Director turned playwright Rob Urbinati has done a truly marvelous thing: He’s turned an infrequently read Oscar Wilde short story into a play that actually improves on Wilde’s original. “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime,” the basis for Urbinati’s “West Moon Street,” tells the tale of young Lord Arthur (David Ruffin), who’s on cloud nine – he’s just down from Oxford and engaged to be married to the appropriately aristocratic Sybil (Melissa Miller). His naïve happiness is smashed to smithereens by a night spent at the residence of his confidante Lady Windermere (Judith Hawking), at which a mysterious palm-reader foretells a deadly turn of events.
Wilde’s original is filled with wit and subtly subversive humor. Urbinati’s adaptation takes Wilde’s lead and runs with it, making clear things that would have been taboo in Oscar’s day and subtly suggesting things that are still subversive today. For example, Urbinati transforms Herr Winkelkropf (the sharp, intelligent Michael Crane) – merely a German “revolutionary” with “Russian” leanings in the original – into a frankly acknowledged anarchist, and gives him lines that underline political and social points only hinted at in Wilde’s story.
Even more, Urbinati turns the originally mild role of Lady Windermere into a cunningly manipulative force of nature (like her namesake in Wilde’s play “Lady Windermere’s Fan”), and Hawking turns the role into an unquestionable “lead” performance, replete with quotable lines and juicy motivation. Glenn Peters gets the “Lady Bracknell” award for giving the evening’s only drag role (the stiff-necked but hedonistic Lady Clem) a truly believable interpretation.
This production also benefits from the designs of Lee Savage (set) and Naomi Wolff (costumes). Savage sets the tale’s visuals against an aquatic blue background, which achieves the right balance between light comedy and the murderousness of Lord Arthur’s “dark quest.” Wolff’s costumes also tell their own story: Many of the show’s biggest laughs arrive through the overstated outfits of silly clotheshorse Jane (Jocelyn Greene).
In the central role of Lord Arthur, Ruffin unfortunately takes his time to get the role right, mumbling many of his lines until it’s time for Arthur to take center stage. Once he’s on a roll, though, Ruffin clearly expresses Arthur’s dilemma, which is only exacerbated by the fact that Lord Savile is a certifiable idiot. “West Moon Street” is a Wilde ride indeed!