Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

“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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Timeless Silliness: “The Importance of Being Earnest” at A Noise Within

Adam Haas Hunter is Algernon (aka Oscar Wilde) at A Noise Within

Adam Haas Hunter is Algernon (aka Oscar Wilde) at A Noise Within [photo: Craig Schwartz]”

Of all the works of Oscar Wilde, “The Importance of Being Earnest” remains the most commonly produced. This, in part, because the tale is so silly, and in part because it pillories pomposity and rigid morality with such complete delight. Making fun of vapidity, the class system, and the spoiled is always a hit.

Now in a very classy new rendition at A Noise Within, the show offers up some interesting choices, a beautiful setting, and all of that satisfyingly uncomplicated humor. It makes for a relaxing, entertaining evening.

The tale, for someone who somehow has not managed to bump into the thing before, is essentially this: Jack Worthing, a country squire with responsibilities for a young and impressionable ward, has created an alternate persona so he can be frivolous when in London: a fictional brother named Earnest, whose name he adopts upon arrival in the city. As such he becomes engaged to Gwendolyn, the daughter of a noblewoman, who states she cannot marry anyone whose name is not Earnest.

Carolyn Ratteray and Christopher Salazar as Gwendolyn and Jack [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Carolyn Ratteray and Christopher Salazar as Gwendolyn and Jack [photo: Craig Schwartz]

Jack’s closest city friend, Algernon, already adroit at telling tales to avoid social obligations, adopts the persona of Earnest in order to ingratiate himself with Jack’s ward in the country, Cecily. Indeed, he proposes to her. Then Cecily and Gwendolyn meet, and this becomes complicated, to say the least, as they discover they are both engaged to Earnest Worthing. Comedy ensues.

Adam Haas Hunter makes a most engaging Algernon, draping himself across furniture and radiating a rather dissipated innocence. By comparison, Christopher Salazar’s Jack, though engaging in the second act country setting, seems a bit underplayed as the supposedly dissolute Earnest (something not helped by the only uninspired costume in the show).
Cecily and Gwendolyn
Jean Gilpin gives the pompous Lady Bracknell a wry sense of humor along with the usual officiousness, which makes her far more fun to watch. Carolyn Ratteray as Gwendolyn, and Marisa Duchowny as Cecily utter the vapid piffle of their parts with such earnest and convicted intent as to heighten the comic aspects of their moments on stage.

Jill Hill makes a fussy and more than usually bemused Miss Prism, Cecily’s tutor, and Alberto Isaac leers with such innocence at her, as the country parson, that there is great charm in the result. Also worthy of note is Apollo Dukakis, taking on the roles of both Algernon’s and Jack’s household servants with a worldy-wise air in once case and a bemused confusion in the other.

Director Michael Michetti has brought an unusual but logical spin by turning the dilettante Algernon into Wilde himself, complete with flowing locks and moderately outrageous clothes. Operating on a set, by Jeanine A. Ringer, with the feel of a hand-colored pencil drawing, and with costumes by Garry D. Lennon which echo the color scheme and add their own little bit of the florid (with the exception of the instance noted above), there is a unified feeling to this production which does nothing but enhance the comic flow.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is, frankly, difficult to kill, but is far more satisfying in the hands of experts. The production at A Noise Within fits that bill almost all the time, leaving one laughing and charmed by a silliness which has remained constant for over 100 years.

What: “The Importance of Being Earnest” When: In repertory through November 22 – 8 p.m. October 4 and November 8, 14 and 21, 7:30 p.m. October 23 and 13, and 2 p.m. October 5 and November 2, 8, and 22 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40, with student rush and group ticket prices available Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

Oscar Wilde on Truth vs Prudence: “An Ideal Husband” in Sierra Madre

The evil Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) meets her match in Lord Goring (Michael Matthys) in "An Ideal Husband" at Sierra Madre Playhouse  [photo: Geoffrey Wade]

The evil Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) meets her match in Lord Goring (Michael Matthys) in “An Ideal Husband” at Sierra Madre Playhouse [photo: Geoffrey Wade]

Oscar Wilde is most widely remembered for his social commentary, particularly in the form of two satiric comedies, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and the somewhat less produced “An Ideal Husband.” Both poke fun at the pomposity and formality of the lives of the Victorian English elite, involve some form of silly situation based on that formality, and come to a conclusion which combines the logical with the remarkable.

Which makes it a great pleasure to see the latter, “An Ideal Husband,” has come to the Sierra Madre Playhouse. There, a fine cast – once they get going – create all the understated, mildly poignant, delightful commentary one expects from a Wilde play. More delightfully, its essential conundrum – the ridiculousness of expecting any human being to be perfect – is as true for our time as it was for Wilde’s, particularly given the play’s political setting.

The tale concerns Sir Robert Chiltern (Jonathon Lamer), a man whose life in politics has brought wealth, prominence, and a reputation for meticulous honesty. It has also brought a wife he loves dearly (Gaby Santinelli), whose love for him, though profound, is based heavily upon her understanding of him as the model man and ideal husband. Then the mysterious Mrs. Cheveley (Ann Noble) arrives from the Continent, bearing a secret of Chiltern’s past and an extortive proposition. Will Chiltern cave in to keep a political indiscretion silent, and preserve his wife’s love, or will he defeat Mrs. Cheveley at the cost of his reputation? The plot thickens.

