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Rage of the Stage's The Picture of Dorian Gray

This is a play about boundless hedonism, written, perhaps appropriately, with no concept of self-denial.



Rage of the Stage Players' The Picture of Dorian Gray, adapted from Oscar Wilde's novel by writer/director James Michael Shoberg, is a largely attractive play about largely attractive people doing profoundly ugly things, much like high school. Like high school, it also goes on a little too long.

This is a play about boundless hedonism, written, perhaps appropriately, with no concept of self-denial. The show is three-and-a-half hours, and even at that length, in many scenes, actors are forced to speak at a mile a minute, giving the audience no chance to digest what is allegedly tremendously witty.

A good adaptation makes a story work with the peculiarities of its new medium. In theater, the entire draw is actors portraying the millions of tiny things that define a character, even non-verbally. There is no need for words alone to suggest voices as thickly as prose requires. A play is watched in one night, rather than over months of serial publication, like the novel, which is presumably another reason why characterizing dialogue feels so repetitious.

What it comes down to is Shoberg's gluttonous unwillingness to cut any words if it can be avoided, denying the primary actors any time to breathe or really emote.

It's a pity so much effort is spent repeating character beats in dialogue, because the actors' appearances portray personality so economically. Beth Shari's costume designs are absolutely gorgeous. The eponymous Picture is well realized by Kari Christensen and, in its moments, genuinely chilling. It's a treat to see sumptuous design on stage, and I only wish the script did more to enhance it.

The show bills itself as steampunk, but this is purely cosmetic: "Victorian" isn't buzzwordy enough anymore. There are cogs painted on the scenery, which never pays off as a motif, and one of the major characters, Lord Henry, spends the entire play with a large eyepiece that extends several inches beyond his face. It mars an otherwise excellent foppish presentation.

Notwithstanding these more prosthetic aesthetics, this play is visually captivating, and very appropriately spooky for the season.

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