He's made a specialty of playing effete but tart-tongued gay men, now Edward Hibbert will get to play the prototype of all those characters: Oscar Wilde himself. Nov. 11, Hibbert replaces the acclaimed Michael Emerson in Moises Kaufman's Off-Broadway hit, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde.
Hibbert's previous stage appearances included Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey and My Night With Reg. He also has a recurring role on television's Frasier.
Emerson isn't giving up Wilde, however; he's starring in the play's first production outside New York. Previews for Gross Indecency at San Francisco's Theatre On The Square are set to begin Nov. 21.
Fueled by an unqualified rave by the New York Times' Ben Brantley, Moises Kaufman's Oscar Wilde deconstruction made the jump from Off-Off Broadway to the larger Minetta Lane Theatre Off-Broadway, June 5. Gross Indecency previously ran to May 4 at the Greenwich House Theatre space on Barrow Street. The show, produced by Tectonic Theatre Project, Inc. (TTP), started performances at the Minetta Lane May 20.
Gross Indecency follows "the arrest, judgment and sentencing of the most celebrated playwright of his time." Directed by Kaufman, the drama makes use of original transcripts and letters, as well as biographical material on Wilde. The Importance Of Being Earnest may be a staple of theatres around the world, and an An Ideal Husband and Salome have both had recent, star-studded Broadway productions, but in his day, legendary wit Oscar Wilde wasn't quite so well accepted. He was sentenced to two years' hard labor in an English prison for "gross indecency with male persons" -- in other words, the crime of homosexuality. Upon his release, he moved to France and died of meningitis three years later.
Viewers who think Wilde was simply arrested and tried for being gay in England might be surprised at the full story told here: Wilde first sued Lord Queensberry for defamation of character, but the suit backfired, with Wilde becoming the victim of his own pride -- and England's hypocritical legal system.
Appearing with Hibbert in the show are Bill Dawes, John McAdams, Trevor Anthony, Robert Blumenfeld, Troy Sostillio, Andy Paris, Greg Pierotti and Greg Steinbruner. Designers are Sarah Lambert (set), Kitty Leech (costumes), and Betsy Adams (lighting).
According to production spokesperson Kevin McAnarney, playwright Kaufman has received more than a half dozen movie offers despite the fact that two Oscar Wilde movies are already in the pipeline. Regardless of the play's cinematic future, McAnarney predicts a long afterlife for Gross Indecency on the regional theatre circuit, as representatives from a number of major theatres have been making the trek to Minetta Lane to scout out the production." The show has already paid back its $400,000 initial investment. Author/director Kaufman received the Stage Directors & Choreographers Foundation's Joe A. Callaway Award for his work on the show.
TTP, a non-profit group, specializess in plays that "explore theatrical language and form." Their last show, Franz Xaver Kroetz's The Nest (1994), directed by Kaufman, was named "one of the ten best productions of the season" by the Village Voice. (Tectonics is the science or art of construction and also concerns faults and deformations of the earth's crust.)
For tickets ($29.50-$45) and information on Gross Indecency - The Three Trials Of Oscar Wilde at the Minetta Lane Theatre, call (212) 420-8000.
--By David Lefkowitz