Under the direction of Gigi Bermingham, the piece has the proper formal feel, and the proper human undertones. Though a wordy and somewhat static first act doesn’t quite overcome potential dullness of exposition, the second half soars – funny, recognizable, engaging and in the end charmingly silly. One wonders how much of that ponderous beginning came from opening night jitters, and how much from directorial lack of action to counteract the preponderance of words. In any case, the play proves delightful, if folks stick it out to the second act.

Certainly, the cast looks and feels appropriate for this Victorian puzzle. Lamer balances passion, position and puzzle well as the embattled Sir Robert. Santinelli makes a warm and motherly wife to him, and it is fun to watch her move past her edges toward a more natural affection. Noble’s icy charm brings a real edge to the villainous Mrs. Cheveley. Some of the best of the play comes from her interactions with Michael Matthys’ Lord Goring, Chiltern’s supposedly bon vivant buddy who proves his eventual rescuer.

Ata Farhadi and Albert Garnica make much of the wise servants of the two households involved. Lizzie Zerebko embodies the determined naiveté of the Victorian debutante, while John Combs and Alexandra Napier give humanity and class consciousness a spin as two of the Chiltern’s upper crust friends.

Kudos must go to Cesar Retana-Holguin for a period-appropriate and facile set. Naila Alladin Sanders has come up with evocatively period-based clothing. Indeed, the technical aspects show a polish which places the piece effortlessly in time.

“An Ideal Husband” has an ironic edge for the modern playgoer. This piece with its discussion of the importance or lack of importance of secrets, and its argument for truth even in the face of public shame, was a hit in London just as Wilde’s own life was unraveling. His own passions were about to land him in jail, as the secret of his homosexuality hit the courtroom. If only his own story could have had a charmingly concocted an ending.

What: “An Ideal Husband” When: Through February 23, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, as well as 7 p.m. Sunday, February 9, and 8 p.m. Thursdays February 13 and 20 Where: Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. in Sierra Madre How Much: $25 general, $22 seniors and students, $15 children under 12 Info: (626) 355-4318 or http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org

Oh, Oscar! – The author’s “Salome” gets harsh treatment in Alhambra

The cast of Mozaic Lizard Theater's "Salome" confront each other and the moon.

NOTE: MY PRINT EDITOR WAS ADVISED THE DAY AFTER THIS REVIEW POSTED THAT THIS PRODUCTION HAS BEEN CLOSED.

I love seeing comparatively obscure works by major authors. Sometimes the plays an author is not known for can tell one a great deal that the famed works, having been so continuously examined, cannot. This is particularly true in the case of a piece like Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” – a work banned in his home country when it was written – as it provides further proof that its author was ahead of his time, as Wilde often was.

So, imagine my excitement when tiny Mosaic Lizard Theater announced their production of “Salome” at their theater in downtown Alhambra. I just wish the production had allowed for any of Wilde’s innovative psychological framework to emerge. As it is, the Lizard production shares more in common with the more pedantic high school drama club offerings than anything which could – as this play should – shock, disturb or teach.

The tale takes off from the Biblical story of Salome, the daughter of King Herod’s wife, and Herod’s predecessor. Herod’s fascination for his virginal but sexually interesting step-daughter is matched, in this telling, by Salome’s passionate attraction to the unattainable John the Baptist – crying his warnings from a cistern being used as Herod’s prison. Romantic yearning and sexual manipulation meet in a startling, psychologically disturbing end.

Or, they should. Although Jose Garcia makes an intense and interesting Herod, that’s just about it. Zach Guzman’s stiff John (called, for obscure reasons, Jokanaan) barks the prophesies with none of the passionate intent which inspires the Salome of the script.

Itzul Virgin is admittedly lovely, but significantly lacking in the sensual energy one expects of Salome herself. Her speeches, often very fast, very quiet and at significant moments aimed upstage into a hole, suffer from unintelligibility. Her final moments of grotesque victory, which should be richly disturbing, fall flat because it all seems kind of by rote. Her dance, choreographed by Calista Ruiz to an odd tune peculiarly reminiscent of “Three Blind Mice,” manages to unsex one of the most famous moments in the Bible.

And, unfortunately, nobody else handles their parts much better. Though Erikson Erise and Ruben Aguilar do decent work with John’s rather myopic guards, Anthony Jr. Suarez makes the potentially tragic foreign captain oddly unmotivated. Bryana Pickford’s version of Salome’s mother seems to be operating at a slightly different RPM from her supposed husband. Under director Jay Parker it’s all just a dull hum, where it should be heated and peculiarly, symbolically sensual.

And there are basic technical flaws, the most egregious of which are the constant mispronunciations of everything from “Chaldeans” to “tapestry.” For this there is no excuse.

One positive note has to be Caudia Estrada’s evocative, colorful costuming. It sets the right tone for what one should be seeing develop. Yet, in the end, this play fails not because it is obscure but because its cast, for the most part, lacks the passion and connection which would make it work. What a pity.

What: “Salome” When: runs indefinitely, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Mosaic Lizard Theater, 112 W. Main St. in Alhambra How Much: $12 general, $10 students/seniors Info: (626) 457-5293 or http://www.lizardtheater.com

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