Oscar Wilde’s only novel is a compact one, especially for the Victorian era. It’s also unusual in that it deals with homosexual attraction and love. It makes its points acidly. Sadly, the new stage adaptation by director Glory Kadigan, presented by MTWorks through April 14, turns this classic into a lugubrious, drawn-out, and mostly lifeless two-plus hours of theater.
The play begins promisingly, with an interesting staging conception – actors posing in large frames to represent the artist Basil Hallward’s portraits – and opening scenes that introduce us to Francesco Andolfi’s Dorian Gray, a suave blank slate; David Stallings’s witty Lord Henry, master of aphorisms; and Eric Percival’s sad-eyed Basil Hallward, the only character in this telling to evoke sympathy and show depth. All three of these performances, and some among the supporting cast as well, might have turned out solidly had the production been conceived and executed with energy. Sadly, it has practically none.
Instead, it’s fatally loaded down with bloodless expository narrative, bumpy blocking, and laborious line delivery exemplified by, but by no means limited to, the Duchess of Monmouth’s hard-to-understand French accent. Second-act scenes of partial nudity and simulated sex temporarily break the deadened mood set in the first act, showing us the rampage of hedonistic excess Dorian embarks on after making his deal with the Devil. But the pace of the action doesn’t clue us effectively as to the passage of time; characters appearing with grey hair and canes give a disconcertingly sudden indication that years have gone by.
Somewhat better is the way Kadigan solves the tricky problem of showing us Basil’s supposedly inanimate portrait eerily aging while the flesh-and-blood Dorian remains ever youthful. The technique even culminates in a series of dramatic zombie-horror tableaux at the end. But none of this can begin to save the production from its droning pace and failure to engage.
Through it all, Wilde the writer is recognizable sometimes, especially in Lord Henry’s nonstop witticisms, which can make us laugh in just about any setting. But Wilde’s musings on art, love, and everything else come through watery and tepid. Stallings and the rest of the cast do what they can: Maureen O’Boyle preens amusingly as the Duchess of Harley, and Andolfi has some powerful moments that feel like they’re poking their way in from a more lively play being performed in parallel in an adjoining theater. Percival’s whole, affecting performance feels like that too. Craig Napoliello’s dark, simple set effectively evokes the horror-story setting, and Rachel Dozier-Ezell’s costumes fit the bill. It’s much too little, though. Something happened that I never thought could: I was bored by Oscar Wilde.