Synetic Theater The Picture of Dorian GrayBy David Siegel • Sep 28th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Synetic Theater: (Info) (Web)
Synetic Theater in Crystal City, Arlington, VA
Through November 3rd
2:30 with intermission
$40-$50/$35-$45 Seniors, Military/$20 Student, Under 25
Reviewed September 26th, 2013
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” are words written by Oscar Wilde in his The Picture of Dorian Gray. So how does a theater company convey the heat and passion of those words into an audience without chasing some away, or boring others.
Fortunately, there is Synetic Theater’s adventurous ethos around. As Paata Tsikurishvilli, Artistic Director, Synetic Theater wrote in his program notes, “While many adaptations of Dorian Gray are largely similar to one another, we have attempted to introduce some novelties.”
The brains and artistic muscle behind Synetic Theater continue to take the company on new journeys; not standing pat with the same old formula. For many, the well-known, admired formula has been 90 minutes of jaw dropping sensual, physical movement with verbal silence punctuated with original high-end music compositions by Konstantine Lortkipanidze.
Well, as the Synetic press material for Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray states, “this production has dialogue.” It does indeed. Dorian Gray is a most text driven production running two loaded, voluptuous acts, chock-full of words, movement, music and multi-media. While not so much revelatory, it is a success in its straight-forward attitude.
What Synetic has accomplished with Dorian Gray is a major swerve in its artistic focus. Rather than an eye-popping production focused on the movement of sensual muscular and lithe bodies to communicate “silently” the classics, this time the Synetic folk use more traditional dialogue to convey the nuances of emotions, thoughts and actions.
First a quick summary of The Picture of Dorian Gray adapted from the Wilde book published in Great Britain in 1890. At the time, it was considered scandalous; greeted with outrage for its take on morality or lack thereof. The Synetic take on the book is to focus on three male characters using them as the center point for the entire production in their interactions and mind-sets. But as often with a group of three, one slowly fades away either by design or acting prowess.
It is the story of a narcissistic, ultimately self-destructive young man, Dorian Gray (skilled and talented Dallas Tolentino), who repelled by the thought of his own aging. That lines and blemishes might appear on his handsome youthful face was repugnant. That the ravages of aging would take hold, leaving him unable to perform, in an age before the manufacturing of a little blue pill was frightful.
Gray becomes the subject of a painting by artist friend Basil, (projecting vigor then becoming understated, into a slowly vanishing manner as portrayed by Robert Bowen Smith), who is totally besotted by the outward beauty of his subject. Gray also meets the decadent dandy, Lord Henry Wotton (impervious, sneering, ram-rod Joseph Carlson) and is smitten by his “modern” ways of seeing how life should be lived: “Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.”
With what initially seems an off-handed remark, Gray barters his soul to ensure that the portrait of himself ages rather than himself. From then on, he lives a sinful life, staying youthful in appearance as the painting ages, becoming ravaged with each sin he commits. And there are sins aplenty including the rough treatment of an impressionable, young actress, Sibyl Vane (Rachael Jacobs in her Synetic debut) and the homoerotic hints in the Wilde book made more visible.
The production’s Dorian Gray painting is thoroughly alive; not merely a flat slab of paint. The key role of the painting is played in a strongly heart-beating, very physical three-dimensional doppelgänger rendering by Helen Hayes award recipient Philip Fletcher. He is the mirror to Gray, always there reminding him of his true self until punishment for sinful deeds is delivered.
Not all grey-toned nastiness and darkness however. There is comic relief including from the three witches of Macbeth that find their way into a delightful movement synchronized appearance.
Technically the production is a visual banquet with its multi-media work. Set design by Daniel Pinha with projected images elevate the senses, adding dramatic flair. The set, which opens at first to picture frames, turns into movable transparent screens, used as added cast members with plenitude; abstract imagination, blobs of color, and unhinged grey-toned hands float about. A scene at the end of Act I, reminded your reviewer of Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit” with its hookah use and the ever-changing blobs of day glow color that get thrown about.
The costumes by Kendra Rai run the gamut from a delightful puffy sleeved shirt worn by Dorian Gray and the portrait (oh puffy sleeve Seinfeld episode!), to Lord Henry’s dandy’s frock coated outfits, to Basil’s rough-around-the-edges artistic look. There are, of course, women’s’ outfits for the ensemble that include cream fleshy color lingerie-like items revealing the utter beauty of the human figure, with later scenes including crimson colored items to match the stage goings-on.
As usual, Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s original compositions are not the least bit anemic. The music adds emotion and background, whether in movement driven scenes or scene changes. There is a run of music from mood setting piano work to more full-throated orchestration.
