Everyone has heard of Oscar Wilde. After all, the famed Irish playwright and novelist is probably the most-studied literary figure in the English language after Shakespeare. But did you know that in addition to his sharply witty works based in Victorian society, Mr. Wilde also wrote fairy tales? These relatively unknown works form the basis for playwright and director Kevin P. Joyce’s new work in adaptation, “Wilde Tales,” to be presented for the first time by Theater for the New City as part of its 2013 Dream Up Festival.
Though the Boston native has kept theater in mind as a career path for some time (he graduated Cum Laude from Pace University with a degree in Theatre Arts), he did not set his sights on adapting Wilde’s stories until rather recently. As Joyce describes it, he was “between projects, [and] grew especially bored, and felt inclined to read. For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to read The Picture of Dorian Gray and headed to my local Barnes and Noble.” Yet his mysterious fascination took him in a rather unexpected direction. He recalls, “I stumbled upon a collection of his fairy tales, and was awe struck to learn that he’d written fairy tales in the first place! How had I now known about these before? So I picked up the collection and began to read them” Perhaps more than anything, he saw the potential for creative performance– “The stories jumped off the page,” offering “opportunities for the kind of theatricality that is exciting to employ,” such as puppetry, music and double-casting. In short, Joyce saw an opportunity to create something totally new from the product of a great mind.
Like any theater student worth his salt, Joyce was already familiar with Wilde’s sparkling style and societal subject matter. Yet it was precisely the difference within these stories that made him feel drawn to them. He warns that audiences “should expect to see stories that highlight a different side of Wilde; stories that are ‘earnest‘ in a different sort of sense. They should expect to see stories that are going to both charm them and make them think.” Yet simultaneously, these stories are neither quintessential Wilde nor are they classic fairy tales– audiences “should not expect to see happy endings.” Wilde himself once stated that the source material is “not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty.”
But it is not gore or sexuality that makes these stories unlikely to be picked up by Disney. Rather, Joyce contends that “if you were to read these to a child, the point of the story would sail over their head. These are tales that deal with adult issues, such as what are the long term effects of our personal sacrifices? What is the nature of love? What is our relationship and duty to ourselves, and what, of that would we sacrifice for those we love?” These dark but all-too-common issues pervade the fairy tales, suggesting to Joyce that Wilde “was working through some deeply personal demons at the time of their publication.” Further research proves this point, as they were written just as Wilde’s second son, Vyvyan was born, which coincided with his own coming to terms with his homosexuality. Clearly, it was a turbulent and confusing time in the writer’s life.
And this struggle is something with which Joyce identifies. According to Joyce, “Wilde is a huge inspiration to me. Mostly because, I like to think I was Oscar Wilde in my past life. It sounds presumptuous, I know, but ask anyone who’s been to TJ Byrne’s [an Irish bar and restaurant in the Financial District] with me and they’ll agree.” And the personal connections do not stop there. In fact, Joyce recounts that he “was first introduced to his work by [Tara Brooke], the same mentor who fostered my interest in directing. Her favorite piece ever was Earnest, and that was my first experience with Wilde, and since then I’ve just been the most intrigued by his work and by Oscar himself.”
Wilde proves inspirational to Joyce both in his roles as a writer and as a director. As a writer, Joyce appreciates that “Wilde’s manipulation of words is something that is awe-inspiring. That man could do with words what Michelangelo could do with marble. His word play is something that I admire and try, however successfully or unsuccessfully, to emulate.” Simultaneously, as a director, Joyce points out that the “fairy tales have an incredible musicality and personal flare to them that makes them simply enchanting to read and hear.” Yet the ideas present in these works go far beyond nice language, or even Wilde’s skill and iconic status as a writer. For Joyce, these plays hold far more importance. Ultimately, the works are “a tribute to [Wilde’s] visions for equality, social consciousness and self-sacrifice.” These fairy tales may not have happy endings, but they certainly hit all the right notes.
Join us at the 2013 Dream Up Festival to see “Wilde Tales” on 8/19 (9 pm), 8/30 (9 pm), 8/31 (5 pm), 9/1 (8 pm) or 9/2 (9 pm) in the Johnson Theater at Theater for the New City. The show runs 60 minutes, and tickets cost $15. For tickets and more info call (212) 254-1109 or go to: www.theaterforthenewcity.net.
Written by William Gutierrez.