Diversions and Delights

Being an evening spent with Sebastian Melmouth on the 28th day of November, 1899

Eugene O'Neill Theatre, (4/12/1978 - 4/22/1978)

First Preview: Apr 10, 1978
Opening Date: Apr 12, 1978
Closing Date: Apr 22, 1978
Total Previews: 2
Total Performances: 13

Category: Play, Solo, Original, Broadway
Setting: A concert hall on the Rue de la Pepinier, Paris, France. 1899.

Opening Night Production Staff

Theatre Owned / Operated by Nancy Enterprises, Inc.

Produced by Roger Berlind, Frank R. Levy and Mike Wise

Originally presented by the American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco

Written by John Gay

Directed by Joseph Hardy

Scenic Design by H. R. Poindexter; Costume Design by Noel Taylor; Lighting Design by H. R. Poindexter; Lighting Executed by Barry Arnold; Wig Design by Renata

General Manager: Theatre Now, Inc.; Assistant Gen. Mgr: Charlotte Wilcox; Company Manager: Norman E. Rothstein

Production Stage Manager: David Clive; Assistant Stage Mgr: Janyce Ann Wagner

General Press Representative: Seymour Krawitz; Press Representative: Patricia McLean Krawitz; Photographer: Martha Swope

Opening Night Cast

Vincent PriceOscar Wilde


New York Daily News: "No delights, rarely diverting"

It can't have been pleasant running across Oscar Wilde during his last years in Paris, and it can't be said that a writer called John Gay (on the evidence, a far less spirited fellow than his illustrious namesake) and the actor Vincent Price have made an exhilarating evening of an imagined lecture given by Wilde in a seedy Paris concert hall the year before his death. Entitled "Diversions & Delights," this solo show has come in off the road for an indefinite stay at the O'Neill, where it opened last night.

Gay's "play" is set, with puzzling exactitude, on the night of Nov. 28, 1899. Wilde, twirling a long-stemmed tulip, drifts in from the wings, places the flower in a vase atop a table, alongside it a chair, and then moves across to a large lectern where he sips from a glass only to discover that it contains water instead of absinthe, which he quickly fetches from offstage.

Now, we know that Wilde was a wreck, both physically and mentally, at this time, though at 46 he may not quite have worn the embalmed look Price presents us with in his dark-green velvet jacket, Windsor tie and shabby trousers. Having endured two devastating years in prison after the scandalous trial that resulted in his conviction for engaging in "the love that dare not speak its name," he was burnt out.

The first half of the evening is devoted to Wilde's attempts to amuse and enchant us with some of his celebrated epigrams (delivered here as if on the designed to flout conventional morality), and poetry and examples, most of them designed to flout conventional morality, of his habit of reversing popular opinion on various subjects.

But the jocosity is effortful (Wilde has an inner-ear infection giving him trouble this particular evening), and the epigrams - even such pointed ones as "I am told drama critics can be bought; judging from their appearance they can't be very expensive" - fail to register very sharply. The old sparkle is definitely gone, even with the support of absinthe, and it's doubtful that the Wilde of this period would even be recalling such jests, let alone repeating them.

In the second half, he gives himself over entirely to self-pity, wallowing in the memory of his love for "Bozie" (Lord Alfred Douglas) and mourning his "betrayal" at the latter's hands. The evening (Gay's pretense is that Wilde, who at one time made a lecture tour of America, which results in some of the show's more entertaining comments, has scheduled this event to raise money to pay off his debts) ends quietly with a "that is all."

Price, who has been directed by Joseph Hardy, gives a thoroughly professional performance (though his habit of dividing the word "evening" into three syllables and pronouncing another word "appriseeation" annoyed me). But a performance of what? No real figure emerges from this outpouring of epigrams, other writings and recollections. And the one that does is not only controversial - as Wilde certainly was in spite of the dirty deal he foolishly brought on himself - but unattractive. There is no drama in a painted ghost, and this one, having nothing to tell us we do not already know, is all too obviously hollow to be pathetic.

H. R. Poindexter has designed a small, old-fashioned false proscenium to frame the action, and he has lighted it well.

Price is worth having back on our stage, but he has much more power and persuasion at his command than this faded, inconsequential and lifeless "lecture" permits him to reveal.

New York Daily News

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