‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’
Through Nov. 3
1800 South Bell Street, Crystal City
$35 and up
In adapting Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Synetic Theater turns its attention to that eternal nagging question: What price beauty? The 1891 work, Wilde’s only novel, chronicles the downfall of a handsome Londoner who trades his soul to remain eternally young. While Dorian never ages, his physical decline and moral purification is reflected in a portrait tucked safely away in the attic. Tempting tradeoff, eh?
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it,” advises decadent Lord Henry (Joseph Carlson) to his willing young student Dorian (Dallas Tolentino). And yield Dorian does: he enthusiastically tastes all the pleasures that the British metropolis has to offer, tragically seducing young actresses, damaging the reputations of respectable married ladies and bedding their sons. He dips into opium, orgies, blackmail and along the way develops an increasingly cruel edge that takes him from pleasure seeking fop to cold-hearted killer.
Typically Synetic follows a fast-paced mostly mute, 90-minute formula. Many past productions have succeeded using this recipe. For “Dorian Gray,” they’ve veered from the course. At two-and-a-half hours, it combines spates of wordy dialogue intercut with choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili’s endlessly imaginative, athletic dance movement for which the company is best known.
And though heavier on witticisms and lyricism than action (despite a murder-filled plotline), “Dorian Gray’s” poetry and foray into the unreal give director Paata Tsikurishvili a lot to play with. Rather than a static painting, the picture is portrayed by Synetic veteran Philip Fletcher, allowing Dorian to interact and struggle with his likeness — these curious and sometimes combative interactions are the most interesting part of the play. As the portrait, Fletcher (who is gay) changes from enigmatically beautiful to hideously debauched, effectively demonstrating Dorian’s excessively naughty behavior. Fletcher’s is a strong and graceful performance.
With his gravity defying backside and enviable abs, Tolendo’s Dorian is the envy of his contemporaries including besotted portraitist and eventual victim Basil (Robert Bowen Smith) and Lord Henry who revels in his ageless friend’s possibilities to continue on a path of evil indefinitely. But despite a good long run of nastiness, Dorian grows tired and reconsiders his wicked ways.
Daniel Pinha’s versatile set is made up of stark metal frames suspended at different heights, beautifully fostering a complete multimedia experience. It’s clear from Coin K. Bills’ wonderfully evocative lighting and Kendra Rai’s gorgeous late Victorian costumes and orgy gear (including Dorian’s tight pleather briefs) that Synetic’s once shallow pockets have grown deservedly deeper in recent years.
While Wilde identified with Dorian, Basil and Lord Harry, his most worldly, pithiest philosophies are voiced through the self-serving aristocrat Lord Henry, haughtily delivered by Carlson. Maxims spoken to Dorian include “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” and “to get back my youth, I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early or be respectable.”
Other than Wilde’s clever words, the play is mostly devoid of wit, which seems a missed opportunity since Synetic productions are typically peppered with amusing movement bits. Here, they take their decadence and immorality quite seriously.
And while the exchanges between Carlson’s Lord Henry and Tolentino Dorian gives insight into the title character’s motives and emotional turmoil, the play’s best moment are not spoken. And though this production is without Synetic’s more virtuosic choreographic moves, there are moments of sheer ingenuity. For instance, when Dorian visits an opium den, Irina Tsikurishvili uses splattered Day-Glo paint and a plastic screen to transform one more orgy gone wrong into a stunningly dramatic tableau. It’s just another inspired Synetic moment. And this is why even though “Dorian Gray” is not the company’s most sterling effort, it’s still something beautiful and not to be missed.