A change from the Synetic norm, the Irina Tsikurishvili choreographed movements are not “the” focus. At times the on-stage choreography even seems “inserted” and too long without being totally integral; draining the forward trajectory of the production. But physical movement does give awareness of the urgency of what is going on in Gray’s mind; the disrupted dimensions of his own disintegration.
“Some things are more precious because they don’t last long.” wrote Wilde. Synetic’s interpretation of Dorian Gray is well worth a trip into its text-driven journey. The production shows the maturing of a company willing to go well beyond the box of tricks that brought it fame and notice. Try it out with eyes wide open. Sticking the landing is not always the most important or memorable thing in either athletics or art.
In the decade since our last adaptation of an Oscar Wilde piece — Salomé — Synetic Theater has progressed by leaps and bounds. We have not only found a new home in Crystal City, but have also been privileged to perform on stages in New York and Philadelphia, for colleges in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and, most recently, at the renowned Rustaveli Theatre in the Republic of Georgia. The generosity and enthusiasm of our donors and audiences seem limitless, but what gratifies me perhaps more than anything else has been watching the growth of our company’s skills since Synetic’s inception in 2001. I therefore felt it was time, that our skills had reached a level at which we could finally tackle the visual and verbal “melting pot” that is Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
With its focus on implied, suggested abstractions and its heavily stylized, supernatural qualities, Wilde’s novel is, I believe, a perfect fit for Synetic, allowing us the opportunity to use Wilde’s language — his poetry — to compliment and reflect the similarly poetic physicality for which our company has become known. The story is also a timeless and universal one, carrying the same relevance at the dawn of the 21st century as it did at the end of the 19th.
It is not by simple chance, then, that the artist Basil Hallward paints Dorian as “Narcissus marveling at his own reflection in a silver pool”: in our modern era, when social media has created an unprecedented blur of sexual boundaries and a preoccupation with self, The Picture of Dorian Gray has become a prescient statement and symbol of our times. A blank-slate innocent poisoned with an obsession over self-image, Dorian Gray himself becomes very much a modern Narcissus, his charm and lethal vanity luring in and ultimately destroying both himself and all those around him, through a Faustian bargain that keeps him forever young, beautiful, immortal.
While many adaptations of Dorian Gray are largely similar to one another, we have attempted to introduce some novelties. First, rather than a static two-dimensional painting, we have created a living, breathing and very abstract Portrait; a fully interactive and highly versatile figure. It is through this character that all of Dorian’s degradation is mirrored, as the Portrait becomes the personification of Lord Henry’s heartless philosophy — a philosophy which, like the Portrait itself, takes complete control and possession of Dorian’s life. It is through this live and spectral Portrait that we can now fully connect with Dorian throughout his journey, seeing him through his reflection’s eyes, not merely as a petulant child, but as a truly tragic, tortured, and haunted soul.
We have also chosen to focus on the central prism of the story — the trio of Dorian, Basil, and the Mephistophelian Lord Henry. To quote Wilde himself: “Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry is what the world thinks of me; Dorian is what I would like to be — in other ages perhaps.” Basil’s lightness, Lord Henry’s more sinister darkness, combining into the “Gray” caught between them, are not only variations of the author himself, but also create the perfectly balanced and triangulated relationship that forms the beating heart of Wilde’s tale.
Finally, while we would never lay claim to the “perfection” he describes, it seems fitting to close with some more of Wilde’s words, spoken when Dorian was used as evidence against him during his trial for supposed “indecencies”: “My story is an essay on decorative art,” he said. “It reacts against the crude brutality of plain realism. It is poisonous if you like, but you cannot deny that it is also perfect, and perfection is what we artists aim at.”
Paata Tsikurishvili, Founding Artistic Director, Synetic Theater
Photos by Koko Lanham
- Ensemble: Rachel Burkhardt
- Basil: Robert Bowen Smith
- Lord Henry: Joseph Carlson
- Portrait: Philip Fletcher
- Lady Carlisle: Kathy Gordan
- James: Mitchell Grant
- Sybil: Rachel Jacobs
- Ensemble: Irina Kavasdze
- Dorian Gray: Dallas Tolentino
- Alan: Vato Tsikurishvili
- Director: Paata Tsikurishvili
- Choreographer: Irina Tsikurishvili
- Dramaturg: Nathan Weinberger
- Assistant Director/Music Director: Irakli Kavsadze
- Assistant Director/Fight Choreographer: Ben Cunis
- Set Design -Daniel Pinha
- Costumes: Kendra Rai
- Lighting Design: Colin K. Bills
- Multimedia Design: Riki K
- Original Music: Konstantine Lortkipanidze
- Vocal Coaching: Robert Smith
- Sound Design and Effects: Thomas Sowers
- Stage Manager: Marley Giggey
Disclaimer: Synetic Theater provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9771.
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on ShowBizRadio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, Alexandria's American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with Arlington's American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.