The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity is a theatre festival with a difference. Its mission is to nurture new works and to connect artists and audiences with opportunities to support various charitable organizations. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of some three dozen offerings being presented between at this event.
The original novel by Oscar Wilde was first published in 1890. It is a classic Faustian tale of the beautiful youth, Dorian Gray, who is granted his wish that his newly painted portrait grow old rather than he himself. He is then easily corrupted and influenced by a hedonistic older man, Lord Henry Wotton, and dives headlong into a dark world of decadence and crime. Over the course of time Dorian Gray retains his youth and beauty, which Wotton regards as Dorian's "art," and the face in the portrait becomes more hideous and deformed with each successive crime.
Adaptor/director Glory Bowen faces great challenges working within the ever-present limitations of time and resources encountered in the theatre festival situation, and has met them head-on to create an engaging and entertaining piece of theatre.
The set by Craig Napoliello is spare but cleverly takes place upon a large canvas and employs three large picture frames which represent at various times paintings and at other times entrances and exits. The costumes, by Irma Escobar, solidly establish the play in Victorian England. Bowen's theatrical staging uses her ensemble of ten actors as narrators and even more visually intriguingly as part of the set. Actors do not often aspire to the role of "set dressing" but supported by Yurly Nayer's evocative lighting the effect breathes three dimensional life to a two–dimensional space. The more theatrical Bowen's staging the better the scenes seemed to work. Particularly good is the scene in which Dorian visits an opium den, where any semblance of "realism" is left by the wayside.
Dorian Gray's "picture" itself is wonderfully created by the ensemble as Dorian's deceased victims return one by one to haunt him and reflect the hideousness of his crimes back at him.
Adam Michael Barrie swaggers confidently from youthful impressionism to thinly disguised maliciousness to the external culpability of a corrupted soul. Eric Percival is appealing and believable as the obsessed painter Basil Hallward. Walter Brandes as Lord Henry is effectively smarmy but lacked a certain ease and facility with the language. The English accents necessary in conveying this "Wildian" world were a bit inconsistent throughout but were attacked with relish and consideration. The rest of the ensemble—Yael Barel, Allison Hirschlag, Sharon Hunter, Colleen Jasinski, Timothy John McDonough, Michael Judson Pace, and Nicholas Santasier—all do fine solid work and are essential to the success of the piece as a whole. Particularly good is Hirschlag as vulnerable actress Sybil Vane, plaything of Dorian Gray and his first victim.
The piece drags a bit in a few places and explodes with creativity in others and on the whole has enormous potential. The story is engaging and moves simply and effectively from beginning to end. The narrative sections, however, did not always work in my view due to the use of an echoing by the ensemble of "key words" which felt a bit contrived and detracted from what was actually being spoken. And, too, a technical gimmick in the picture frames that were held by the narrators took my focus from the text. I became intrigued by watching the performers switching the little lights on and off and realized I was not actually listening to what they were saying.
As an initial production of a new adaptation, the play is sure to develop and grow. I hope it does because I think audiences deserve a fresh, energetic look at this classic piece of literature written by one of the great writers in the English language.