Des Keogh in My Scandalous Life
(© Carol Rosegg)
Des Keogh in My Scandalous Life
(© Carol Rosegg)
The self-delusions and bitterness of a man well into his golden years take center stage in Thomas Kilroy's bio-drama My Scandalous Life, now playing at The Irish Repertory Theatre. The piece focuses on Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, the poet perhaps best remembered today as Oscar Wilde's lover "Bosie." While imagining what the man might have reflected on as he looked back at his event-filled life could make for riveting drama, the play never truly catches fire.

There's something to be said for the period in which Kilroy sets his play -- 1944 -- just one year before Douglas (Des Keogh in a workmanlike performance) will pass away. He's retreated to his wife's apartments while she herself copes with an unspecified fatal illness in an upstairs bedroom. The time seems ripe for honest self-examination, but instead of giving theatergoers forthrightness, Kilroy presents a series of elaborate, and increasingly frustrating obfuscations, particularly concerning Douglas' bitterness toward Robert Ross, an intimate of Wilde's who became the famed writer's literary executor and a tormentor to Douglas.

During the first portion of the two-character piece (Fiana Toibin proves memorable as the household's spunky Irish maid), Douglas bemoans and condemns the ways in which his father-in-law and Ross contributed to the psychological snap that preceded the institutionalization of his son, Raymond. Later, Douglas admits that what he has said has all been lies, saying "They had no part in the sickness of my son, Raymond. Raymond's madness is of my own flesh and blood."

While the piece is more straightforward about the facts regarding Douglas' life with Wilde, it contains similar reversals with regards to his wife Olive's relationship with their son. The piece is further undermined by Kilroy's inelegant handling of the confessional nature of the play, which begins with Keogh looking at the audience and engaging them with "Oscar Wilde did you say?" There's almost a camp quality to the mock surprise and disdain that comes with this answer to an unheard question. Indeed, the play's use of direct address is consistently jarring.

Ultimately, the play doles out just enough factual data -- including tantalizing details about Douglas and Olive's reversed gender roles -- to give those not familiar with the subject a sense of having been introduced to a compelling historical figure, but it's not enough to make the evening genuinely satisfying or warrant the piece's curiously abstract ending.