Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Amin El Gamal

“Dorian Gray” at A Noise Within: Recreating a Hit

Dorian Craig Schwartz 01

Frederick Stuart, Amin El Gamal (rear) and Colin Bates as Dorian in “A Picture of Dorian Gray” at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Of all of Oscar Wilde’s creations, the overall theme of “A Picture of Dorian Gray” has most become a part of the English language. References to a portrait in a closet going to hell have appeared in any number of literary genres, and many who have never actually been exposed to Wilde’s story know in general what that reference means: someone who is dissolute in some way or another without it showing.

What may be less well known is the odd combination of license and Victorianism with which it is invested, or the more homoerotic tone of the original story Wilde himself had to tone down considerably when the work went from its magazine debut to the permanence of book form. Now Michael Michetti’s adaptation of “Dorian” has been revived and is once again directed by its adaptor at A Noise Within in Pasadena, 12 years after its wildly popular premiere at The Theatre at Boston Court (now Boston Court Pasadena), where Michetti is co-Artistic Director.

Although I often object strenuously to any sense of being wedded to the first presentation of a particular play, here there is a need to make some comparisons. Not only is the adaptation by the same person, but the director is the same. What have time and a difference of venue meant to this work?. In a play taken virtually word for word from Wilde, perhaps the most obvious, but in some ways the most unfair disadvantage of this production is its Dorian.

Wilde’s Dorian is a young man who radiates almost hypnotically attractive youth and innocence. He shines as a beacon of both to such an extent that the more jaundiced men with whom he comes into contact praise that beauty and youthfulness as both the greatest advantage he has, and the most fleeting. Thus begins the tale.

In Michetti’s first production, actor Steve Coombs’ Dorian was just that – a young man of Byronic beauty with a physique like Michelangelo’s David. At ANW, Colin Bates has an edgier, tougher, stringier aspect, making all the comments about his radiant innocence and Hellenic perfection ring somewhat hollow, not because he is not a fine actor (he definitely is) but because the tale centers so much on the dichotomy between Dorian’s riveting physical image and the increasingly twisted soul beneath.

On the other hand, the theme of a man who seems universally attractive while operating with a complete lack of conscience seems almost prescient, given the news cycle of the last couple of weeks. And so the play itself has more to offer now than perhaps it did before.

Standing out in a strong cast is Amin El Gamal, as the shyly adoring painter Basil. He manages the delicate balance of adoration, gentleness and pent-up emotion necessary to balance the wry, bitter quality of Frederick Stuart’s Lord Henry, the man most responsible for leading Dorian astray. Stuart’s delivery almost always offers hints of snide fatalism, and here that proves just the right irritant.

Beyond these three, Chelsea Kurtz makes fine work of the young actress Dorian’s adoration destroys, Jose Angel Donado exudes contained fury as her vengeful brother, and Daniel Lench sets a standard as Lord Henry’s uncle. Beyond these, a talented ensemble handles the many other characters who float in and out of Dorian’s world as his debauchery increases.

Michetti and James Maloof have designed a set which allows for quick scene changes and an interesting balance between reality and the weirdly dreamlike quality of Wilde’s storytelling. There is a strong sense of pacing and focus, and the choreography of John Pennington helps define the destruction of Dorian’s character with a fluidity which moves the story forward.

Yet, it is hard to buy into this Dorian, and thus into that aforementioned great dichotomy of Wilde’s story: the very Victorian concept of visible sin – of how an evil soul will wrench one’s physical self – and the portrait which twists so the man himself can remain unblemishedly beautiful.

Be aware that this adaptation borrows from both versions of Wilde’s original story, and thus emphasizes far more than the more easily acquired print edition the homoeroticism which underscored Wilde’s own life. There is also stylistically important full frontal male nudity. To paraphrase a favorite university theater director, if either of these will offend you, then you will be offended.

This play will be performed in repertory with “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”.

