Chicago Theater Review: DORIAN (House Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 15, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Cole Simon and Donnell Williams in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.A spectacle that swirls and thrills, The House Theatre of Chicago’s Dorian has updated Oscar Wilde’s classic cautionary tale from Victorian music halls to today’s club scene. Their “promenade” production also transforms an ambulatory audience into vintage voyeurs, even stalkers. As they perambulate around the capacious Chopin stage (a seating area is also available), theatergoers, many attractive enough on opening night to be Dorian’s cohorts, closely observe Wilde’s still-powerful parable of the invisibility of corruption.

(Front L-R) Patrick Andrews (standing), Cole Simon (seated), Alex Weisman (standing behind). (Back L-R) Donnell Williams, Kelley Abell, Ben Burke, Manny Buckley, Lauren Pizzi, Ally Carey, Monica Thomas, Blake McKay and Bryan Conner in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.Profanely re-imagined by writers Ben Lobpries and Tommy Rapley (who also directed and choreographed), with stunning video portraiture by Jeff Klapperich and a kick-ass, adrenaline-pumping score by Kevin O’Donnell, The Picture of Dorian Gray takes on a 2014 intensity (you can almost leave out the “r” in “Gray”). It’s as if Project Runway ran straight–so to speak–onto the highway to hell. Beautiful Dorian Gray’s rush to ruin seems all the more unstoppable as migrating audience members, creating their own gapers’ blocks as they gawk in wonder, are helpless to intervene.

Cole Simon and Patrick Andrews in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.Under Collette Pollard’s illuminated columns and flanked by an increasingly deformed and demented portrait of Dorian (created from ceramics and other concrete objects and reflecting the title character’s devolution into malice and murder), the 12-member ensemble erupt into breakout dance binges. Eerily lit by Rebecca R. Barrett and Lee Keenan, they move platforms about to provide essential sight lines for the stirring action. Above all, they manically mimic the outsized emotions triggered by Dorian’s descent into homegrown damnation.

Alex Weisman (center) and Cole Simon (right) with ensemble in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.For all the modernizing that speeds the story (two hours in two acts with an on-stage cash bar intermission), it’s true to Wilde’s alternately decadent and edifying lesson in limitations. Under the malign influence of cynical, foul-mouthed art critic Lord Henry (here Manny Buckley’s salacious Harry), handsome Dorian (Cole Simon, picture perfect in face) becomes a tabula rasa for hedonistic abandon. Simon’s swinger slowly succumbs to a toxic narcissism that makes him capable of anything.

Cole Simon (portrait art by Jeff Klapperich) in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.The decay, of course, is superbly symbolized by the infamous portrait created by Basil (Patrick Andrews, excellent as Dorian’s besotted artist adorer). The canvas reflects Dorian’s wickedness even as the real boy’s perfect face never ages over decades of debauchery. His birth scar disappears and all wounds fade into flawless flesh.

The downside is that Dorian’s fountain of youth bubbles over in blood.

Completing a coterie who become collateral damage in ageless Dorian’s race to wretchedness is pathetic physician Alan (Alex Weisman), like Basil an all-too-willing victim. Likewise, Kelley Abell’s doomed Sybil, a feckless actress, becomes Dorian’s template for homicide and her daughter Isabelle (lovely Ally Carey) becomes Dorian’s last casualty. Finally, Gladys (Lauren Pizzi), an art-scene maven, is clueless to the cruelty around her. Seven athletic Patrick Andrews and Cole Simon in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.performers back up the dirty deeds with lascivious leaps, choreographed crowd control, and contagious dances of death.

Of course, there remain two things a live production can never deliver in Oscar’s horror story—how everyone but Dorian ages over the years and how Dorian’s face will suddenly and finally reflect his evil portrait. All but making up for this, however, are the increasingly terrifying alterations in Basil’s all-telling (video) painting. These pixels deliver as manic a performance as any on stage.

Cole Simon and Patrick Andrews (standing) in DORIAN by the House Theatre of Chicago.Vice never looked so nasty and so nice.

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photos by Michael Brosilow

House Theatre of Chicago
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division
scheduled to end on May 18, 2014
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