Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Also see Susan's review of The Velocity of Autumn
Synetic Theater's current production of The Picture of Dorian Gray demonstrates, sadly, that it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. Synetic has packed so much of its trademark physicality, striking stage pictures, and never-ending musical score into two and a half hours including intermission (an hour longer than most of its productions) that eventually the spectacle becomes numbing.
Oscar Wilde's novel of youth, beauty, and decadence would seem a natural for the talents of adapter-director Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili, and maybe the performance will become less overwhelming as the run continues. In its current state, the play is simply too busy as it incorporates projections, various configurations of bodies, and even the flinging of paint. (The intermission, most likely, will always take longer than 15 minutes.)
As in Wilde's story, the drama revolves around the passionate friendship of three men: beautiful, innocent Dorian (Dallas Tolentino); painter Basil Hallward (Robert Bowen Smith); and cynical Lord Henry Wotton (Joseph Carlson), who gets to verbalize the necessary witty lines. But where the portrait in the original story remains the two-dimensional repository of Dorian's sins, Synetic understandably personifies the Portrait (Philip Fletcher) as a sentient creature that becomes Dorian's demonic double (his Mr. Hyde, perhaps).
At first the images serve the story: members of the ensemble, representing Basil's models, writhe and twist in concert with the artist's gestures; human figures take on a non-human, sculptural appearance; projections of grasping hands accompany the actions of the Portrait. However, all this immersion eventually drowns the human-scale drama at the heart of the production.
While the individual performers are accomplished and, on occasion, affecting, the cast works better as a unified whole. The physical production - especially Colin K. Bills' hypnotic lighting, Thomas Sowers' sound design, and the multimedia design by Riki K. - succeeds in creating an all-encompassing theatrical experience.