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A CurtainUp Review
A Picture of Dorian Gray
For the five percent still not in the know, it is the story of an innocent (if vain) young man named Dorian Gray (Steve Coombs). His friend Basil (J. Todd Abrams), an artist, paints a picture of him that seems to have a supernatural affect on Dorian. He becomes more and more corrupt but , he doesn't seem to age. His picture, however, is another matter.
The relatively young Theatre @ Boston Court (this is its third season) is an amazing little theater, and lacks none of the amenities of a bigger theater. This allows director Michael Michetti to do some interesting staging and sound techniques to add a new dimension to the story. For instance, the picture itself is never seen but is instead represented by an empty frame, and the hideousness of its countenance is expressed through the ensemble's voices. When Dorian stares at the painting, the cast wanders behind it and recites lines of dialog that, aideded by Robert Oriol's sound design, grow gradually louder and become a cacophony of accusation. Several empty picture frames hanging above the stage occasionally descend to become props for the mostly empty set: a mantel piece, a mirror, a railing, etc. There is also a nice use of a rolling door and moving curtains (manipulated by the cast) to suggest rooms and barriers between much of the action on stage.
The second-act opens with an exciting interprative dance performed by Dorian and several of the cast while a passage of the novella is read. The pages being read describe the passage of time and its effects on Dorian. As each page is discarded and lies used up and wasted on the stage, Dorian moves on to his next partner.
Michetti has wisely stuck to Wilde's own witty words. This allows the cast to have fun with the language, none more so than Andrew Borba's Lord Henry (who is obviously the voice of Wilde himself, and unsurprisingly gets all the best quips). He portrays the character's supposed disdain for all that is "moral" and "decent" and revels in the "art for art's sake" aesthetic and makes his on Dorian convincing. Dorian is played by Coombs' with a youthful naivety that gradually changes to an unholy worldliness. Adams' Basil is believable as the smitten painter who watches impotently as Dorian is charmed out of his grasp. He is the story's voice of morality and honesty.
The production heavily emphasizes the sexual undertones of Wilde's language so that it seems as if most of Victorian England was practicing "the love that dare not speak its name." Given our knowledge of Wilde and his ultimate end, I suppose that's a fair enough interpretation, though at times this tends to send the humor into the arena of camp.
The production has its problems. There's some problematic pacing in the first act. It drags during the setup of Dorian's disillusionment. And while it sparkles when Lord Henry is onstage, the scene between Lord Henry and Dorian after Sybil's death has Lord Henry buy into Dorian's soullessness a bit too quickly. There's also a matter of routinely dropped accents. One also wonders at the lack of differentiation in accents for the Cockney characters.
The first act deficiencies are quickly forgotten in the seconds act in which the play really starts to come alive, with the wholly corrupted Dorian bouncing back and forth between sin and sham. His inevitable rush towards doom is convincing and moving. In a nice touch, the principal players age themselves during the dance routine by applying makeup and facial hair onstage.
Michetti's adaptation and direction are interesting, even novel in parts. A Picture of Dorian Gray is engrossing and worth a trip to Pasadena.
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Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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