Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Oscar Wilde Collection

Depending on which biographies you read, Oscar Wilde died a broken man or simply publicly disgraced but certain himself of his legacy. I like to think the later, particularly after listening to his four plays on four consecutive days. Each was an hour or more delightfully spent, laughing at the embarrassing situations in which British aristocrats lowered themselves. Best of all, Wilde was the master of satirical statements, which flowed from many of the characters. Many are quotable, such as these from An Ideal Husband:

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

Lord Caversham: What are you doing here, sir? Wasting your time, as usual?
Lord Arthur Goring: My dear father, when one pays a visit, it is for the purpose of wasting other people's time and not one's own.

Gertrude, it is not the perfect, but rather the imperfect who have need of love.

Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.

Laura: The higher education of men is what I should like to see. Men need it so sadly.
Lady Markby: They do, dear. But I'm afraid such a scheme would be quite unpractical. I don't think man has much capacity for development. He has got as far as he can, and that is not far, is it?

I listened to the plays on compact discs from The Oscar Wilde Collection from L. A. Theatre Works, which include the voices of many great actors, such as Miriam Margolis, Martin Jarvis, Jacqueline Bissett, and Alfred Molina. The production quality is very high, and I always knew what was going on without any narration or visuals. I could in my mind create the action. I imagined drawing rooms with players in period costumes. The plays are great audio theater.

Some critical conversations with directors are also included on the discs. Michael Hackett calls The Importance of Being Earnest the pinnacle of Wilde's career. He says that it drew from Shakespeare and led to the writing of P. G. Wodehouse and eventually to Monty Python. I'll grant that it was excellent, but I favor A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband, which seemed to be a bit more serious about exposing hypocrisy and the fragility of relationships. I can not decide which is better. Why should I? I recommend both to anyone who likes witty conversation and situation comedy.

The Oscar Wilde Collection. L. A. Theatre Works, 2010. 10 discs.* ISBN 158081753X

*A dramatization of The Picture of Dorian Gray is also included, but I chose not to listen and review it, as I was having so much fun otherwise.

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