A set-up/synopsis of the play in spoilers so as not to influence opinions, with play titles capitalized for empahsis; apologies for the background but it’s necessary to understand context of some of the terms.
[spoiler]In 1881 Oscar Wilde was not the least bit famous in America outside of a very few salon-circles in major cities perhaps, and there’s no reason he would have been. He’d written a small volume of (mostly mediocre) poems and a play (Vera) that flopped wherever it was produced. (Dorian Gray, Lady Windermere, Earnest, etc., were all, like his sons and his scandals, just shadows of things to come.)
In London however he was one of the first people to become “famous for being famous” as the embodiment of the Aesthetical movement. Americans who knew him at all knew him as the inspiration for some vicious and often hysterical cartoons in London papers (a velvet and lace dressed dandy who goes into restaurants and eats the flower or holds up traffic admiring his shadow) and as the inspiration for Bunthorne, a ridiculous fop lampooned in cartoons and in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Patience. The operetta became super popular in America, though G&S didn’t earn a penny from it due to copyright laws, so in 1882 they decided to fund and produce their own “official” version on Broadway and in repertoire companies; their producer sponsored a tour by Oscar Wilde both to boost publicity for the play (so they’d know what was being parodied) and to make money: Wilde (who did not mind the least bit being lampooned or made the butt of jokes as it was making him famous and self supporting) and the operetta Patience cross pollinated each other marvelously.
Wilde toured America for almost a year speaking on various aspects of AESTHETICS, or more properly the Aesthetic Movement, of which he was the embodiment back in London. The individual lecture topics varied (‘The English Renaissance’ was probably his least popular), but his two most frequent were ‘The House Beautiful’ and ‘The Decorative Arts’, both of which evolved over the year. It was almost unthinkable that America, a nation that prided itself on rugged individuals and had incredible poverty and garish wealth and was so diverse, would respond well to a ‘sissy’ (though probably not yet practicing gay) Englishman in velvet and a cape and holding a sunflower talking about of all unbelievable things aspects of interior decoration- yet he was a phenomenon. He had bad experiences of course: Chicagoans were cool when he insulted a castle shaped water tower they were proud of, San Antonio and Oakland were bad experiences, but on the whole he was hugely successful- roaring ovations, keys to cities, interviewed almost daily, by spring 1882 everybody knew who he was if they could read and he wasn’t even halfway through the tour.
Okey doke- that’s the background, from here it’s much shorter:
Wilde was repeatedly asked which Americans he most wanted to meet. His number one answer was always Jefferson Davis, which surprised a lot of people. Wilde’s mother was a staunch Irish nationalist and Davis and other Confederate personalities were something like folk heroes in Ireland at this time- they were more into the Lost Cause notion than the South itself would be for quite a while. (Most southerners wanted to forget the war and so to many millions Davis was something of a political/ideological Norma Desmond; like Jimmy Carter or George Bush the Elder today he’d draw a crowd wherever he went and had worshipful admirers, but to most he was just something of a relic- the war was too recent for nostalgia and too far past for relevance.)
More than a decade earlier Wilde’s mother (whose brother had been a super successful planter and businessman in New Orleans who knew the Davis family, thus a connection) had invited the Davis’s to dinner when they were in Dublin. They had declined on the excuse of health; a more likely reason was that Varina Davis was embarassed by her outdated dresses as they were living far too hand-to-mouth for her to buy new clothes (any money had to go to Jefferson’s appearance and wardrobe since he was trying to get a job and make money from lectures). The Davises, in part because of this and in part because of his super fame and his comments on Jefferson, invited him to call on them. He arranged his schedule to spend a day and the night with them between his lecture in New Orleans and his lecture in Mobile.
No reporters accompanied him, so it’s not known what was said. Only a few things were recorded: Jefferson Davis was not particularly fond of him and turned in early, while Varina and her daughter Winnie* absolutely loved him. The day and night were spent at the Davis home, Beauvoir (French for BEAUTIFUL VIEW), and while the conversation is anybody’s guess you can be assured art was a major topic, and upon entering Beauvoir you will see almost immediately the painting LA BELLA DEL VECCHIO, a centuries old copy of this painting that Varina said (in other sources) reminded her of herself when she was young and of her daughter Winnie. While he was there Varina asked permission to sketch Wilde (I have a copy but can’t find one online- it’s… not bad for amateur, certainly not a masterpiece). I can easily envision this and La Bella and Varina’s embarrassment over her aging (which she was quite sensitive about- she wrote an old friend that “when you knew me I was young, erect, slim and fair, I am now old, short, fat and brown** and would rather you remember me as I was”), along with two paintings in the house Varina HATED (neurotically almost, one of them was in the attic) and the fact this all occurred on June 27, 1882 all leading to some version of the line from Dorian Gray: “I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than THIS PARTICULAR DAY OF JUNE”.
When Wilde left he gave an autographed photo to Jefferson Davis (this photo inscribed “To Jefferson Davis in all loyal admiration from Oscar Wilde, June— '82— Beauvoir”). To Varina he left a photo and a volume of his poems inscribed “To Mrs. Jefferson Davis in appreciation for A CHARMING DAY AT BEAUVOIR- June '82 Oscar Wilde”).
Given this, would love to hear any notions of which you think would work best. (Obviously this isn’t the whole play and ironically not all the info above will be in it, but it’s to given an idea.)
*It was Winnie’s 18th birthday that day. Just for confusion sake, Winnie’s name at birth was Varina Anne Howell Davis, the same as her mother, whose nickname at the time her daughter was born was… Winnie. For further confusion and symbolism, Winnie was what Davis had called his slave governess (or his mammy if you will) when he was a child.
**Varina is the one holding the baby; many mistook her for a light skinned black nurse rather than the former First Lady of the CSA.[/spoiler]
I also considered Trompe-l’œil, strictly because Beauvoir has some of the most beautiful “eye tricking” painting I’ve ever seen on a place that’s not really a mansion, but 1- very pretentious 2- who can pronounce it if they’re not already familiar? 3- doesn’t really work with the plot. I also considered “The Old Masters” since much of the dialogue obviously deals with the Davis’s past as slaveowners, but nah, or “A Most Intense Young Man” which is a verse from a song in PATIENCE about Wilde/Bunthorne that was played wherever he went.