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Theater Wed Apr 16 2014
Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The House Theatre opened its new show this week and it pulsates with light, sound, color and movement. Dorian is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Ben Lobpries and Tommy Rapley and directed by Rapley.
The well-known story of Dorian--the man who didn't age while his portrait did--is beautifully staged in "promenade style" by House. The main-floor theater space at Chopin Theatre is opened up by eliminating all but a few rows of seats. The stage becomes an art gallery, and sometimes a performance or a club scene, with members of the audience mingling with the actors.
Basil, the artist who paints the portrait and falls in love with his subject, is played by the talented Chicago actor Patrick Andrews. Dorian is played by Cole Simon, a relative newcomer to Chicago, just as his character is a newcomer to the art and social scene in the play. Dorian begins as a rather shy and naïve person and becomes arrogant and self-centered as praise is heaped on his beauty. Years after the portrait is painted, his friends have aged, but Dorian appears the same, while the portrait, hidden from view, takes on strange characteristics.
Harry, known as Lord Henry Wotton in Wilde's novel, is played with great wit, sarcasm and charm by Manny Buckley. Some of his comments reflect Wilde's. When asked if he is an artist, Harry replies, "No, I have no imagination. That's why I'm a critic."
Dorian's other friends and sometimes lovers are effectively played by Alex Weisman, Kelley Abell, Ally Carey and Lauren Pizzi. Other ensemble members are Ben Burke, Bryan Conner, Blake McKay, Monica Thomas and Donnell Williams. The ensemble keeps the action lively and manages to keep the "promenading" audience members moving at the right times.
While the acting is excellent by the entire cast, the setting and choreography almost overwhelm them. Kevin O'Donnell's pulsating techno music is heard through much of the play, accompanying Rapley's choreographed scenes. In particular, the love scenes between Basil and Dorian are elegantly expressed in fluid dance movements. The lighting design by Rebecca A. Barrett and Lee Keenan is an essential part of Collette Pollard's scenic design. She defines the stage area with three white columns on each side, which are washed with light and color. Large white cubes are moved around to create tables, platforms and performance stages. The color scheme created by Mieka van der Ploeg's costumes is key to the vibrancy of the play. The actors are dressed in vivid reds, blues, aquas, fuchsias, greens and yellows--until the final memorial service scene where all appear in blacks and grays.
The famous portrait is a large framed image at the end of the stage. Jeff Klapperich created the versions of the portrait as a clay model, which was photographed through painted masks. It is stunning work, but visually, it appears much like an electronically manipulated image, so playgoers may not appreciate all the creative effort that went into "the picture of Dorian Gray."
Most of the actors used an odd gestural affectation--a movement sweeping hand over head--usually when drinking. The gesture was repetitious and artificial and ultimately irritating.
An earlier version of Dorian by Lobpries and Rapley was workshopped at the former Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in 2006.
This is not a play to attend because you love the writing of Oscar Wilde, notably in his fabulous plays like Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, Salomé, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest, all written in the 1890s. The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel, is complex and challenging--and filled with smart, witty dialogue, but you won't find much of that complexity or dialogue in Dorian.
Dorian, running two hours plus intermission, is being staged by The House Theatre through May 18 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St. Performances are at 8pm Thursday-Saturday and 7pm Sunday. Tickets are $20-30 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-769-3832. The House warns, "Dorian contains brief nudity, adult topics and a bar on stage. Leave the kids at home."