Profundis
★ ½
PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill
Through Sunday, Jan. 15


Last year, PlayMakers Repertory Company's second-stage series devoted an entire season to two-to-five-year-old repertory solo works by out-of-town playwrights, in a drastically smaller-scale, alt-theater version of the itinerant shows that visit DPAC and DECPA.

So it was entirely appropriate to raise the stakes this season. In August, PRC² presented the world premiere of Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s autobiographical solo, Draw the Circle. In late December, director Brian Mertes, designer Jim Findlay, and actor Nicole Villamil began a three-week residency to create a new stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, culminating in workshop performances that run through Sunday.

Given the challenges involved, those workshop showings may have been a miscalculation in the first place. But after the loss of precious rehearsal days due to last weekend's weather, De Profundis was not yet ready for public performance on opening night. Lest I be misinterpreted, I base my rating for the show on this fact alone. It is not a statement about the worthiness of the enterprise or a prediction of its ultimate success.

Those familiar with the redacted version published in 1905 by Wilde’s executor, Robert Ross, or the unexpurgated text released in 1962, are already well aware of what Mertes, Findlay, and Villamil were up against in their efforts to create this adaptation. In its original form, De Profundis was an eighty-page jeremiad. It begins with a blistering indictment of the narcissism and neglect of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, during and after Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” (homosexuality, in Victorian England) for which he was sentenced to two years’ hard labor at Reading Gaol. Wilde indicts himself with no less rigor for squandering his creative gifts during their relationship.

De Profundis then shifts into an extended analysis and a reimagining of Christ as “the most supreme of individualists”—an ideal poetic and romantic figure, and one whom Wilde would one day devote himself to emulating in a late-life attempt at self-reinvention. As a theatrical text, Wilde's dense and intricate prose is very hard to swim through. On Wednesday night, the artists in this effort were nowhere near safe harbor.

That was true despite a barrage of postmodern strategies—and, frankly, tricks, in some places—ostensibly designed to “crack open” the text and place Wilde’s words in different mouths and situations. Many of these were unfruitful, as designer Findley candidly acknowledged when he said in a post-performance discussion, “We’ve been trying to find the techniques where we can hear [Wilde]. I don’t think we have it yet.”

We watched, uncomfortably, as these three minds experimented with, and then abandoned, various approaches. If their aesthetic goal is akin to François Girard’s audacious 1993 film, Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, its execution on Wednesday was closer to the hapless theater-student characters in PlayMakers’ problematic indictment of devised theater from last season, We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.

Still, I cannot begrudge these artists any of the work or the time they’ve needed to reach their goal. There are thousands of ways to get De Profundis wrong on stage, and, by now, Mertes, Findley, and Villamil have learned a great deal about what doesn’t work—a necessity if you’re trying to discover what does.

Brightest among their efforts was a meditation on an ink smudge Wilde left on a page in his manuscript. “It looks like a man dancing in a heavy wind,” Villamil’s narrator observes early on, before later sequences in which she relates to the figure, which is projected on a side wall. These moments of connection with a character outside herself were a marked and welcome contrast to the series of facades and vocal impersonations Villamil adopted and discarded throughout the work.

To come out of the depths—the translated meaning of Wilde’s title—you have to plumb them first. This trio is still doing so at present in De Profundis.

Tags: , , , ,

Pin It

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Arts



Twitter Activity

Comments

The Carolina, the Varsity, now the Chelsea. These movie houses were among the reasons we moved here 25 years ago. …

by JO in CHNC on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

Most Read

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Most Recent Comments

The Carolina, the Varsity, now the Chelsea. These movie houses were among the reasons we moved here 25 years ago. …

by JO in CHNC on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

The Chelsea Theatre has to be saved! Chapel Hill and the Triangle would be greatly diminished without it. Other theatres, …

by Jonathan H on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

...as did I, Ms. Margolis -- in a very small handful of moments over a two and a half hour …

by Byron Woods, INDY Theater and Dance Critic on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation