But perhaps the most fascinating of the recent Wildean revival was a recent run of John Gay’s rarely seen play Diversions & Delights, realized with impressive economy by the Ensemble Theatre Company of New York under director Kevin G. Shinnick.
Veteran actor Craig Dudley played the title role in the one-man show, which takes the form of a fictional “Night with Sebastian Melmouth” (Wilde’s pseudonym) in Paris in 1899.
In the first act, Wilde regaled the audience with a rhapsody of wit on art, social conventions, and yes, America, while sipping absinthe, the script incorporating aphorisms and quips that will be familiar to any Wilde fan.
The second act went darker, with Dudley’s Wilde succumbing to a kind of stagey PTSD over the horrors of his prison experience and his betrayal at the hands of his ex-lover “Bosie,” Lord Alfred Douglas.
Reviews DIVERSIONS & DELIGHTS
Peter Filichia / Kritzerland : "What’s most impressive about Dudley’s performance is that he makes these quotations sound as they were just uttered for the first time and not more than a century ago . (Director Kevin G. Shinnick obviously had something to do with that ,too )."
Diversions & Delights
This Oscar Wilde biographical one-man play exposes the human elements of an artist who tried so hard to be above humanity.
Posted on March 11, 2015 by Daniel J. Lee, Critic
...Diversions & Delights tells the story of an older and wiser Oscar Wilde. Having recently been released from prison for his homosexual behavior, the traumatized and battered public figure has alienated his country and retreated to exile in Paris. In an attempt to make some quick money, he adopts the nomme de plume “Sebastian Melmouth” and provides a paying audience with a lecture that covers topics from art to love to death. Under the subtle and effective direction of Kevin G. Shinnick, this mounting focuses on exposing the human elements of a man who tries his best to be above humanity.
Gay is most successful at capturing Oscar Wilde’s unique sense of humor and incomparable aptitude for turning a phrase on its head. His extended monologue sequences draw expertly from Wilde’s famous texts such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest, mimicking his particular circular argument structures. If nothing else, Gay’s Wilde is full of thoughts few people, if any at all, have spoken aloud: “Persons are better than principles…and persons with no principles are better than anything else” and “All art is useless…the only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely” stick out as memorable quips. Gay keeps us on our toes throughout; by the time we have had ample time to comprehend one twisting witticism, he has already hurled three more at us.
...Ultimately, any one-man show is as strong or as weak as its, well, one man; I am thus happy to report that the California and New York stage veteran Craig Dudley delivers a varied, engaging portrait of a fascinating academic and socialite who is at once intolerably pompous and endearingly human. I could not tell you what the actual Wilde moved or sounded like, but Dudley’s strong character choices make any attempts at comparison unnecessary. His Wilde is bright and bold, with a booming baritone voice, a large emotional breadth, and a winningly wicked grin.
Audience Member Response
Kevin, I just saw Diversions and Delights and have to tell you how utterly affecting it is. The transformation of Oscar Wilde from dry wit to heartbroken lost soul is nothing short of miraculous. Craig Dudley made me almost forget that anyone had ever played the role before! His range of expression is absolutely astounding. Thank you so very much for allowing me to see this splendid production (very well directed, I MUST add!). How I wish the play could be seen by many, many others, especially as it's so incredibly timely! My one disappointment is that you and Mr. Dudley didn't sign the program ! I am a huge fan of both of you, especially after seeing this production! All my very best! Rick Squires