BWW Review: A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY Captures a Chilling Lifetime of Decay
The picture in question is a portrait of the handsome title character who becomes so seduced by his own youth and beauty he is willing to sell his soul to escape growing old. With no consequences for his behavior, Dorian turns to a life of lechery and self-indulgence. By the time he acknowledges the damage it has done to his soul, it is too late to turn back the clock.
Michetti first directed DORIAN GRAY at Boston Court Pasadena in 2006 and he revisits it here at A Noise Within in a new configuration and with a mostly new cast. Colin Bates takes on the role of Dorian in a daring performance that grabs you from his first entrance and never lets you look away. He's boyish and wonderfully sweet before Lord Henry Wotton (Frederick Stuart, marvelously in his element) gets a hold of him, and he is dangerously unpredictable as his character evolves.
One of the advantages of casting an actor with Bates' exceptional dance background--he was the first American to play Billy Elliot in London's West End and counts several ballet companies among his training--is that he deals with the physicality of the role in a much more muscular, tactile manner. It affects everything he does, from how he owns the stage unclothed, to how intensely he interacts with the men and women around him, to the way he performs John Pennington's provocative blend of modern dance/combat choreography in an extended sequence that opens Act II.
At this point in the story, the production morphs from the traditional play format to one in which passages of Wilde's text are narrated by ensemble member Daniel Lench, while Bates and two sensual dancers (Tania Verafield and Abe Martell) cover in movement an 18-year stretch of Dorian's wickedness.
Concurrently, three male characters--Wotton, Basil Hallward (Amin El Gamal) and James Vane (José Angel Donado)--sit at makeup tables and transform their appearance with tubes of greasepaint and toothbrushes of silver grey hair color. Time stops for no one and, when the story picks up again in real time, it feels as though a circle has been completed.
The production vividly depicts the dichotomy found in Victorian morality, both its hypocritical displays of propriety and its agenda to suppress homoerotic behavior. El Gamal, as the artist whose brush strokes betray his attraction to his muse, comes up against this very issue. Should he be found out, it would surely be his ruin. But to be unable to express his feelings is its own kind of hell. The role moves at a different pace than the rest of the characters and El Gamal handles the delicate territory by remaining quietly open and vulnerable. There is great sensitivity in his performance and it all starts in his eyes. It is his best work to date--all the more impressive because it isn't a flashy role. Its success rests on the actor's ability to handle subtlety. The supporting cast is also strong throughout.
Nothing foreshadows sadness and tragedy more than the plaintive sound of a cello and Robert Oriol's elegant strings-based sound design seeps in and out of the shadows with haunting finesse. Rose Malone's lighting is dramatic in the way it both exposes the characters and fills the space with the weight of their choices. There are times you can cut the air with a knife, so ingrained is it with feel of damp back streets and drying decay.
Michetti and James Maloof's scenic design uses a less-is-more approach which adds to the play's psychological intrigue. When you are asked to imagine the details, rather than have them all spelled out neatly in a row, what your mind sees becomes even more powerful. Garry Lennon's costumes add to the timeless quality of the story.
Like most cautionary tales, A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY's warning comes too late for its young protagonist but makes a bull's eye hit to the audience's psyche with chilling intensity. Wilde's psychological masterpiece, and its moral dilemma, are well-served in this striking production.
A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
September 23 - November 16, 2018
A Noise Within
3352 E Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107
Photo credit: Craig Schwartz