reviews – Dorian

The reviews for Dorian are in and they’re top-notch. Don’t miss this show.

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“smashing design”, “gorgeous design” -Christopher Piatt

Chicago Tribune
`Dorian’ a blend of dialogue, movement

By Nina Metz
Special to the Tribune
Published August 11, 2006

Were he with us today, Oscar Wilde probably would roll his eyes at the tools of modern vanity — the nips, the tucks, the Botox and spray-on tans. This fixation with youth and beauty is hardly different than the one explored (and exploited) by Wilde in his only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” first published in the late 19th Century, and currently adapted for the stage as “Dorian,” by Ben Lobpries and Tommy Rapley for Bailiwick Repertory’s 2006 Pride Festival.

This is the second recent effort from Lobpries and Rapley — House Theatre company members who collaborated earlier this year on “Ellen Under Glass,” a production that attempted (and failed) to fuse dance and theater into a single language. Their accomplishments this time around in “Dorian” are more complex and intriguing.

In part, this is because they’re working with a better story. Dorian’s monomaniacal concerns about his looks drive him to make a pact with the devil; his portrait will do his aging for him, while the real-life Dorian remains unchanged — regardless of his increasingly hedonistic and loathsome behavior.

What Rapley, as director and choreographer, has devised are moments of dance and exaggerated movements spliced into scenes of naturalistic dialogue, resulting in two styles — the abstract and the naturalistic — intertwined into one.

There is something hallucinatory about it, and it works best in scenes that portray mundane actions. Dorian lights a cigarette, and the surrounding ensemble, doubled over, heaves and inhales with every puff. Dorian’s corrupter, Lord Henry — called Harry here — never drinks his cocktail but tips it back over his head, smoothing his hair in one fluid, Mephistophelian motion.

The portrait, of course, is literally made of flesh (in the guise of Kevin Simmons), and morphs into something horrid with the help of masks and gnarled choreography.

All this physicality highlights certain emotions and behaviors as if with a yellow marker. It is a clever and sophisticated way to approach storytelling, and the cast — led by Jamie Abelson as Dorian, Patrick Andrews as Basil (the painter), and Danny Starr as Harry — glides easily between exposition and movement. These actors are capable dancers, as well.

Rapley has paid close attention to visual details with the help of scenic designer Collete Pollard and lighting designers Lee Keenan and Rebecca Barrett, who have created simple but transformative columns lit from within. The wardrobe, from costume designer Debbie Baer, also matches the script’s split personality: period clothing is mixed in with a 1980s look from Olivia Newton-John’s “Let’s Get Physical” video.

Chicago Reader
The Wilde Life

By Albert Williams | August 11, 2006

OSCAR WILDE WAS THE PREEMINENT SATIRIST of Victorian society, but his stories and plays endure because their dilemmas still resonate. No writer dramatized the pleasures and pitfalls of secrecy more powerfully than he did. Wilde—whose career was ruined when his homosexuality came to light in 1895—saw the need to hide one’s secret self as a fundamental aspect of the human condition; his characters go to extraordinary lengths to conceal their true natures. “What Dorian Gray’s sins are no one knows,” Wilde wrote in defense of his controversial 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. “Each man sees his own sin in Dorian Gray.”

In the novel, handsome libertine Dorian Gray becomes the living emblem of a “new hedonism” advocated by his decadent mentor, Lord Harry Wotton. Mysteriously, as the years pass and his misdeeds mount, Dorian never ages, nor does he show signs of guilt or worry. But a painting of him hidden in his attic shows him growing old and ugly, its increasingly cruel visage reflecting his escalating corruption. As his obsession with the accusing canvas grows, Dorian spirals into self-destruction.

Dorian, director-choreographer-writer Tommy Rapley’s imaginative, homoerotic new dance-theater adaptation, updates the story to 1980s America—think Bret Easton Ellis’s novel Less Than Zero and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s video for “Relax.” Rapley and coauthor Ben Lobpries have paraphrased or trimmed most of Wilde’s literate prose, replacing it with distinctly un-Wildean dialogue like “Wow! Is that really what I look like?” and “He’s so hot. Is he queer?” But this visually striking production captures the tale’s essence. Employing dance, mime, and stylized gesture, it focuses on Dorian, Harry, and artist Basil Hallward, whose portrait of Dorian—a gift from the infatuated painter to his self-absorbed model—unleashes a curse. The dynamic is symbolic of the human condition, with Dorian caught between his best and worst instincts—or, in religious terms, between a tempting devil and a loving but disappointed God.

The other important figure in Dorian is the painting itself, which comes to life to encourage Dorian’s wickedness, even to assist him in murder. Dancer Kevin Simmons twists his classically proportioned torso into monstrous contortions while wearing a series of increasingly grotesque masks. This is by far the creepiest stage or screen version of Dorian Gray I’ve seen, including the 1945 Albert Lewin film featuring the famous Ivan Albright painting that hangs at the Art Institute—it’s like watching a Caravaggio canvas turn into a Francis Bacon horror show. With his blandly pretty schoolboy looks, Jamie Abelson makes a perfect Dorian, cool and enigmatic even when he’s callously dumping his actress girlfriend because she’s not the perfect Juliet (she kills herself as a result), blackmailing an ex-boyfriend, committing murder, or dancing a dangerous pas de deux with his own portrait. Danny Starr and Patrick Andrews are excellent as serpentine Harry and earnest Basil. Collette Pollard’s simple set, Lee Keenan’s lighting, Debbie Baer’s dandyish costumes, Tracy Otwell’s porcelainlike masks, and Kevin O’Donnell’s moody techno sound track all enhance the impact of this provocative 90-minute one-act.

Time Out Chicago / Issue 76: August 10–16, 2006

Review | Dorian | Bailiwick Repertory. Adapted from Oscar Wilde by Ben Lobpries and Tommy Rapley. Directed by Rapley. With ensemble cast.

Jamie Ableson, left, and Kevin Simmons show off their pecs

Oscar Wilde’s novel about physical versus moral beauty is like an exquisite box holding a rather mundane gift. The gothic tale of a young man who remains beautiful while his portrait takes on the physical manifestations of his sins verges on the twin territories of moral fable and one-trick-ponydom. Only Wilde the storyteller and raconteur can transmute it into something more.

In translating Wilde’s tale to a dance opera set in the New York art scene of the 1980s, Rapley pulls a similar trick, replacing verbal intricacy with visual fireworks. Everything about this production looks gorgeous, from its elegant set to its exquisite costumes (designed by Collette Pollard and Debbie Baer, respectively). But the real star of the show is the dance. Rapley the choreographer constructs a potent visual vocabulary, one flexible enough to deliver both a psychological punch and a striking stage picture. Carefully treading the line between literal and abstract, he builds a solid narrative framework with plenty of space for the free play of imagination. And his finely tuned ensemble is right there with him, melding movement and emotion to startling effect.

And that spell holds, at least until the production opens its collective mouth. Rapley and Lobpries’s dialogue—often from Wilde’s novel—is rarely a logical extension of the dance. By saying too much, too definitively, it detracts from the rich mystery of Rapley’s visual iconography. Thankfully, these verbal distractions are sporadic, leaving one to revel in the far more sumptuous and evocative wordless portrait.

—Kay Daly