BWW Review: Book-It Deliciously Paints the Original PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

BWW Review: Book-It Deliciously Paints the Original PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray in
The Picture of Dorian Gray at Book-It.
Photo credit: John Ulman

If you think you know Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" you may want to think again. In fact, many only know the most basic plot based on its many references in popular culture throughout the years. But whether you're a novice or a die-hard Dorian Gray aficionado, you're in for a treat from Book-It as they've based their adaptation on the only recently published original manuscript that was deemed too racy for Victorian England. But it's here now complete with all its taboo subjects the way Wilde intended and Book-It's production is, in a word, delicious.

For those unfamiliar, this Faustian tale centers around a portrait painted by Basil Hallward (Jon Lutyens), an artist of some renown, who's become enamored with a young man he met at a party, one Mr. Dorian Gray (Chip Sherman). So obsessed be begins to paint a portrait of the young man and puts every ounce of passion he feels for the man into the work. When the painting is almost done, Basil's friend Lord Henry Wotton (Brandon J. Simmons) drops by and exclaims the work to be one of his finest and equally praises the beauty of the subject. Dorian arrives to sit for the portrait and meets Lord Henry and becomes enamored of him and his hedonistic ideals and laments the thought that his youth and beauty will someday fade and makes a wish that he could remain as perfect as the painting and that the painting would age instead. Little does he know that his wish is granted and as he embarks on his hedonistic lifestyle he notices that the image in the painting begins to show the signs of wear that should show on his face. He sequesters the painting away, allowing no one to see it but himself, but as the years go by the toll on his soul being reflected in the portrait may end up becoming too much to bear.

Wilde's original work does not shy away from the homosexual and lurid undertones in its characters, reflecting on his own lifestyle. But those ideals, while known, were not discussed in polite society in the 1890's and certainly not published, hence the rewrite, but now we get to see them in all their glory and adapter Judd Parkin and Director Victor Pappas have grabbed onto those ideals and that undertone with both hands and rung every last drop of cattiness so it rivals an episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race" but they never take it to a mocking level. And this malevolent story is served up beautifully on the stark and cavernous forced perspective set from Pete Rush with fantastically creepy lighting from Andrew D. Smith.

Sherman manages a stunning arc in the piece as he goes from naïve innocent to jaded wretch seeking redemption and while the portrait may bear the visual of the arc, it certainly doesn't take it from his performance. The characters in the show may be taken by Dorian but the more I see from him in productions around town, the more I'm taken by Sherman. Simmons is a delight as the hedonistic ponce who leads Dorian astray, deftly walking that tightrope between character and caricature. Lutyens tackles the only really sympathetic character in the piece and keeps him from becoming pathetic as his obsession for Dorian grows. And props to the ensemble who not only filled out the rest of Victorian England but also provided some wonderfully sinister otherworldly narrators.

With its Wilde wit and ever mounting stakes the piece is a roller coaster of bad manners and sinister dealings. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Book-It Repertory Theatre's production of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" a sinister YAY+. You don't want to miss this classic tale as it was meant to be told.

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre through July 1st. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.

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From This Author Jay Irwin

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