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The Picture (of Dorian Gray)

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

The Picture (of Dorian Gray)
The Cast.

One of the most difficult things for a playwright to do successfully is to adapt a work of fiction so that it remains faithful to the original while becoming a satisfying theatrical experience. One novel that has tempted many a playwright and screenwriter over the years is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. The latest to try to re-envision Wilde's work for the stage is Neal Utterback, whose boldly conceived version, titled The Picture (of Dorian Gray), is being presented with mixed results as part of FringeNYC.

Wilde's novel is a sort of Gothic fairy tale for adults, mixing elements of the supernatural with intellectual discussions about art, the nature of sin and corruption, the shallowness of physical beauty, and the pursuit of personal pleasure over everything else. Utterback has chosen a format that has Wilde (Phil Oberholzer) himself narrating the tale, along with portions of his epistolary work De Profundis, from his cell in Reading Gaol, where he is serving out a two-year sentence for the "crime" of homosexuality. The rest of the cast (Jessica Denison, Jamison Monella, Andrew Kilpatrick, and Alyssa Newberg) act out the scenes, with each of them assuming multiple—often gender-switching—roles, distinguished by whichever pair of sunglasses they are wearing at any given moment.

Along with the character, sunglass, and gender swaps, the playwright, who also directs, has the cast members singing excerpts from such songs as Sting's "Every Breath You Take" and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," reciting occasional anachronistic lines like "you'll corrupt him; you smoke pot," littering the stage with pages of the novel, and constantly rearranging the kitchen chairs that serve as the set. All in all, this is a very busy and very physical production. Credit the actors for keeping up.

Running at a brisk 70 minutes, The Picture (of Dorian Gray)—even the parentheses are busy!—gives the audience a lot action, but, really, the overzealous staging nearly drowns out the telling of the story. It isn't necessary to distract us that much from Wilde's work; it has withstood the test of time. Trust it.

The Picture (of Dorian Gray)
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