Through Two Peepers in Tune with the Times

Dorian

In creating a stage version of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," Oscar Wilde's novel about the portrait that aged and the man who didn't, it might be tempting to give the classic story any of several 21st-century spins.

The portrait, for instance, might be some hologramish, digitized thing that morphs before the audience's eyes. Or Wilde's many insightful lines about the longing and regret that come with growing old ("Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!") could be delivered by boomerish actors in relaxed-fit Levis.

Mercifully, the Irish Repertory Theater resists such temptations in this "Dorian Gray," adapted for the stage by Joe O'Byrne. Mr. O'Byrne also directed this sometimes odd but generally intriguing show, which stays as true to the Wilde story as is possible in a two-and-a-half-hour truncation.

Practically everyone knows the story, either from reading it in school, from seeing the 1945 movie version or through osmosis: Dorian Gray (played here with an eerie remoteness by Crispin Freeman) is a good-looking young fellow who wants to stay that way, and his wish that a portrait do his aging for him is magically granted. But Dorian has a nasty streak of heartlessness, which his friend Lord Henry (Daniel Pearce) helps cultivate, and the portrait does more than just age; it reflects the evil of Dorian's soul.

Mr. O'Byrne knows that the tale is too famous to hold any shock value, and instead his adaptation finds its surprises in rediscovering Wilde's wit and language. The Lord Henry character gets most of the Wilde-icisms, many of them still ringing with relevance, or at least sounding as if they still ring with relevance. ("The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes.") Mr. Pearce's delivery of these asides sometimes becomes irritating, but that may be intentional; Lord Henry is an irritating fellow.

A character called Shadow One (Paul Anthony McGrane) hovers over everything, serving as narrator. Masks and chants and ticking clocks fill the evening with portent, and Brian Nason's wonderfully stingy lighting adds to the effect, though it may also induce headaches.

Is seeing the play as rewarding as reading or rereading the book? Nah. But for those who have no intention of picking up the book, it's a welcome reminder that while every picture tells a story, some pictures tell particularly good stories.

Love,

Michael


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