"The Picture of Dorian Gray" at the Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row, February 1, 2010
The source material is a compelling tale of "be careful what you wish for" a la Oscar Wilde. It's a cautionary tale, much like attending the evening of theatre it presents.
This anachronistic interpretation of Wilde's only novel, with a beautiful cast and an overly aspirational concept, drones for over 90 minutes with no intermission and no hope of entertainment. It opens with a pretentious tableau in silhouette. I have no issue with an opening tableau, but the pose was neither revealing nor indicative of the story, other than to put all actors on stage. The lights rose to reveal a very attractive assembly of actors. Alas, beauty is only skin deep after all.
Daniel Mitura's adaptation sets the action in 1890s Britain, then seems to dash directly for his latest edition of Bartleby's to snatch every quip ever attributed to Mr. Wilde. 95% of these are given to the role of Henry Wotton (Vayu O'Donnell). If only Mr. Mitura had spread the love around a bit. (Also, I'm pretty sure that the concept of hip replacement hadn't occurred at the time as mentioned by Henry in one scene, um...dramaturg?) I fully expected Dorian's (Wil Petre) final words to be "Either that wallpaper goes, or I do!"
As Henry, Mr. O'Donnell rushes so quickly through his lines that by the time he's popped off a punch line, he has either garbled the words or ignored their impact. In the title role, Mr. Petre brings the requisite youth and beauty, but fails to display the bitterness that undercuts the gift of everlasting youth as everyone ages around him.
As the painter Basil Hallward, Leif Huckman trails around like a puppy, but can't bring much depth to his poorly sketched character. When he finally gushes forth of his love for Dorian, the moment falls untrue on two counts. First is the fault of Mr. Mitura for failing to recognize that subtext is meant to be felt, not spoken. I think Mr. Huckman's inability to make the moment true as an actor shows that he doesn't buy it either.
Director Henning Hegland has made some odd choices in this production. First was the earlier mention of the opening tableau. Next, when not active in a scene, the remaining actors are seated at the rear of the stage behind a red satin rope, where they also make their costume changes. If his purpose is to reveal something with this technique, it would be interesting to know what it was. Not all his choices were flawed, though their execution may have been. The scene where Henry, Dorian and Basil attend the theatre to see a performance by Sybil, the object of Dorian's affections was a good idea. Sadly, art painfully imitated art as Sybil ruins her own performance for Dorian with terrible acting, while the audience watched as Messrs. Huckman, O'Donnell, and Petre ruined theirs in the same way.