Wilde at Heart

Three adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s short stories take center stage at the Bryant Lake Bowl. kicker: Theater

Joseph Kleinschmidt

 

In all practical sense, no play could ever cast thousands of actors within a theater. And few plays attempt an authentic work of science-fiction fantasy, complete with hoards of aliens.

Steve Schroer, founder of Hardcover Theater, has done both — just not literally. With adaptations of the epic novel “She” by H. Rider Haggard and “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Burroughs, he brings obscure works of literature to light.

Schroer now strives to preserve the text of the lesser-known short stories of Oscar Wilde, the famed Irish writer known for “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and his many humorous epigrams. “Style, Not Sincerity” uncovers three of Wilde’s works within an hour Saturday night at Bryant Lake Bowl.

The group celebrates the beauty of language, challenging audiences’ notions of traditional theater in its one-dimensionality. By crafting scripts intended to preserve the author’s original intentions, Hardcover Theater treads the line between figurative and literal, literature and drama.

“We don’t do old war-horses or recent plays that are making the rounds of regional theaters,” said Schroer. “Reader’s Theater,” the format for “Style, Not Sincerity,” means lines are not memorized and delivered one way each time. Actors explore the text in new ways with each performance.

“It’s almost like letting the audience in on early rehearsals where we’re still playing with things,” said Phillip Henry, actor involved with “Style, Not Sincerity.” “We’re still discovering things; we’re having fun with it.”

The upcoming performance moves from fairytale to murder mystery to ghost story in under an hour. With Wilde’s clever writing intact, Hardcover Theater manages to shed light on his more unfamiliar works.

“People don’t always think of Oscar Wilde writing those sorts of things,” said Henry, who has also worked to stage the complete works of Shakespeare.

People don’t always think of Edgar Burroughs either — let alone staging the pulpscience-fiction writer’s work — as Hardcover Theater did with their breakthrough performance, “A Princess of Mars.”

“[Traditionally, “A Princess of Mars”] would require 12-foot-tall green Martians with extra sets of limbs and huge inhuman faces. Any attempt to do that literally cannot possibly succeed on stage,” Schroer said.

Directly addressing the audience as readers creates a living storytelling mode that traditional theater misses. Techniques like these keep theater from seeming inert. Moreover, in the case of “Style, Not Sincerity,” they preserve Wilde’s distinct brand of absurdity.

Complete with his tongue-in-cheek witticisms, the upcoming show keeps literature alive that people might not see or hear (or read) otherwise.

“There’s a lot of old books that deserve to be kept alive in some way,” Schroer said. “We’ve actually managed to stage a number of works of literature that never have been put on stage before.”

Schroer, Henry and the cast of Hardcover Theater add new understanding to Wilde, who’s mostly known for “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “Dorian Gray.” His efforts in other genres and styles reveal a fuller understanding of the 19th century writer.

“He’s very cynical, but cheerful about it,” said Schroer. “He hones in on the foibles of human nature, but not in a bitter way.”