The times they were a-changin’, even in the late 19th century.  But not as fast as Oscar Wilde would have liked.

Famed author Wilde was found guilty by an English court for living a lifestyle based on the idea that pleasure should not be accompanied by guilt.  That’s one of several important thematic ironies that run through “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde,” the latest offering from Portland’s Dramatic Repertory Company.

The 1997 play by Moises Kaufman is a wonderfully constructed variation on a courtroom drama, based on records and recollections of Wilde’s 1895 trials.  Its two hours are filled with witness examinations as well as narrations that quote from the author’s writings, contemporaneous reportage and later-published remembrances of those associated with the events.

Director Keith Powell Beyland has assembled an able cast to give the appropriate tone and attitude to make both the true story and its multi-level telling equally fascinating.

At Friday’s performance, each performer, most in multiple roles, took on the accents and attitudes appropriate to their class, station and disposition within the sophisticated but inflexible world of Victorian England.  At the center was James Noel Hoban as Oscar Wilde.

Hoban played Wilde perhaps a bit less flamboyantly than some accounts of the actual author describe.  His “defeated” demeanor as Wilde’s fate is sealed was, however, affecting in many subtle ways.

Benedetto Robinson, a local actor on the rise, deserves recognition for his believable take on Wilde’s young lover Lord Alfred Douglas.  Sincere, yet flawed by immaturity and an oppressive father, Robinson’s Douglas helped to bring out both the depth of feeling and the folly in his and Wilde’s social milieu.

This theatre company is finishing up its first season in fine style and is promising a 2011-2012 season featuring more of the kind of plays even Oscar Wilde would find worthy.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.