Oscar Remembered and The Woolgatherer | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Oscar Remembered and The Woolgatherer

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OSCAR REMEMBERED and THE WOOLGATHERER, Speaking Ring Theatre, at the Theatre Building. Only someone ignorant of history would accuse Lord Alfred Douglas of ruining Oscar Wilde. It's true that, as Wilde's lover, Douglas held considerable sway over the writer and helped goad him into suing Douglas's gay-baiting father for libel, a legal maneuver that would ultimately send Wilde to prison. But it was Wilde who chose to scoff at the serious charges made against him, and when handed an eleventh-hour chance to avoid jail--the public prosecutor gave him the opportunity to leave the country by intentionally delaying his arrest warrant--Wilde did nothing to save himself.

But in Maxim Mazumdar's one-man play Oscar Remembered, an indignant Douglas sets out to prove he didn't ruin Wilde--or more accurately, he says that's what he's doing. In fact Douglas rarely has any discernible objective in this shapeless, rambling piece, wallowing in his emotional lability for the better part of two hours. Rather than letting the man explain himself to the audience, Mazumdar traps him in conversations with invisible scene partners, talking to the air. Worse, Mazumdar never dramatizes his subject's relationship with Wilde, making Douglas's endless lament for his lost love ring hollow. Thankfully the graceful, quick-witted Aaron Cedolia breathes life into this underdeveloped script, giving it the charm and pathos the playwright couldn't muster.

It seems every acting student has had to drag himself through William Mastrosimone's The Woolgatherer. And the script veers dangerously close to formula, throwing two wounded characters together for a tumultuous night of soul baring. He's a trucker always on the move, she's a neurotic clerk afraid to leave her apartment, but both feel trapped in inconsequential lives. They spend an evening seeing who can drum up the longest monologue.

But miraculously director Jennifer Leavitt gives this chestnut a fresh, spontaneous feel. Mercedes Rohlfs and Chuck Karvelas, who convey an unforced chemistry, give rich, detailed performances, never exhibiting the kind of emotional extremism the script invites. Even they can't save Mastrosimone's garbled and unnecessary second act, but they give the play's first hour the unmistakable ring of truth.

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