The South End: ‘Gross Indecency’ takes stage gracefully

Annie Keris and Topher Alan Payne.  Photo credit: Bruce Giffin

Annie Keris and Topher Alan Payne. Photo credit: Bruce Giffin

“Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” by Moisés Kaufman tells the story of the Irish writer’s court trials for committing acts of “gross indecency” with other men. The play uses quotes from actual court records, as well as newspapers, letters, poems and journal entries to show what happened during the time period. Wilde received a two-year sentence of hard labor, which led to his exile and death.

The play is written for an ensemble cast, with all but the lead actor, Wilde (Topher Alan Payne), playing multiple roles. The Hilberry Theatre’s production cast is mostly men, however two women, Annie Keris and Bevin Bell-Hall, play mostly male roles. While confusing at first, this casting choice proved to be effective when characters like Wilde’s mother and wife briefly came into play. The two female actors did an excellent job portraying masculinity when needed, while still maintaining femininity.

The stage is the first noticeable design element in this production. Painted to look like marble, the stage floor was built on a slant, or “raked,” with one main acting area in the middle of the stage. There were two “off-stage” areas made visible to the audience on both sides where a few key costume pieces, props and set pieces were held throughout the show. This gave the audience the chance to see the actors as they were “off-stage.” However, constant action on the center playing space helps keep the audience engaged with the main story.

The humorous delivery of testimony in Wilde’s final trial was slightly uncomfortable for some of the audience members. This emotional moment ultimately led to Wilde’s imprisonment and death, and the audience seemed unaware whether to laugh at such serious moments.

Payne’s portrayal of Wilde, as well as the production as a whole, proved to be both sophisticated and graceful. The actors and director tastefully tackled the play’s difficult subject matter. The play is an emotional ride for the audience members, taking them from laughter to tears. Wilde’s legendary wit inserts bits of light-hearted humor into the otherwise serious and heartbreaking play.

The show runs until March 22, so there’s plenty of time to see “Gross Indecency.” Ticket prices range from $20-$30 and can be purchased from the Hilberry Theatre box office. For a complete list of performance dates and times, go to, or call the Hilberry box office at (313) 577-2972.

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