BWW Reviews: Synetic Brings Artistry to THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

Never a company to rest on its laurels, Synetic Theater brings innovative and fresh work to the stage yet again with its premiere production of Oscar Wilde's classic story, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Adaptor and Director Paata Tsikurishvili and the rest of the immensely talented creative team leverages dialogue, movement, projections, and a host of other technical effects - even, if you can imagine, more than a few splashes of neon-colored paint - to put a new twist on the well-known tale in only a way that Synetic can do. A talented and hard-working cast of strong dancers/actors is able to work with all of these elements, which mostly seamlessly meld together, to create a beautiful picture on stage.

However, therein is the blessing and the curse. The technical elements in this piece are so strong, creative, and interesting to behold that in comparison the rather weak adaptation of the story appears even weaker than it would otherwise seem. Unlike past Synetic productions based on classic works of literature, this adaptation is not quite as successful in focusing the story and highlighting the core message. Synetic creative team members are usually adept at using that core message in an effective way to shape how all of the tricks in their tool kit are employed to move the plot forward. However, that's not the case here, particularly in the middle portion of an exceedingly long and unwieldy Act 1.

The opening scene - comprised of movement with some dialogue - starts off strong and does well to introduce Basil's (Robert Bowen Smith) effort to paint a portrait of his friend Dorian Gray (the magnetic Dallas Tolentino). It clearly identifies how the painting becomes a powerful force in shaping how Dorian lives his life thanks to some 'advice' that Lord Henry Wotton (Joseph Carlton, perhaps the strongest actor of the bunch) gives him about the importance of outward beauty and fleeting pleasure. However, following the initial scene or two - as Gray sets off on a path of diabolical and hedonistic behavior and becomes tormented by the portrait (the stunningly amazing and beautiful mover Philip Fletcher) , which reflects his true self - the adaptation becomes a bit unwieldy and loses focus until the final moments of Act 1.

These final moments of Act 1 reveal how out of control Dorian has become and the influence of the art (here's where the paint-throwing comes in) on how he perceives himself and how he wants others to perceive him. However, it's a long way to get to that scene and, for the most part, the bulk of the Synetic actors aren't quite up to using traditional acting skills to bring the story to life in the dialogue-heavy scenes that precede it. The end result is a lethargic and slowly paced Act 1 except in the incidences where Irina Tsikurishvili's choreography - which brilliantly and flawlessly melds influences from modern dance, acrobatics, and classical movement - is used to vividly present Dorian's demise and tortured soul. Without the choreography, there would have been little sense of urgency.

To be fair, it's difficult to adapt a story as sprawling as Wilde's masterpiece and Mr. Tsikurishvili is a bit more successful in focusing the tale he wants to tell in the considerably shorter Act 2. This suggests that with further work, Mr. Tsikurishvili (and his dramaturg Nathan Weinberger) could be on to something with this adaptation and that there's a glimmer of hope. There is indeed a payoff in the story as Dorian's true-self represented in the portrait and Dorian himself go head to head. Ben Cunis' fight choreography is precise and well thought out and is executed quite well at that moment. Additionally, there's an overall purpose behind the movement from a story-telling perspective.

While the adaptation may present issues, the technical elements mostly do not. Daniel Pinha's set, consisting mostly of transparent screens is utilitarian (for example, it allows Riki K's intricate multimedia designs to be fully appreciated) while also highlighting the core theme in the story of the duality of inward and outward perception. Although there were a few challenges in moving the screens at the performance I witnessed as the scenes transition, it's likely these kinks will work themselves out as the run progresses.

Colin K. Bills' lighting design effectively captures the mysterious and dangerous world in which Gray lives. Likewise, Kendra Rai's modern-edge costumes are perfectly suited to capture the artistic worlds the characters live in, the debauchery and hedonism within those worlds, and - in the case of the portrait - Dorian's demise. Konstantine Lortkipanidze's music is at its best in the most intense moments of the play, but it can get repetitive. The other sound elements (Irakli Kavsadze and Thomas Sowers) are also powerful yet non-distracting when the story calls for it. There were some sound feedback issues during the performance I witnessed, but just as with the set, I have no doubt these issues will sort themselves out.

Overall, it was a good effort on Synetic's part. Even a less than perfect Synetic show is always a pleasure to behold to see the masterful artistry at work.

Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes including an intermission.

The Picture of Dorian Gray plays through November 3, 2013 at Synetic Theater's home in Crystal City (1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA). For tickets, call 1-866-811-4111 or purchase them online.

Photo: Dallas Tolentino and Philip Fletcher pictured; by Koko Lanham.

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