As the house lights came up for intermission at Synetic Theater’s Picture of Dorian Gray, the stage was obscured from view, not by a curtain, but by sheets of clear plexiglass made recently opaque with splatters of neon paint, thrown enthusiastically towards the glass (and the poncho-supplied front row) by the actors at the first act’s climax. I heard someone behind me whisper: “Well, that paint orgy wasn’t quite as dramatic as I thought it would be.”
Please don’t let that anonymous theater-goer’s opinion undersell it, since the paint orgy was, I can assure you, the most dramatic one I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll spare you the trouble of reaching for your CliffsNotes: the intricately-choreographed, sexualized, opium-fueled dance that Synetic presents isn’t strictly Wildean. But then, the production shines more and more the further it strays from the Oscar Wilde book it sets out to adapt.
The surreal, kind-of-creepy play careens between soliloquy-heavy scenes of dialogue lifted from the novel, and the entertaining and often almost-nude dances performed by the main cast and ensemble. These dance breaks, choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili and scored by Konstantine Lortkipanidze, are never dull, and the entire cast performs with admirable technical precision. The ensemble performers spend much of their time flitting about the giant screens that make up most of the abstract set designed by Daniel Pinha, posing occasionally in front of screens back-projected with a variety of vaguely spooky images—hallways, hands, crying eyes, etc. ad nauseam.
But the production hits an identity crisis of sorts when rushing back to the book it has tethered itself to. Rachael Jacobs deserves a special mention for her ability to make a seamless transition from dancer to actor—as Sybil, she delivers a heartbreaking soliloquy, itself notable for being one of the few emotional scenes of the night designed to capture something other than arrogance or anger. Sybil presents, in a makeup-streaking, super-villain-laughing mental breakdown, one of the few visceral examples of how the sins of Dorian Gray (Dallas Tolentino) are wreaking havoc on the world and on his own soul captured in the titular painting. The ever-decaying painting is captured here by Philip Fletcher, who impressively spends large stretches of stage time locked in a pose, goes through constant costume and make-up changes, and spends the rest of his time sparring with Dallas’s Dorian.
In any case, while the main cast of Dorian, Basil (Robert Bowen Smith) and Lord Henry (Joseph Carlson) do a commendable job of carrying the dialogue-portions of the play, spitting off rapid-fire Wilde witticisms, these scenes of 19th liberal interpretation. As much as it would pain me to do without Wilde’s quick wit, I can’t help but wonder if the play would have been more successful if it completely unchained itself from its source material. It certainly wouldn’t be a first for the company.
Despite my misgivings, the play does merit a recommendation due to the season. If you come in looking for something to hit that craving for a creepy, campy Halloween show, Synetic will gleefully scratch that itch. Just don’t come in expecting something recognizably like Oscar Wilde.