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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Also see Susan's review of The Quality of Life

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Rockerick Hill
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, receiving its world premiere at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, is colorful and interesting to watch, if a little scattered and emotionally remote. The program warns: "Dorian Gray contains everything: adult themes, nudity, strong language, loud gunshots, drug use, smoke and haze, plus a bit of violence"—tell your friends!

Aguirre-Sacasa had the inspired idea of setting Wilde's story of beauty and decadence in the underground art world from the 1980s to the present: an era when British artist Damien Hirst became notorious for displaying dead animals preserved in formaldehyde, and novelist Bret Easton Ellis achieved a scandalous kind of fame for the excessive violence in his novel "American Psycho." As portrayed here, Dorian Gray (Roderick Hill) drifts through life, committing sins and crimes ranging from rape and torture to murder and dismemberment, never aging or losing his beauty; meanwhile, a dark, brooding portrait of the youthful Dorian, painted by Basil Hallwood (Clinton Brandhagen), gradually reveals the dissipation that remains hidden in the man's life.

However, Dorian's passivity is a problem as far as dramatic effect. Instead of being corrupted by his worldly friend Harry Wotton (Sean Dugan), Dorian seems at first to be almost the victim of the painting rather than the other way around. He also has superhuman powers—a gunshot bounces off his perfect chest—and his distance from those around him, even at his most malevolent, is a flaw. The other characters have no reason to care about him, since he clearly doesn't return their affection.

Director Blake Robison follows the playwright's lead with stylized, larger-than-life staging. Hill, with his alabaster skin and pale golden hair, is the perfect physical type for Dorian and navigates the character as well as anyone could. Other highlights are Kaytie Morris and Timothy Andrés Pabon as a vacuous team of talk show hosts; Brandhagen as the besotted painter; and Joel Reuben Ganz as Dorian's determinedly unaesthetic friend. (When Dorian invites him to see a performance of Twelfth Night, the friend replies, "I like some plays. I like Phantom of the Opera.").

James Kronzer's atmospheric scenic design borrows from the Brutalist architects of the 1970s, consisting of paint-spattered concrete walls set on concentric turntables.

Round House Theatre
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Through October 4
By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Oscar Wilde
Dorian Gray: Roderick Hill
Harry Wotton: Sean Dugan
Basil Hallwood: Clinton Brandhagen
Sibyl Vane/Christina/Ellie/Maria Bella/Karen: Julia Proctor
Alan Campbell/James Vane: Joel Reuben Ganz
Victoria Frost/Ginger Reynolds: Kaytie Morris
Detective Morse/Fritz/Senator/Scott/Theodore: Timothy Andrés Pabon
Directed by Blake Robison
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-644-1100 or www.roundhousetheatre.org


Photo: Danisha Crosby


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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