Looking at his portrait of Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward laments, “I’ve put too much of myself in it.” And yet, that’s what all good art does in way. It allows the spectator to project him/herself onto the work and apply it to their lives. It’s exactly what The Gravity Partners, a theater group based in Juniata College, have done with The Picture (Of Dorian Gray). While remaining broadly faithful to the novel’s plot, Neal Utterback’s adaptation mashes up contemporary songs lyrics (Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera songs make brief appearances), as well as parts of another Oscar Wilde text, De Profundis. It’s fascinating to hear echoes of Dorian Gray’s loss of self in Wilde’s own letter to his friend, and the two pieces compliment each other with great effect.
Neal Utterback’s non-traditional staging unites quite disparate elements into a powerful tale about the extents to which people go to hide their true selves. An energetic, talented, and versatile cast of five (Phil Oberholzer, Alyssa Newberg, Jamison Monella, Andrew Kilpatrick, and Jessica Denison) play various roles interchangeably with only some splashy sunglasses and consistent physical traits to set them apart. For example, Basil is played by different actors at different points in the play, but each time he is wearing a pair of circular shades and a hunched, unconfident stance. Likewise, Dorian dons aviators, and his statuesque pose is accentuated with a hand on his torso. The actors exchange the sunglasses as they play the different parts. This slows down the pacing of the play only slightly; otherwise, the exchanges are mostly fluid. This structure echoes much of The Picture‘s intended message. Our identities, like the actors playing each character, are so fleeting, so fragile. Instead of projecting our true selves, we project avatar-like creations which, much like Dorian’s aviators or Basil’s lunettes, are gimmicky, cloaking reductions.
Dorian Gray is often used as a text to explore queer identities, and this adaptation’s message certainly stretches its hand out towards maligned and oppressed groups who feel the need to hide their true selves. Profits and donations from the production go towards GLAAD, formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Follow the links for more information about The Picture (of Dorian Gray) and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, a NYC festival that focuses one co-friendly and socially conscious works.