The Gravity Partners' stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray at FringeNYC brings Victorian characters to life while effectively invoking modern day society and notions of celebrity. Director and author Neal Utterback has punctuated portions of Wilde’s original text with contemporary song lyrics and choreographed movement that make the story, set in an ambiguous environment that defies time and geography, come alive to be seen in a new light.
Working within a popular minimalist fringe festival aesthetic of plain costumes, a set consisting of five chairs, and a small group of props, the ensemble creates a fluid stage environment that allows them to satirize both the self-absorbed upper classes of Wilde’s time and our own while communicating with one another during the more intimate moments of the piece. The biggest benefit to the original story that comes from Utterback’s writing and staging is that the implied romance and homosexual urges that underscored Wilde’s novel become explicit and integral to the audience’s understanding of the narrative. However, the spectacle of the five actors constantly moving, speaking, and collaborating on the stage becomes the sole focus of the piece at the expense of investment in the central character of Dorian Gray, and the storytelling falls flat for the sake of style.
The extremely talented young ensemble – consisting of Phil Oberholzer in a combined role as an impartial narrator, an older Dorian Gray, and Gray’s portrait, and four actors who rotate between the rest of the characters in pursuit of storytelling – almost rush through the story and fit the proceedings of Wilde’s lengthy novel into a mere hour and fifteen minutes, showing how swiftly pride and narcissism can cause one to decline. The actors swap sunglasses with one another to portray different characters, concealing their eyes and creating new “masks” every few minutes. Unfortunately, Oberholzer has been given hefty monologues of text that he seems to recite almost robotically, barely comprehending the enormity of the concepts that the story examines. His interruptions and transitions become lengthy and seemingly unnecessary as the production advances towards the end. Particular standouts in the cast are Alyssa Newberg, whose transformations into various characters are captivating and seamless, and Jamison Monella, who bears the brunt of Dorian Gray’s emotional baggage in the final moments of the piece with impressive conviction and physical stamina in a sequence of furious solo movement that reads almost like an aerobics exercise.
This FringeNYC production is a thought-provoking re-envisioning of a popular story, but those who are unfamiliar with it may feel that the characters and plot are too weighted down with excessive text and choreography to be well understood in such a short time frame. It’s definitely fans of Oscar Wilde who have already had an introduction to his satirical literature who will appreciate the contemporization and style that The Gravity Partners have applied to his words.
Performances of The Picture (of Dorian Gray) continue at the Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre through August 24 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For more on FringeNYC shows, click here.
Through August 24 at the Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre.