The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Editorial Review

'The Picture of Dorian Gray' Is Worth Four Words: Don't Waste Your Time

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 2009

Dorian Gray doesn't get old. I wish I could say the same for his story.

Lamentably, events repeatedly take turns for the worse in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" -- and not only for the characters in Round House Theatre's overheated stage version of Oscar Wilde's Gothic novel.

Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has updated to the present day the tale of a beautiful, corrupt young man whose portrait ages and contorts horribly as he himself stays young and unsullied. Burdened, though, with cartoonish manifestations of violence and a plot that ricochets wildly in tone, this very strange world premiere adaptation comes across as a dispiriting hybrid, with some scenes out of a plummy satire of the contemporary art world and others out of "Bride of Chucky."

The joke here appears to be that Dorian (Roderick Hill) -- the object of the artistic and carnal desire of a painter (Clinton Brandhagen) who's part of the upstart Young British Artists movement of the '90s -- becomes a star in his own right, in the manner, one supposes, of Andy Warhol's hangers-on. Dorian also happens to be a homicidal maniac, doing away at regular intervals with close friends and an untold number of strangers, including the brother of a young woman (Julia Proctor) who killed herself over him, and a maid in an Italian hotel who apparently pays one too many unauthorized trips to his room.

All the while, the portrait Brandhagen's Basil has painted of Dorian -- a generic example of photo-realism that at first has everyone in London gasping as if they've discovered the new Rembrandt -- transforms itself creepily. Murder weapons materialize in the hands of the figure, and later, as the evil Dorian commits ever more dastardly deeds, it begins to resemble Chucky.

Eventually, the globe-trotting Dorian settles in the ultimate den of iniquity, L.A., where "Beautiful Sins," his new book filled with descriptions of grotesque acts, is such a galloping sensation that he and his craven agent (Sean Dugan) end up on a morning talk show on local TV. Also, Dorian develops pangs of guilt, although these abate whenever he gets sufficiently irritated, as when Basil comes on a visit from London and makes the error of expressing some dismay at Dorian's behavior. The resulting snuff scene is one that Jack the Ripper might have deemed overkill.

So after that, Dorian becomes even more remorseful, which allows the evening to complete its slow crawl to conclusion -- and reinforces the notion that this character is unplayable.

It should be noted that director Blake Robison has assembled a strong design team. James Kronzer's turntable set of exposed concrete panels is grimly efficient, and Helen Q. Huang's costumes are up to her usual high standard. But that's about as appetizing as the picture ever gets.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Blake Robison. (Note: The production includes nudity.) Lighting, Daniel MacLean Wagner; sound and original music, Matthew M. Nielson; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba; dialect coach, Terry Weber. With Joel Reuben Ganz, Kaytie Morris, Timothy Andrs Pabon. About 2 1/2 hours.