What: “A Picture of Dorian Gray”  When: through November 16, 8 p.m. October 19, 20, November 2, 3, and 16; 7 p.m. October 28, November 11; 7:30 p.m. November 15; 2 p.m. October 20, 28, November 2, 3, and 11  Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena   How Much: from $25, student rush with ID an hour before performance $20  Info: 626-356-3121 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

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Witches Rule the Dark in A Noise Within’s “MacBeth”

Elijah Alexander is the ill-fated "MacBeth" at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Elijah Alexander is the ill-fated “MacBeth” at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Like any big Shakespeare fan, I collect productions of “MacBeth.” This dark and cynical tale contains some of the Bard’s finest language, and its focus on the rapidity with which ambition can overtake ethics certainly resonates in our modern world. Besides, its mystical aspects provide a rich canvas for a good director. What form shall the witches take? How shall the superstitions inherent in the piece be incorporated into the larger play?

Now, at A Noise Within in Pasadena, director Larry Carpenter has set his play in no time and every time, where swords occasionally compete with pistols and modern military garb blends with 15th century armor. In the midst of it all, three amorphous characters take on most of the “minor” roles – servants, doctors, murderers – when not embodying the witches who spark the madness. It’s great entertainment, with its aura of doom and its constant physical engagement with the audience. Even some of those scenes which often become awkward have a consistency of vision which pull them into the spookiness of the whole.

Elijah Alexander is MacBeth, making him a likable man, but a man of physicality – easily manipulated by desires, whether for his honor, his wife, or power – not a man to ruminate on consequences before it is too late. Jules Willcox steams as his lady, radiating a passion which moves MacBeth to murder, yet is not going to be able to control the resulting whirlwind which puts him largely beyond her reach. As these two collide with and repel each other, the rest of a strong cast rounds out the story of their whirlwind.

Matt Orduna’s solidly noble Duncan plays well against MacBeth’s lighter-weight sensibility. Leith Burke’s Banquo becomes the image of the stalwart, if admittedly somewhat ambitious friend, until he is undone. David DeSantos’s resolute, wise MacDuff, gradually working to right the ship of Scotland, echoes Duncan’s nobility and intelligence. Feodor Chin, as that odd combination of wisdom and changeable nature, Duncan’s son Malcolm, makes his vagaries almost make sense. Katie Pelensky and Theo Taplitz, as MacDuff’s doomed wife and son, create a moment of light and home in the midst of the terror.

Amin El Gamal is a witch and a very creepy servant in A Noise Within's "MacBeth" [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Amin El Gamal is a witch and a very creepy servant in A Noise Within’s “MacBeth” [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Still, it is the witches who give the play its focus and fascination. Amin El Gamal, Thom Rivera and Jeremy Rabb create the rich foreboding and mystery which elevates this production, not only in their initial roles but as many other smaller elements – a necessity when spreading 28 major and minor characters among a cast of 17. They also effectively underscore how central the idea of the evil is to everything in MacBeth’s life, as, for example, they enhance the often badly handled “dagger I see before me” speech in a way both literal and spooky. Standout in all of this is El Gamal’s truly creepy androgynous servant, who can make one’s skin crawl as a complicit voice of doom.

Carpenter’s use of ghosts – not just that of Banquo, but the gradually swelling host of MacBeth’s silent, observing victims – emphasizes the sense of doom, and underscores the madness of the storyline. It’s a great concept.

The witches, with puppet enhancements [photo: Craig Schwartz]

The witches, with puppet enhancements [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Their otherworldliness as witches is aided by Sean T Cawelti’s fascinatingly simple, yet creepy bits of puppetry. Susan Gratch’s facile platform of a set and evocative lighting set the tone of dark portents. Jenny Foldenouer’s fanciful costuming allows both the swift-change aspects of the witch characters and the quick definition of everyone else.

In short, from the consistency of tone to the layered portraits to the clever and facile use of witches, this “MacBeth” is a treat. By paring down the often overwhelming volume of persons onstage, the central characters stand out more brightly, and the point is more effectively made. In short, it’s a finely crafted production worthy of sold-out audiences, and a true pleasure for a longtime Shakespeare aficionado such as myself.

What: “MacBeth” When: in repertory, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 22, 8 p.m. April 22, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 12, 7:30 p.m. April 24, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. April 27, 2 p.m and 8 p.m. May 3, 7:30 p.m. May 8, 8 p.m. May 9, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 11 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $34 general, $20 student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

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