Is a picture really worth a 1,000 words? Well some would say yes, but I say it depends on the picture. In this case, The Picture of Dorian Gray, produced by Gravity Productions in conjunction with the NYC Fringe Festival, is worth its weight. This 70 minute production is filled with frenetic, organized chaos that feels more like a roller-coaster than a play. I mean this in the best possible way.
Oscar Wilde wrote this piece as a way for himself to deal with his sexuality. Wilde lived in a time, where homosexuality was illegal and grounds for imprisonment. Director and adapter, Neal Utterback transforms this book into an emotionally charged play. Five actors tell the story of a painting coming to life and the subject, Dorian Gray, is the perfection of male youth and beauty. Dorian, filled with narcissism, begs that he should not age, but rather the painting should age leaving him “perfect”for all time. His wish is granted, but not without repercussions, his soul bears the ever-growing inner-evil that his flesh does not. As the play unfolds, we watch as Dorian’s harrowing fate takes its ugly toll. At the same time, we see Wilde’s character becoming unglued as he wrestles with his inner-demons and struggles. When Dorian and Wilde meet, we can’t help but wonder if it is too late for both of them.
The cast of actors shape shift remarkably well. By using different sunglasses, they easily move between characters. No one plays the same character throughout the entire play, but Utterback’s device works well and we always know who’s talking. This is a physically demanding piece, the actors never stop moving. They use simple chairs to make all of the various scenes. This show must be a great workout for them, its high cardio for sure! But these actors have formed such an ensemble that there is no weak link. They work as a well oiled machine, never missing a beat. Their talent and incredible versatility shine. Usually, I would write about each ac tor, or certain actors, but I can’t here. Singling anyone out would insult the power of the whole. And all of them together are magical.
Utterback uses lyrics from modern songs to punctuate the story effectively. My only qualm is that the piece feels like it ends two or three times before it actually does. This makes it feel a little long and too heavy and tedious towards the end. But other than that, I found this play to be highly inventive and innovative. With basic costumes and a few props, we were transported to the world of the play and believed every minute of it. OK, so maybe not a 1000 words but definitely worth the 462 words that I wrote here!
The Picture of Dorian Gray plays now through Aug 24, 2014 @ The Steve and Maria Sgouros Theatre 115 MacDougal St. http://www.fringenyc.org