‘The Judas Kiss’ May 12 – June 11 at Actor’s Express 887 W. Marietta St., Atlanta, GA 30318 www.actorsexpress.com
The first act of the play takes place just prior to Wilde’s trial for gross indecency with other men. He has the opportunity to flee to Paris with Bosie and not have to go to court, but he doesn’t. Instead, he goes on trial, loses and is sentenced to several years of hard labor. The second act picks up the day after Wilde is released and tries to resume his life.
Ashley and Guterman discussed their mutual love of the show a decade ago when they both worked at the Alliance Theatre, but a local production never came about. When Ashley, who also serves as artistic director at Actor’s Express, instead announced it for his 2010-2011 season and realized Guterman had moved back from New York, it seemed like the perfect time to collaborate. Crowe had also just moved back to town from Seattle and Ashley knew he would be the ideal director.
“David directed me in his last play at the Express, which was ‘Jane Eyre,’ and also directed [the gay-themed] ‘Beautiful Thing’ with Clifton,” Ashley says. “We all have known each other for a long time and are very comfortable working with each other.”
Guterman, who wrote his master’s thesis on Lord Alfred Douglas at SCAD, thinks Wilde stayed because Bosie helped convince him to stand up to the charges. Despite public sentiment that suggests Bosie was not a pleasant person and used Wilde, Guterman feels the affection was mutual.
“I do think that he and Oscar Wilde loved each other,” he says. “In the play there are many quiet moments between the two men. Oscar spoke beautifully, he was entertaining and fun to be around, and he was a father figure for Bosie.”
Although Wilde was actually married to a woman, his relationship with Bosie was more than sexual.
“It was sexual for about six months but it was more a mentor relationship,” says Ashley. “Their relationship, for Oscar, was about enriching Bosie’s life.”
“The Judas Kiss” is set in the Victorian era, a time when “everyone was having sex,” says Crowe.
“Oscar Wilde just happened to be involved with the wrong person. Their relationship was famous and complicated. These two men were going through an affair at a hard time to do it in history,” Crowe says.
Wilde emerged from prison broken spiritually, physically and financially, says Ashley, and was never the same.
For Crowe, “The Judas Kiss” also deals with love and betrayal.
“So many people allow love to cloud their judgment,” he says. “Your heart is a poor device for judgment.”
According to Ashley, “The Judas Kiss” features its share of nudity, opening with an explicit heterosexual sex scene and later featuring a nude rent boy known for his beauty.
Ashley is not one of the undressed, however. He quips that he wants to sell tickets, not drive patrons away.
Top photo: ‘The Judas Kiss’ explores why famous gay playwright Oscar Wilde (Freddie Ashley) did not flee from indecency charges that eventually sent him to prison. (Photo courtesy Actor’s Express)