The Picture Of Dorian Gray
Runs through 2.6.10
Kirk Theatre (Theatre Row), 410 West 42nd St.
Christina Broccolini and Wil Petre in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Photo by Ofer Zimdni.
BOTTOM LINE: Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes, especially if you like Oscar Wilde.
For those who are unfamiliar with The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story centers around Gray, a young man who dives into a life of pleasure-seeking. When Gray realizes that (because of an off-handed wish) he will never grow old or ugly, but that his age and the costs of his sins will be reflected instead in a painting, the influence of his aristocratic friends encourage him to become the ultimate hedonist.
Vayu O'Donnell is excellent as Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian's "bad influence" who, in typical Oscar Wilde fashion, gets all the best lines. For example: "I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world." And "To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable." Quips like these are largely what give the piece its "Wildean" quality, and O'Donnell tosses them off with appropriate nonchalance without missing their underlying complexity. Wil Petre is also good as Dorian Gray, although he is more convincing as the innocent youth, and as the regretful sinner, than as the hedonist who truly revels in his own degradation (to my mind, Dorian Gray should be all three at various times).
Director Henning Hegland has given this production some conceptual elements: the designs are mostly black and white (with touches of red), and the stage is outlined with a white box and a red velvet rope, as if the playing space was some sort of exclusive club. However, while many of these choices seem to have some kind of "meaning," they are too disparate, and I didn't feel that their purposes ever became clear. I also felt that some of these choices, like the various silhouetted tableaus between scenes, slowed the piece down a bit.
I wonder if this adaptation is too faithful to Wilde's novel. The entire cast remains onstage throughout the play, sitting upstage when they are not in a scene. Because we are always cognizant of how often some of these characters sit out, I couldn't help thinking that a few roles were largely extraneous. The great thing about adaptation is that it allows you the freedom to change the original, and I think it would be interesting to see The Picture of Dorian Gray as a three or four character piece.
Most well-known film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray obscure the homoerotic undertones present in the text; it is therefore nice to see that this adaptation brings these elements into view. While it never becomes gratuitous, we quickly know that several of the main characters are (or have been) more than just "friends." While I think more could have been done in exploring the ramifications of these relationships, this adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray nevertheless has much to recommend it.
(The Picture of Dorian Gray plays at Theatre Row's Kirk Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, through February 6, 2010. Performances are Monday at 8pm, Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8pm, and Saturday at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at ticketcentral.com or by calling 212.279.4200. For more information visit DorianGrayPlay.com)