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“OSCAR…” is a Wilde Collaboration

OSCAR Photo

“What would happen if I put a play in a gallery? What would happen if I put a performance art piece on a stage in a theater?” These were the questions that motivated Mark J. Mauriello ’15 and that shaped his show “OSCAR at The Crown and the love that dare not speak its name.” Set to run from April 15 to 17 at the Oberon, the production is the culmination of Mauriello’s special concentration in Theater Arts and Performance. But despite being his creation,“OSCAR...” is ultimately a collaborative effort among cast, crew, and space.

The show traces the life of Oscar Wilde (played by Mauriello himself) during the height of his fame, depicting his affair with Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas and his conviction for gross indecency. According to Mauriello, who also wrote and directed the piece, the production begins as a high-energy, pop musical that deteriorates as Wilde’s world crumbles around him. “It deals a lot with...that rise and fall. How do we deal with the hardships that happen to us?” says Garrett C. Allen ’16, the show’s assistant director.

Due to the visibility of Wilde’s fall from grace, the show employs Wilde to examine wider issues of public and private image.  “It’s certainly a play that deals with the nature of celebrity, because Oscar Wilde was sort of the ultimate celebrity at this time,” says Thomas W. Peterson ’18, who plays Edward Shelley.

To advance these ideas, “OSCAR...” employs an experimental approach to tell the story: Mauriello gave the show a modern flair to suggest the themes’ universality across eras. “The [production’s] music is contemporary...[and] the dialogue and the language, throughout the evening get to be more and more like the ways we speak,” he says. “There’s a kind of timelessness...that makes Oscar Wilde feel like he belongs in our world today.”

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For the actors, this modernity brought to the forefront the challenge of adapting their characters to match the play’s contemporary atmosphere. Tackling the issue involved a collective rehearsal and creation process in which the actors brought aspects of their own personalities into their roles. “A lot of the process [of getting in character] has consisted of group discussion and how we think that the [character] would function in this world,” says Michelle Geosits, a Boston Conservatory student who is one of three actresses playing Wilde’s close friend Lillie.

In keeping with this cooperative method of working, even the production’s script evolved during rehearsals. According to Mauriello, while he had a story outline before rehearsals started in January, the final show resulted from workshops and conversations with his fellow actors. “It’s not my show,” he says. “I’m leading the charge, but we’re all making this together.”

Executive producer Sara K. Rosenburg ’16 echoes Mauriello’s sentiment. “There’s something really special that happens in the Harvard theater community where people of all types and talents can bring together all of those things to support each other in making original art,” she says.

The collaboration extends beyond the cast and crew into the venue itself, as the physical space of the Oberon serves to facilitate the production’s symbolic nature. According to Boston Conservatory student Charles J. Mantione, who plays Douglas, the production borders on performance art. He describes one scene in which the characters run around the space to represent the ups-and-downs of Wilde and Douglas’ relationship. “We’re expressing the plot in a very physical and metaphoric way,” he says.

Such performances might not be standard at traditional theater venues, but according to Ariane Barbanell, director of special projects at the American Repertory Theater, the Oberon’s stage is far from the usual black box theater. Instead it resembles a club, allowing for interactions between performers and audience. “It is a social experience,” she says. “There is always something that is going on that is engaging the audience as well as the performers.”  

It’s a fitting locale for a play that examines persona, theater, and storytelling in unexpected ways. “In many ways, this is an experiment,” Mauriello says. “Every day in rehearsal and in the grand scheme of the whole thing, we’re taking a leap. It’s terrifying...but it’s really fulfilling.”

—Staff writer Anais M. Carell can be reached at anais.carell@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ha D. H. Le can be reached at ha.le@thecrimson.com.

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