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August 1, 2013

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Barrie’s ‘Dear Brutus’ and Wilde’s ‘Philosophy of Dress’

The sheer energy of the Victorian era is staggering. Along with building houses—not to mention empires—inventing things, and putting skirts on those oh-so-provocative piano legs, the Victorians also wrote. A lot. And we’re still enjoying those musings.

J.M. Barrie is, of course, best known as the author of “Peter Pan.” (Film buffs will remember Johnny Depp straying from his attachment to outré make-up to play Barrie in 2004’s “ Finding Neverland.”) Yet despite having created a children’s classic, Barrie was not without secrets: Piers Dudgeon’s “Neverland: J.M.Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan” brings some of them to light.

Barrie was also a playwright. His work, highly successful in its time, isn’t seen much now, but we’ll get an opportunity when Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga opens the second half of its 2013 season with Barrie’s “Dear Brutus.” As ETC points out: “The title of the play refers to a line from Shakespeare's “Julius Caesar”: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings. The play’s fantasy storyline explores what would happen if seven characters were allowed to “remake” their lives, or, as the butler puts it, “to take the right turning.” 

Director Garry Posey read the play in grad school, and, as he says, “fell in love with the simplicity of the story and the humor of Barrie. Almost everyone can relate to the 'what-ifs' that plague everyday life. What-if I hadn't dropped out of school? What-if I didn't stay when I should've left a certain relationship? What-if I had done what I wanted instead of what was expected of me? ‘Dear Brutus’ is the play for anyone who has ever indulged these 'what-ifs' and shows you what could've been."

“Dear Brutus” opens Aug. 1 at 7:30 and plays Thur-Sat at 7:30 and Sun 2:30 through Aug. 11, 5600 Brainerd Rd. (inside Eastgate Town Center). $15/$10 students with valid I.D. (423) 987-5141 or ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com 

Meanwhile, another controversial Victorian continues his record of having books published about him virtually every year since his death in 1900. There’s no doubt Oscar Wilde would have loved the publicity. One of his most famous lines is, “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

No worries, dear Oscar. In 2012, Wildeophile and documentary historian John Cooper rediscovered Wilde’s 1885 essay, “The Philosophy of Dress,” and has made it the centerpiece of his new book, “Oscar Wilde on Dress” (CSM Press, 2013). Cooper kindly created a special excerpt for the Pulse, quotes from which are below—in which you’ll see that Oscar, as usual, was far ahead of his time. 

“Wilde was an advocate for the artistic and aesthetics aspects of the dress reform movement of the late 19th century, whose focus was on making clothes, particularly for women, more comfortable and practical—free of stays, bustles and crinolines. There was much resistance to such reform among fashionable society. One women’s group in Washington, DC in 1895 was reported as decrying the ‘corsetless torso’ produced by the loose lines of aesthetic dress, eager as they were to ‘attract the eye upwards and away from the swelling hips’ evident in the ‘so-called art gown.’… 

“…One aspect we know for certain of Wilde and dress, just as it is true of him in many respects, is that he was literally avant garde (forward looking); he said:

“...it is probable that dress of the two sexes will be assimilated as similarity of costume always follows similarity of pursuits. 

“...dress of the twentieth century will emphasis distinctions of occupation, not distinctions of sex.

“For Wilde to predict unisex dress in the nineteenth century was foresight enough; but the depth of Wilde’s vision was in seeing that it would result from factors that were unheard of at the time: sexual equality in employment and activities.”

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August 1, 2013

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