Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Also see Terry's review of Death of the Author
The biggest problem with Dorian's Descent is the book, credited to director Marco Gomez, composer Chris Raymond and Michael Gray. This team has decided to add the character of a female demon, to accept and bring into effect Dorian's offer to sell his soul in exchange for the painting growing old while he remains young forever. Yes, a demona dark, sexy demon who (according to some staging during the overture, and a helpful note in the program) was also somehow responsible for the death of Dorian's grandfather, which sets the play in motion. The Demon character, both in her purpose in the show and in the utter wrongfulness of her being there, actually brought to mind the character of Arachne in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. If you're going to do the story of Dorian Gray, trust that Oscar Wilde got it rightthere is no spirit responsible for Dorian's soullessness; Dorian became a heartless jerk of his own free will. (There is another character addition that also seems unnecessary in this nearly three-hour adaptationthe character of Margaret, the mother of Sybil Vane the actress (here, lounge singer) with whom Dorian falls in love. Margaret is a classic stage mother, pushing Sybil to put her career before all else, even (especially) love, and playing the guilt card that she gave up her own aspirations in order for Sybil to succeed. But this play is Dorian Gray, not Gypsy, and the addition of Sybil's Mama Rose is an unnecessary distraction.)
The book's problems are not limited to big, character errors. It is problematic on a small scale as well, with dialogue frequently venturing into awkwardness. In an early moment of clumsy exposition, one character says, "Kelso Grey, the billionaire? Of course I've heard of him," adding, unnecessarily, "He's been very successful." There is also a silly scene in which movers deliver the painting to Dorian's house, making "beep ... beep" noises when moving a heavy piece of scenery, and adding, of the painting, "We should totally deface it!" With a first act that takes nearly an hour before it even introduces Sybil, such extraneous matters should be removed.
But this is a musical; an extraordinary score could mitigate a weak book. Composer Raymond is certainly not without talent, particularly when it comes to sultry ballads with an undercurrent of darkness. (Both the nightclub number "Baby, Let's Fall in Love" and the Demon's "In the Middle of the Night" are in this mode, and are highlights of the show.) But too much of the score is generic pop, often with many tempo changes in the same song, and occasionally venturing into higher notes the cast has trouble reaching. Dorian's opening song contains the line, "I'm searching for meaning in this endless charade" in which "cha-ra-ade" is screeched out in such a way that all that is missing is the mic in his hand. It's an odd choice musicallyeven odder in context, given that it is sung at a funeral.
One would be remiss in discussing Dorian's Descent without a word about the costumes, and that word is "incredible." Michael Mullen's designs are a paean to extravagance; he left no rhinestone, sequin or crystal unturned. To be sure, they may be a bit too over the top for the characters wearing them, and occasionally they upstage the action, but, damn, that man can design. There is, however, something of a missed opportunity here. The two acts of Dorian's Descent take place 20 years apart, although the show does not specify the precise years of the action. (Indeed, there are enough present-day touches in the first act to suggest that the second act must take place in the futurean added complication this show does not need.) But Mullen is such a talented designer, would it not have been better to firmly plant the show in time, allowing him to design costumes reflective of two distinct eras?
Performances are mixed. Kelly Brighton is preening as Howard, and has a snooty accent to, I assume, emphasize the cartoonish snobbishness of his character. Jeremy Saje is rather more realistic as Basil, the painter, although he struggles valiantly with too much exposition and a relationship with Dorian that is never solidly explained. (Was his love ever requited, or was it one-way affection for his muse?) Cassandra Nuss is sweet as Sybil, and she and Michael D'Elia's Dorian share the cutely awkward chemistry of first love. Toni Smith is actually quite good as the Demon, slowly moving her hands through the air as if spinning an invisible web in which to trap Dorianand she's got a heck of a voice, too. It all surrounds D'Elia's Dorian, who, at first, is a genuine young man who, after his grandfather's death, lacks a moral rudder to give him direction. But after he makes his deal with the Demon, Dorian's performance goes emptysoullessness here is portrayed as an absence of emotion. Indeed, at one point in the play, Dorian, upon viewing the changed portrait, says, "I guess I sold my soul," the same way one might say, "I guess I sold my television." It's a deliberate choice, to be sure, but one which doesn't quite work. Emotion is the stuff of musicals; the passionless have no reason to sing.
In this, as in nearly everything else, Dorian's Descent just doesn't seem fully thought-out. There are entertaining moments, and the costumes are dazzling, but way too much seems to be thrown in along with Wilde's original story, and the resulting creation is simply not coherent enough to survive as an artistic whole.
Dorian's Descent runs at the MET Theatre in Hollywood through July 20, 21014. For tickets and information, see www.doriansdescent.com.
DOMA Theatre Co. in association with Requiem Media Productions Ltd. present Dorian's Descent. Book by Marco Gomez, Michael Gray, and Chris Raymond; Lyrics by Marco Gomez and Chris Raymond; Music by Chris Raymond. Based on the novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde. Producers Mike Abramson, Dolf Ramos and Chris Raymod. Musical Director Chris Raymond; Choreographer Tania Possick; Executive Producer/Director Marco Gomez; Production Manager/Stage Manager Gabrieal Griego; Technical Director Aaron Lyons; Scenic Design John Iacovelli; Props Design Allison Schenker; Lighting Design Jean-Yves Tessier; Sound Design Julie Ferrin; Costume Design Michael Mullen; Makeup Design Karen Sanchez; Casting Director Peter Matyas.