The New Theatre Project poses contemporary questions

Original production ponders what Oscar Wilde would think of modern gay culture

By Bridgette M. Redman

YPSILANTI -

What would Oscar Wilde think of modern gay culture? Playwright Jason Sebacher started with that premise when he created a 10-minute monologue several years ago. What has evolved, with the aid of workshopping at Carnegie Mellon, is a full-length play ranging beyond that single question.

Director Keith Paul Medelis brings the play "Posing" to its first full staging in the new home of The New Theatre Project in Ypsilanti. Medelis has worked closely with Sebacher as the monologue, which the director first performed at Albion College, found a new life. Now, he says, the fact that Oscar Wilde is one of the two characters is incidental to the more searing issues that the play explores.

"The play has developed further away from Oscar and more about the relationship between these two men," said Medelis. "It is a pretty volatile, tragic and violent relationship. The two use each other in ways that destroy them both. It's sort of meaningless that it is about Oscar Wilde. It's a key plot point, but not a premise."

Medelis says the play is critical of many aspects of the community to which they belong. He stressed that it was important that the characters not be seen as people struggling with an environment that can cause a lot of pain.

"I'm past the point in my life where (I'm exploring) 'gays are equal.' I accept that. We treat them like people, not a symbol," said Medelis. "The biggest issue the play talks about is layering Victorian decadence onto contemporary culture. The gay club scene is the source of a lot of pain for gay people. (The play) argues that it is not helping us. Oscar kind of blames himself for creating the idea of that."

Evan Mann, the actor playing Oscar Wilde, observed that it is the many layers of the play that make it so appealing to perform.

"The story is intriguing because it is two characters you could meet on the street every day; they could be anyone," Mann said. "There is a lot of empathy that is very intense and there are a lot of emotional levels. We look at who Oscar Wilde is and who he would be today. We look at gay culture today and gay culture then as well as the dynamic of the relationship in the play."

In the story, Wilde is alive in the current day and encounters Alsie, played by Ben Stange. The two men proceed to have a tempestuous and destructive relationship.

"There is so much to this character," Mann said. "We've made some exciting discoveries in rehearsal. There is the possibility that this character could be Oscar Wilde in present day living as an immortal, or he could be a delusional 20-something who just thinks he is Oscar Wilde. There are so many different dynamics, you can't just approach it from one direction."

After a dispute with their Ann Arbor landlord, The New Theatre Project found a new home in Ypsilanti's Mix Studio Theatre, part of a boutique in downtown.

"The great thing is that it will expand our audience," Medelis said, "because Ypsi doesn't have as much competition, and there is quite a bit of community support. (The boutique owners) are really welcoming and have lots of people who come to their store who are now planning to come see this endeavor."

The show marks a slight departure in style for The New Theatre Project. While it is still a premiere and an original script, it moves away from the previous tradition of reinventing a classical text.

"It's a departure for The New Theatre Project in that it is hyper-realistic and naturalistic," said Medelis. "We haven't done a play quite like that yet."

Medelis does warn the audience that the play is meant for adults, as there is nudity, sex, violence, drug use and strong language. He explains that those elements are necessary to tell this story, a story that he says has much to say to all adult audiences.

"There is no denying it is an incredibly gay play," said Medelis. "It is romantic, sexual, destructive and it is two men. It is a play that speaks volumes to the gay community, but it is not just about gay people. We're dealing with Oscar, so it is gay, but it isn't exclusively gay."

Mann found the exploration of the cost of immortality underlined the universality of the play.

"The play really imparts to others the importance of the risks we take in establishing relationships with others," Mann said. "We can appreciate the beauty of being vulnerable to each other in establishing a relationship, the push and shove of the process that we can all relate to and appreciate the beauty of."

It is a beauty they plan to unfold Aug. 2 through 21 to launch their new season in their new home.

PREVIEW:

'Posing'

The New Theatre Project at Mix Performance Space, 130 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti. Runs Friday-Sunday through Aug. 21. $15. 734-645-9776. http://www.thenewtheatreproject.org

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