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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Michael Raver's excellent stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel keeps the writer's famous wit intact.

Ned Noyes and Sam Underwood
in The Picture of Dorian Gray
(© Rachael Shane)
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is brought to vivid life in Michael Raver's excellent stage adaptation of the novel, receiving its world premiere from Sonnet Repertory Theatre at Signature Center.

The show focuses on the interconnected friendships amongst painter Basil Hallward (Ned Noyes), Lord Henry Wotton (Roger Clark), and the titular Dorian Gray (Sam Underwood). Basil's portrait of the latter man is so perfect that Dorian wishes that he could remain as youthful as he appears in it, and that it would be the painting that would instead grow older.

It's a wish spurred on by Lord Henry, who fills the young man's head with heretofore undreamt of ideas and philosophies in regards to taking advantage of his youthful good looks while he still has them. It also comes true in the most extraordinary way, as Dorian indeed remains physically unblemished while his portrait alters in an ultimately hideous manner as Dorian's own sins mount up.

What makes Raver's work so effective is that he judiciously prunes Wilde's original text while still keeping the writer's famous wit intact, particularly in the bon mots tossed off by Lord Henry. Quin Gordon's spare staging is mostly effective, with Foley artist and musician Sydney Shepherd providing the sound effects to go along with a number of mimed actions.

Still, there are some missteps, the most egregious being Shepherd's sung underscoring of Basil recounting his first meeting with Dorian. Accompanied by a dimming of the lights by lighting designer David A. Sexton, it has an unintentionally comic effect, provoking snickers from audience members rather than drawing them into Basil's tale.

This is particularly unfortunate given the wonderfully crafted performance by Noyes, who captures the joy, envy, sadness, and betrayal that Basil feels so deeply -- most of which is spurred on by his unrequited love for Dorian. For his part, Underwood nicely embodies the beauty and innocence that first attracts Basil to Dorian, and credibly charts the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic shifts that the character undergoes.

The actor also shares a palpable chemistry with Clark's Lord Henry, whose sonorous voice is key to Henry's seduction and corruption of Dorian. Rounding out the cast are William Connell and Hanley Smith, who portray numerous roles in the show.

At play's end, there may be some momentary confusion as to Dorian's final fate to those unfamiliar with the novel. But this could be easily clarified in the staging of that moment, and does not unduly detract from the overall effectiveness of the production.