The New Jersey Turnpike

we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream

Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run.

Casual readers might not realize it but behind this blog there lies a project: namely to chronicle Oscar Wilde’s tour of America in a page-by-page detailed verification of more than 140 lecture dates—and in that pursuit, it was time to investigate another such event.

On this occasion I was able to retrace Oscar steps literally, as the venue was Freehold, in my home state of New Jersey—in preparation for which I sought some local inspiration at nearby POI.

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Time: The Present

I live in terror of not being misunderstood

If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote in The Critic as Artist in 1891—then he need not have worried, at least not so far as his plays are concerned. That is because parts of the original texts are now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood, if they are understood at all.

Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest, which many say, quite rightly, is still relevant. Of course, it is, in everything from human shallowness to the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable.

But we should not allow the richness of the text to conceal the many dated references and topical allusions in it, which had a contemporary, often esoteric, relevance at the time Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.

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The Pictures of Dorian Gray

In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.

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Earnest in Town

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia

With its marble columns and lobby posters of productions past, the Walnut Street Theatre is a venerable venue; and what other theatre can claim that Jefferson and Lafayette attending its opening night performance? [1]

Moreover, within the Walnut’s neo-classic Federal shell there is often the kernel of fine scenic design, tasteful costumes, and knowledgeable subscribers. One wonders, then, why a sledgehammer is usually employed to crack it?

Such had been the case on my recent visits to witness the repertory’s assaults on Agatha Christie and Noel Coward. So it was more with a sense of duty and dread, than enthusiasm, that my band of Philadelphia Wildeans revisited the scene of those crimes to see The Importance of Being Earnest. Would the Wilde play be similarly executed?

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Moral Equivalence

elephants

If I am to find Wildean relevance in topical US culture, there is a latter-day Nellie the Elephant in the room. And before proceeding, I should explain that twisted metaphor for the uninitiated.

I refer to the UK children’s novelty song of that name, and in particular to the eponymous pachyderm who was celebrated in the oft-repeated chorus for going off with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, TRUMP! Apparently, it’s a sound elephants make.

And like any other annoying refrain stuck in one’s head, it’s a word currently hard to ignore. So reluctantly I must  face it—the capitalized version that is—before we send in the clowns and say goodbye to the circus that is becoming politics in America.

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Vyvyan Holland

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-11-46-03-pm
Declaring nothing apropos (except astonishment) I send from America footage I recently discovered of Oscar Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland.

It is in the form of a TV interview alongside Brian Reade, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, during a segment on the CBS TV arts program Camera Three about a V&A Aubrey Beardsley exhibition which had transferred to New York’s (then-named) Gallery of Modern Art.

The rare TV showing was a opportunity for Vyvyan to rival his more media savvy wife, Dorothy, who had made her latest appearance on American TV earlier in the month discussing fashion on the ABC show Girl Talk.

It provides a chance to see Vyvyan’s unassuming manner as he reveals personal experiences such as shooting moose and witnessing a bedridden bearded Beardsley.

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Wilde and Douglas (Kirk)

spartacus
When we think of the name Douglas we usually have in mind Oscar’s golden lover-Boysie of that ilk—we do not necessarily conjure up visions of the rugged American screen legend, Kirk Douglas.

But today there are two reasons why we should.

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