“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.” —Oscar Wilde
The Happy Prince Oscar Wilde, already an established and beloved poet and playwright, works at his desk as the London streets bustle beneath him. He joins the action on the street, theatrically reading his playful children’s tales to the passing youth. His mother greets him and together they poke fun at Victorian society’s strict conventions, while keeping an eye out for a wife suited to his fashionable lifestyle. Encouraged by his parents, Oscar meets the beautiful, clever, and poised Constance Lloyd. A flirtatious courtship ensues, resulting in a happy and enthusiastic marriage. They are a popular couple, admired for their witty humor and audacious faison. All appears wonderful and satisfactory. Together they give birth to two sons and welcome them to the world with love.
The Selfish Giant After the birth of their second son, cracks emerge in the strength of their marriage and Oscar finds solace in his friend Robert Ross. Through Ross, Oscar is introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, who fills the needs Constance can no longer meet. Bosie, well aware of Oscar’s infatuation, leverages Oscar’s devotion to him to convince Oscar to cater to his every need. Bosie gets Oscar acquainted with London’s bawdy underground society. As Oscar sinks deeper into his treacherous relationship with Bosie he becomes further estranged from his family, absorbed in his new, alternate life. A beautiful linnet emerges: Can this hopeful bird help him to overcome his selfishness? Or perhaps it is the society that is selfish, determined to define devotion in a specific way rather than acknowledge the complexities of relationships and the sentiment that, ultimately, love is love.
The Nightingale & The Rose Constance and Oscar attend an extravagant ball. They are still the talk of the town but suspicions have arisen that all is not rosy between them. Indeed, as the party cedes to the privacy of the Wilde’s home, Constance can no long turn a blind eye to her husband’s infidelities. She withdraws with the children, determined to maintain her honor. Oscar is disgracing the family name. This Happy Prince has fallen from his pedestal. The public, who loved him so much, turns on him and Oscar is cast into exile. With his reputation, finances, and career in ruin, he is left to reflect on his life, career, and lovers. From this bleakness a nightingale emerges, singing a sweet and beautiful birdsong that lingers as all else fades.
The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales runs May 4-6 and 11-12 at Peter Martin Wege Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids. For tickets, call 616.454.4771 x10 or visit grballet.com/happyprince today.