Rock music clues us in to the setting change in playwright Paul Edwards’ adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic tale The Picture of Dorian Gray. For fellow boomers in the crowd who may have been raised on tv broadcasts of the oldie black and white 40’s film of this story (Peter Lawford! Angela Landsbury! Donna Reed! and more!), this writer suggests you forget the story you knew at the door.
Here instead is more the essence of Wilde’s novel, and in fact, Scott Olson as the corrupting Henry Wotten speaks like Oscar Wilde himself. More, Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) is not just any libertine, but a very gay one in the Reagan times when nobody quite knew what caused the plague and when religious zealots in the public square said that it was God’s comeuppance and punishment for sodomy. If you too lived through those times and lost a friend or two before the cocktail came to be, you might find yourself squirming at the reminder of those blame-the-victim times.
City Lit Theater Production Unlike Movie
In this play, unlike the movie, we don’t have any attempt at special effects to make the portrait grotesque as Gray continues on his dissolute path. And, it’s a photograph of Gray, not a painting. Nor do we have a set that feels 70’s especially.
What we do have is a script full of inside theater world laugh lines, and more than a few moments of very good acting throughout by the entire cast. Javier Ferreira could be the poster boy for a narcissistic disorder in a psychiatric diagnostic manual—never overplaying his lines. Especially in Act II, Scott Olson pierces us as he presents himself covered with AIDS lesions. Ryan Leonard, playing a Vietnam soldier spit upon at airports or a closet case trying to protect his secret identity, was a standout in every moment when he hit the stage.
Yet, from this reviewer’s viewpoint, the actors are battling a script that doesn’t seem to sing. One gets a sense that the script was better as a notion, than as it actually turned out.
One tip is to suspend judgment of the play until Act II, because it does pick up pace and impact, at least by this writer’s lights. Those who have not read Wilde’s novel or seen one or another movie rendition might enjoy this more.
Thru April 15
Fridays and Saturdays 7:30 PM
Sundays 3:00 PM
City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue
$32 (discounts for seniors and students available)
For tickets and more information visit the City Lit Theater website.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago