The Picture of Dorian Gray
nytheatre.com review by Maura Kelley
January 22, 2010
Before The Picture of Dorian Gray even begins, an assembly of actors performs a series of slow-moving poses in silhouette underscored by trance-like yet classical-sounding music. Both the poses and music remain themes throughout. This adaptation by Daniel Mitura of Oscar Wilde's only novel, directed by Henning Hegland, is well thought out and gives a clear rendition of the story.
The beginning of the play introduces our three main characters: an artist, Basil, in speaking with Lord Henry Wotton, a nobleman with a distorted point of view, passionately describes his devotion to Dorian Gray, the beautiful young subject of his new portrait painting. At first introductions Lord Henry immediately begins corrupting Dorian, acting as a villainous devil-like figure swaying Dorian into believing that nothing is more important than youth and beauty and after that's gone… so are you. With these and other hedonistic views in mind, Dorian dives into a path of sin.
A huge focus of the story and one for which the title is aptly named is the fact that Basil's painting of the youthful Dorian mysteriously acquires the blemishes of Dorian's evildoings while the living Dorian remains young. In the novel, it is left to the reader's imagination as to how these hideous marks of transgressions might appear on the portrait. I, myself was wondering how this production would handle that convention. In this adaptation the painting is played out to the fourth wall, again leaving it to the audience's imagination. This choice does, however, ring consistent with the extremely minimalist set by Tania Bijlani.
The performance by Vayu O'Donnell, the actor playing Lord Henry, elevates this production in leaps and bounds. O'Donnell's portrayal of the villainous aristocrat is multi-layered, well-crafted, and entertaining, and succeeds in driving the show forward. Leif Huckman as Basil, the lovesick artist, does a commendable job. Wil Petre as Dorian isn't quite as convincing. One particular scene when he slicks back his hair helps his allure.
One particularly enjoyable moment in the play is when the trio goes to witness Dorian's actress-girlfriend Sybil, played by praiseworthy Christine Broccolini, in a comically dreadful performance of Romeo & Juliet. This spurs Dorian to commit his first act of cruelty in which he rejects Sybil because of her sudden loss of acting ability.
The costumes by Ciera Wells are pleasant and seem true to period, with the exception of Jade Rothman, the actor playing James (Sybil's protective brother), who wears a contemporary skull cap. One would think however, the purpose would be to camouflage this particular actor's extraordinarily good looks so as not to upstage Petre. Rothman and Kaolin Bass, playing Dorian's friend Alan, seem underused.
Overall, director Henning Hegland has shaped a well-flowing play well with scenes weaving into scenes and I enjoyed simplistic and stylized staging. It wasn't until I looked at the program to see the numerous dedicated scene locations and time period specified as "1890s Britain" that I became confused. In watching the play, I often couldn't determine where each scene was taking place and the actors weren't using British dialects. But to be honest, I liked the way the story was told so I'm thinking I would have been better off not reading the literal breakdown of scenes.
Special applause goes to the lighting designer, Joe Novak, whose artistic designs accent both the main theme and the silhouettes of the actors' gestures and poses on the outskirts.