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The Picture of Dorian Gray at Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
September 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times

Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

If I told you Synetic Theater was producing one of its much-lauded plays from their Silent Shakespeare series, you might have an inkling as to what to wrap your brain around. You’d also have to wait until early next year when they reprise two of those plays – – their original production of Hamlet…The Rest is Silence and their latest interpretation of Twelfth Night. In the same vein if I were to describe a play as comedic or compellingly poignant, then too, you might have a notion of what sort of an evening to expect. But Director Paata Tsikurishvili wishes to disabuse his audience of either complacency or expectation, which is exactly how he likes it.

As in the book by Oscar Wilde, Dorian is a man obsessed with youth and beauty – – a supreme narcissist who uses a portrait of himself by his artist friend Basil to take on the aging process while he remains young and virile. When Dorian meets the diabolical Lord Henry, whose affection for him seems boundless, his sense of morality eludes him and he descends into a life of debauchery. “There’s only one way to get rid of temptation, and that is to give in to it,” Lord Henry urges, in one of his many instructions to Dorian.

In Synetic’s version the painting itself becomes a living interactive character, first luring and later haunting, the murderous Dorian as he rages against evil and death. Witticisms from Wilde are scattered throughout the dialogue and usually delivered by the appropriately snide and derogatory Lord Henry.

Kathy Gordon as Lady Carlisle and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

Kathy Gordon as Lady Carlisle and Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray. Photo by Koko Lanham

When Dorian and Henry go to the theater to see an actress Dorian has fallen for, they become part of an audience seated on benches facing us. Does art imitate life? Here it does, as we follow the hilarious reactions of the viewers to a bad piece of theater. It’s a clever concept that uses the method of “topsy-turvy”, a popular device of the period. Also harkening back to early stagecraft, Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills employs vaudeville-style footlights and spotlights of yellow and green, reminiscent of the absinthe fairy, to highlight the evil influence of Lord Henry.

Original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze uses electronica to create an amorphous, any-century mood, while Set Designer Daniel Pinha brings the stage to the audience with the use of clear interlocking acrylic panels as a stage surround. In a hyper-kinetic sadomasochistic scene, using a giant hookah as the central prop, vinyl-clad dancers writhe and thrust (Miley Cyrus eat your little twerking heart out!) in a drug-induced frenzy inside a virtual den of iniquity. The panels screen the audience from flying spatters of day glow paint from the orgy contained within its walls.

It is the paradox of the strait-laced Victorian society in which Dorian and his friends cavort, and the dissolute underbelly of that society that present the perfect palette for the spectacular beauty of Synetic’s dancers and their sinuous movements.

Robert Bowen Smith as Basil, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray and Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Robert Bowen Smith as Basil, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray and Joseph Carlson as Lord Henry. Photo by Koko Lanham.

Dallas Tolentino is a magnetic and intriguing Dorian Gray, a dandy seeking reformation and redemption without the necessary willpower. “We live in the native land of the hypocrite,” he remarks. Joseph Carlson lends a marvelously Faustian swagger to the soulless Lord Henry, a proper English gentleman in the business of corruption, while Philip Fletcher plays the “Portrait” with astonishing physical prowess and subtlety. The pure-of-heart Basil is elegantly played by Robert Bowen Smith, who gives the drama the requisite good-to-evil ratio.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, as seen by Dramaturg Nathan Weinberger, is an erotic, Freudian-fueled portrait of Victorian England literally laid bare – – a circus riot of id, ego and super ego dished up in an erotic maelstrom of physicality as only Synetic Theater, with its magnificent classically-trained Georgian dancers, can imagine.

Highly recommended. Suitable for adults only.

Through November 3rd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City. For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Joe Carlson as Lord Henry, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray, Robert Bowen Smith as Basil and the Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham

Joe Carlson as Lord Henry, Dallas Tolentino as Dorian Gray, Robert Bowen Smith as Basil and the Ensemble. Photo by Koko Lanham

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