Monday, March 28, 2016

Rupert Everett's 'Judas Kiss' impresses at Mirvish Theatre in Toronto

Rupert Everett and Charlie Rowe.
I had the chance to see 'The Judas Kiss' by playwright David Hare now on stage at Toronto's Mirvish Theatre on Good Friday night.

Opening on March 22, it turned out to be the perfect week to see it due to the play's references to the infamous kiss of betrayal by Judas of Jesus Christ according to Christian folklore.

Directed by Neil Armfield, this critically acclaimed production arrives in Toronto after a sold-out run in London’s West End.  It'll move on to New York with this cast in May.

Originally staged in the 1990s, the play highlights two key days in the life of Oscar Wilde, played by Everett, first before his arrest and incarceration for 'gross indecency', and two years later in Italy where Wilde, out of prison, has ventured to reunite with his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (or Bosie, as he's known), played by the beautiful Charlie Rowe.

Act One focuses mainly on Wilde's dilemma to either flee England and incarceration, or to take Bosie's foolish advice to fight the charges and perhaps see more of his young lover.

Why the ever romantic Wilde would choose to stay on a course towards self-destruction remains the play's central question.  It's answered in the same convoluted way the original decision was probably made by Wilde himself. 

Everett gives an astonishing performance as Oscar Wilde, owning the stage from the moment he appears until its last moments at the end of Act Two.   The supporting roles are also played exceptionally well, including by Cal McAninch as Wilde's longtime friend and former lover Robbie Ross, and Rowe as the petulant, selfish and naive Bosie.

It was interesting to see Rowe, only 19, play such a role so convincingly without making Bosie seem completely unsympathetic.  At face value, his character's actions are terrible, selfishly leading to the downfall of a great artist, someone he claimed to love.  The real Bosie seems like the perfect example of undeserving upper class nobility.

In other portraits of this infamous gay couple, Bosie has often come across as completely detestable, making Wilde's ongoing affections seem insane.  In this portrait, one can still see the affection and connection between the two men and why Wilde might find some peace and happiness in Bosie's arms.

The portrait of the foolish older gay man throwing his life away for a beautiful youth is perhaps one of the oldest tropes in gay male culture.  It mimics the similar, misogynistic trope of a powerful, older straight man whose affections for a younger femme fatale prove his undoing.

Indeed, the coupling of Oscar and Bosie may be the most famous example of this trope in modern gay culture, hence why that relationship continues to fascinate.  But ultimately, this is yet another example of an unhealthy gay male relationship, which is unfortunate as this seems to be how most gay relationships continue to be portrayed, even in art created by gay men.   If our relationships aren't depicted as negative, typically they're depicted as comical and clownish, like Mitch and Cam on 'Modern Family.'   It's rare that we see in art a healthy gay couple whose relationship happens to be incidental. 

As a filmmaker, I will say one of my hopes is to broaden the portrait of gay male relationships beyond this largely negative or silly portrayal and instead show the truth: gay men can and do form healthy, long-lasting relationships.  

Be warned, 'The Judas Kiss' contains full nudity by four of its actors, three male and one female.   Indeed, the nudity by the three young men, including Rowe, added a particularly welcome spice to the proceedings for me and wasn't gratuitous as it complemented the play's themes of repression, naked emotion and betrayal. 

Overall, I quite enjoyed it.  'The Judas Kiss' is a great work that deserves to be seen. 

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