The one and only Oscar Wilde.
Image courtesy Walking Shadow Theatre Company
This may be Craig Johnson's first time performing in Moisés Kaufman's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, but it isn't his first time playing the famous playwright, novelist, and wit.
In fact, it is Johnson's third time playing Wilde. In 1999, he participated in a Fringe show built around monologues by famous authors. Then, a couple of years ago he played the famous raconteur opposite the Great Detective in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily at Park Square Theatre.
"Oscar Wilde helps Sherlock Holmes solve a crime. Most of the dialogue was epigrams. It was very lightweight," Johnson says.
There's nothing lightweight about Kaufman's play, which draws from the proceedings and other evidence surrounding Wilde's times in the dock in the English court. It was first produced by the Tectonic Theatre Group, which used a similar technique to build The Laramie Project. Johnson saw Gross Indecency in New York.
"It was fascinating to watch -- how he used these original sources and what he is choosing to include and what he is leaving out," Johnson says. "It's part courtroom drama and part detective story that is trying to find the truth in the past."
Johnson plays the role in Walking Shadow Theatre Company's new production, which is directed by Amy Rummenie.
"I think it is a really true picture of Oscar. There were so many facets of him. There is the slightly snobbish personality -- but also poking fun at the snobbish -- and the rich baroque language. The witty turns of phrase. It comes up against these legal procedures," Johnson says.
The cast features a mixture of actors that Johnson has worked with during his years as a performer and director in the Twin Cities, plus several younger newcomers. "It is so fun to have that new energy and to reconnect with these older people," he says.
"There are not many authors where their autobiography is as important as their work," Johnson says.
Johnson won't be resting on his laurels, however. Once Gross Indecencies opens, he'll be heading down to Lanesboro to direct Blithe Spirit for the Commonweal Theatre Company. "I will do that during the day and come back in the night to do this," he says.
And while the events in the show are more than a century in the past, you can see the connections between Wilde's Victorian England and our modern world.
"This is someone who is bedazzling in the literary world but coming apart in public. It's the way we have seen other public figures fall," Johnson says. "This was written at the time of the O.J. trial and right after that was Monica Lewinsky. We have celebrity trials for people who seem to be flying too hard, a real Icarus type moment. There was a fear for Oscar's presumed homosexuality, or his flamboyance and lifestyle and behavior and hair length."
Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde
Friday through May 4
Minneapolis Theatre Garage
711 West Franklin Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit online.