Saturday, October 5, 2013

Play Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

I had seen A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Synetic Theater, so when I saw that they were performing The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of my favorite stories, I immediately bought tickets.

I have to say that I was put off before the show even begun. The house manager jumped onstage before the performance and tried to convince the audience to donate money in order for the company to find a new rehearsal space. This is a commendable cause, but trying to tempt me with ugly red t-shirts and cheap sweatpants is NOT the way to go.

Now onto the show. The performance started with several large frames hanging down from the ceiling with actors standing still within them, as if they were caught in paintings. They came alive as the artist started "painting" and were flowing around the stage in barely-there costumes (for the illusion of nudity). Philip Fletcher immediately stood out from the group of dancers: his perfect body and strong movements captivated my gaze the entire time. I liked this introduction to the story: it certainly wasn't part of the book, but was a cool take on things.

However, I did not like all of the modern additions to this tale. I think the main thing that bothered me was how overtly sexual the performance was. I understand that Dorian Gray became somewhat of a man-whore without morals, but that does not mean that the play had to be so explicit in portraying that. At one point two women (obviously playing prostitutes) were dancing on stage, and I thought, "Ah, these must be the women he sleeps with to erase the memory of Sybil Vane." I was right, but the play continues to rub the idea in my face: Dorian starts dancing with the women, then they start rolling on top of one another and gyrating together in a threesome. Later in the performance, Dorian visits something like a harem with Lord Henry, and both women and men dressed in cheap pleather S&M costumes are on stage smoking hookah, pulling the hookah lines/cords between their legs and pouring paint all over one another and rubbing against each other the entire time. There are just more subtle, tasteful ways to show Dorian's sins without giving a performance an NC-17 rating.

And more on the paint: The crew put up several large panes across the down stage to prevent the audience from getting splattered with paint. I can appreciate that kindness. However, the paint scene was just so over-the-top and nothing Oscar Wilde, the author of the story, would have envisioned. The women were wearing head pieces that had several long strands coming out of the top, which they whipped back and forth like, well, whips. The dancers pushed one another into the panels to portray the passion of love-making (or fucking in this case), and it was very grotesque. I felt uncomfortable during the entire scene.

The one modern thing that did impressed me was that the portrait was actually a character (played by Fletcher). I assumed the company would have just used several paintings to show the change in the portrait, but instead a live character changed throughout scenes to mirror Dorian's soul. I thought Fletcher was well-cast, and he danced well as a man damned to Hell. Joseph Carlson who played Lord Henry was quite believable as the older gentleman corrupting the naive Dorian, and Robert Bowen Smith was the perfect lovesick artist, Basil. I was apathetic towards the other actors. I usually picture Dorian Gray as a classic English gentleman, which Dallas Tolentino is not. And Rachael Jacobs doesn't truly capture the red-headed beauty of Sybil Vane. The rest of the ensemble did a fine job, but nothing note-worthy.

I suppose I like my art classic, in all forms: plays, ballets, paintings, sculptures, etc. I just don't get modern art. If it's not broken, why fix it? If the original story is so wonderful, why add all this rubbish to it? So, I'd give this performance 2 out of 5 stars.

Here is a blog about the theater if you're interested:

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