OSCAR at the Crown takes place in an undefined, post-apocalyptic future, where everyone who isn’t white/cis/het is banished to the wasteland.
The character Oscar, played by Mark Mauriello (the creator of the show), found an abandoned nightclub that now serves as a safe haven for all those defined by their “otherness.” Every day, the cast compulsively rehearses the same show about the life of Oscar Wilde, until a newcomer is cast and Wilde’s wife and disrupts the usual flow.
From the high-energy premise alone, it is pretty clear that this isn’t a production you should be sober for.
The fictional and physical setting of the show has a weighted meaning. Historically, night clubs have always served as safe spaces of expression for queer youth.
3 Dollar Bill is the queer bar in Bushwick that has hosted performances of OSCAR at the Crown since the beginning of the summer. The space is surrounded by several monitors and black-lit portraits of Julie Cooper (who gets one of the first odes of the musical) and Wilde himself. The monitors feature a constant scroll of early 2000s iconoclast heroes: Bad Girls Club, Real Housewives, and Rupaul’s Drag Race to name a few.
Historically, the Victorian icon Oscar Wilde belonged to the artistic movement of Decadence. Some of his main ideas surrounded upon the fact that the artificial is better than the real, and art should only function to be beautiful.
Creator and star of OSCAR at the Crown, Mark Mauriello, saw a clear correlation between the Decadents and the cultural decadency embodied by the rise of the 2000s most iconic emblem: reality television. Including an entire ode to Julie Cooper, a star of the show OC whom they credit for inspiring the franchise The Real Housewives, one of the Exiles goes as far as to say:
“[Oscar Wilde was] a star who made his life a season arc and a storyline and a viral sensation so fascinating, it killed him.”
However, once one delves deeper into the figure of Wilde both as the myth and the man, certain problems begin to arise. One of Wilde’s most controversial claims comes from the introduction of his famous novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray, in which Wilde claimed that:
“All art is quite useless.”
Therefore Wilde celebrated for his art as well as his status as one of the few gay icons who haven’t been erased from the white man’s history, was also a problematic figure. This is something that OSCAR at the Crown deals with in-depth during its closing sequence.
After the neon whirlwind of a number culminating in the declaration of Wilde as a martyr, the musical quickly turns into a meta rethinking of Wilde’s legacy in both the gay community and the community of the “other” as a whole.
The mysterious newcomer, who was named after and cast as Wilde’s wife, Constance, orders the cast to stop the music. All of the lights are cut off except for one shining spotlight on her, in which she asks the question:
“What about his wife?”
Constance, played by Kerri George, interrogates Wilde, exposing the celebrated author for the terrible way he used, abused, and subsequently abandoned his family as well as poking at his privilege as a white man in Victorian England.
“Decadence” is intrinsically something that relies upon privilege: Oscar Wilde, as a white cis man, was able to live the way he did as long as his wife took care of the house, their children, and the mountainous debt Wilde accumulated by the time of his death.
Closing the production in this manner has a clear message: those who used to have the privilege to do so no longer have the luxury of living in decadence. Gone are the ages of blissful ignorance, low-rise pants, and MTV. We no longer have the luxury of art solely serving the purpose of being beautiful, of being “useless.”
In the era of Trump, the era of mass shootings and ICE raids, Muslim travel bans and children in cages, we must be unabashedly unafraid to point fingers at those who have done wrong in the past, in order to build a brighter future.
OSCAR at the Crown is currently having an open run at 3 Dollar Bill in Bushwick, Brooklyn NY. You can get tickets here.