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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: A Grand and Tragic Gesture

In The Portrait of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde created a dark and turbulent reflection on art, love (in all its blessed and terrible varieties) and the price of living without pain, without care, without responsibility. Tommy Rapply, director and co-adaptor of Dorian, converts a precious carriage for the wit of language to a low slung and growling hot rod for the language of movement. In his nearly prop less, highly stylized and body-driven adaptation he creates “a dance filled thriller of vice and virtue” complete with surprising but not unwelcome re-imaginings of Dorian’s story in the modern age.

Young, rich, handsome and totally out of his element, young Dorian Grey (Cole Simon) arrives in the city and captures the heart and imagination of Basil Hallword (Patrick Andrews) who creates a peon to Dorian’s youth, beauty and blossom of promise. Dorian is soon the darling of the acid-dropping, continually-dancing, philosophizing artistic set, steered and commandeered by the Wildean lounge lizards Harry and Gladys (Manny Buckley and Lauren Pizzi). But when Dorian falls for the young actress coughinnowayastrippercoughcough Sybil Vane (Kelly Able), and begins to neglect his relationship with Basil, he discovers the full and frightening accuracy of his portrait. Dorian and all his frenimies begin a long decent into a world where art not only imitates life but supersedes it.

Rapley’s gracefully exaggerated production solves the problem of the promenade style, where the audience and action slide and mingle together in exciting and sometimes life threatening ways. By keeping close connection in dialog and ensuring attention and energy flows about the room he is able to slosh our attention about in such away that the not a drop of story is lost. While the new script, though studded with Wildeisms, is not as intellectually stimulating as its source, the production itself possess a deep and vibrant emotional intelligence.

Most of the acting is done through personalized gesture, physical outbursts of mental longing, which are repeated, arrested, reworked for heights of joy of depths of bitter spite, and, once we learn to recognize them, recreate themselves in new forms through dances of blissful intercourse and wanton violence. Alan (Alex Weisman) Basil’s former lover and a long longing admirer of Dorian is particularly adapt at letting these “artsy” moves explode from him, as the tender hearted doctor gets drawn down by the siren song of love toward a sad end. Able, though less natural in her expressionistic movements, more than makes up for it in the authenticity of Sybil’s character: the smoke screen of her disaffected tough girl manner poorly conceals a roiling mass of insecurities and vulnerabilities, and her sheepish smiles of being caught out on posing posses as much grace as her poses and contortions while in the throws of love or artistic striving. It is Andrews though who combines the best of both performances: Basil’s nervous and ardent nature translates itself perfectly to his unstudied ticks as well as his inner turmoil of lust and righteousness as he and his muse play physically and spiritually with the most physics defying of lifts. As for Dorian himself, Simon’s transformation is as engaging to watch as it is unconventional, he begins a mass of nerves and as evil slowly becomes part of his system, more refined, smooth and easy in his manner. Though not always clear sharing with us why Dorian makes the decisions he does, the flip between the sympathetic monster and the monstrous man are nothing less then frightening.

Loud and pushy and unrefined as it may be Dorian proves itself a fine touch up of an old masterpiece. Like the eponymous proto-horcrux, (envisioned in Jeff Klapperich’s ever shifting hybrid of projection, video, sculpture and painting) it captures the pulsing pelvic power at the very root of Wilde’s story about the dangers of a life without pain and the temptations that lie, now as then, in the unceasing buzz of the “creative” fast set.

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