at Theatre@Boston Court
Profound ironies are at the heart of Oscar Wilde's 1891 novella The Picture of Dorian Gray. As if to forestall the storm of protests that greeted his then-shocking narrative, Wilde wrote in his preface: "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written." Yet his classic—about a beautiful young man exchanging his soul for the chance to remain eternally young, as his inner ugliness leads to tragedy—could be interpreted as a cautionary moral parable. In his textually faithful but otherwise adventurous adaptation, director Michael Michetti explores this and other cerebral themes in an absorbing and literate staging.
Though Michetti has assembled a splendid ensemble, the driving force of this lovely production is the aesthetic beauty emanating from the design elements and John Pennington's exciting dance sequences, which illuminate Dorian's fall from grace. Michetti's dialogue and narrated passages combine text from two sources: the novella and a more explicitly homoerotic predecessor that appeared in a literary magazine in 1890. Through Michetti's seamless dovetailing of Pennington's eloquent choreography, Steven Young's stylish lighting, Amanda Seymour's ravishing costumes, and his own scenic design—based on an ingenious picture-frame motif—the result is visual poetry of a high order.
Inhabiting this alluring world are multifaceted characters, played with humor and poignancy. As the doomed titular antihero, Steve Coombs fashions a finely nuanced portrayal, underlining the story's moral ambiguity. As the manipulative Lord Henry Wotton, who seduces Dorian into a hedonistic, amoral lifestyle, the superb Andrew Borba balances the character's contemptible nature with his scintillatingly witty dialogue. J. Todd Adams' performance as the artist who creates the portrait of Dorian provides an effective counterpoint as a fully empathetic character, obsessed with his idealized notion of Dorian. Ensemble members playing an assortment of smaller roles and doubling as dancers are Josh Gordon, Jamison Hebert, McKerrin Kelly, and Kerry Michaels. Additional fine support comes from Annie Abrams, Jeremy Glazer, Dale Sandlin, Amy Tolsky, and Jacob Witkin. Michetti's incisive portrait of Victorian Sturm und Drang transcends melodrama to offer a timeless fable of vanity run amuck.
Presented by and at Theatre@Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor, Pasadena. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Feb. 25-Apr. 2. (626) 683-6883.
Reviewed by Les Spindle