The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde


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THE SECRET FALL OF CONSTANCE WILDE, Ulysses Theatre Company, at the Athenaeum Theatre. To be the wife of the flamboyantly gay, subsequently disgraced Oscar Wilde had to have been one of the most thankless roles in literary history. It might seem from the title of this drama, being given its U.S. premiere by the Ulysses Theatre Company, that playwright Thomas Kilroy intended to finally give the poor woman her due. Yet his two-act, semifactual work keeps Constance in the background, editing out most of her life's accomplishments and leaving her to witness her husband's affair with Lord Alfred Douglas through most of the evening. On occasion she confronts the men, unleashing her hurt and anger, but even then she's reacting to their lives, not leading one of her own. The result is a rather generic retelling of Wilde's fall from grace with a few curious fantasy sequences mixed in.

Director Michael Kass coaxes smart, understated performances from his nine cast members, six of whom skulk about as silent, masked chorus figures to surprisingly strong effect. As the rakish, self-loathing Douglas, Gary Alexander turns in the most charismatic performance, in sharp contrast to Trey Maclin's gray and forlorn Wilde. As Constance, Jennifer Byers plays well the one note Kilroy has given her. Overall, Kass burdens the play with a somber, funereal tone, as though trying to elevate this merely human drama to the level of mythic tragedy.

--Justin Hayford

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