Other Arts

The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Irish Repertory Theatre

Flicks: Poetic Sacrilege?
by Tim Scannell

Other Arts:

The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Irish Repertory Theatre
(March 22 (world premiere) until May 6)
Based on the novel by Oscar Wilde (1890)
Adapted and directed by Joe O'Byrne

The Irish Rep commissioned this work and Mr. O'Byrne's direction is brilliant and creative, an exquisite choreography of movement and sound. In this new adaptation of the novel (Wilde's ingenious retelling of the Faust legend) debuting at The Irish Repertory Theatre, Crispin Freeman, a tall, slim, beautiful young man is perfectly cast as the wealthy, spoiled, shallow, pleasure-seeking Dorian Gray.

Upon seeing his portrait, painted by the artist Basil, Gray utters the fatal pronouncement, heard by the Devil, that he would give anything and everything to stay as beautiful as the portrait.* The Devil agrees--for a price. Gray lives a life totally devoted to pleasure and thrill-seeking under the tutelage of Lord Henry Wotton, a man given to spouting cynical and clever epigrams. As the years go by, there is no change in Dorian's looks, but the portrait changes, reflecting his true age, as hastened by debauchery, dissipation and moral turpitude. The portrait is Dorian's soul.

Daniel Pearce is totally believable as the witty, self-centered Lord Henry. Andrew Seear is excellent as Basil, the artist whose portrait of Dorian launches the story. Tertia Lynch is lovely to look at and listen to playing Sybil Vane, as are Colleen Madden, who is winning as Lord Henry's witty, tolerant wife, and Angela Pierce as Mrs. Vane. Paul Anthony McGrane is properly menacing as Shadow One. The 1945 Hollywood film starred the inimitable George Sanders as Lord Henry, Hurd Hatfield as Dorian, and Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane, and featured Donna Reed and Peter Lawford (screenplay and direction by Albert Lewin). A 1970 remake, with Helmut Berger as Dorian, did not measure up to the original.

We experience smooth transitions from a drawing room to a garden (filled with birds and butterflies) to a theatre, an attic, a moving carriage, and so on. Beautifully lit tableaux quickly come alive. Kudos to Brian Nason for his amazing lighting, to Akira Yoshimura and Rebecca Vary for the magical set design, and to Bob Flanagan for his fine masks.

Mr. O'Byrne uses a narrator and ensemble to explain what is not evident in the interaction of the players. Individual actors and ensemble members skillfully use masks as they change character and age. We are presented with characters and situations and outcome. It is a vehicle for talents of the director, technicians and performers.

Mr. Wilde was no slouch as a writer or as a playwright. But he wrote Dorian Gray as a novel and a novel it still is in this presentation. The story is told, however, there is no sense of tension between protagonist and antagonist; there is no suspense, no character development. Nevertheless, the spectacluar production values hold one's attention and awe.

It is worth seeing every presentation at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Every production I have had the honor and pleasure of seeing, perfect or not so, has been of such high quality that it has surpassed most of the other theatrical presentations in our city. The theatre's Artistic Director Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciaran O'Reilly are to be commended--and cloned.

Production photos appear at www.geocities.com/bhdorian.

-- EK

[*Wilde had just finished painting the portrait of a young man when a friend remarked how delightful it would be if the youth could remain exactly as he was, while the portrait aged and withered instead.]

The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 W 22nd St
(212) 255-0270

Other Arts:

Flicks: Poetic Sacrilege?
by TimScannell

Now, it might be heresy to state that I am poetically inspired by flicks, but I am. Of course, taking a deep breath, thinking quietly a moment, and concentrating on motion pictures produced after the mid-Sixties, we agree that film is the most fraudulent of the arts; in fact, is not an 'art' at all. The camera lens is our voluntary 2-hour prison, inasmuch as we see only what it points to, whereas words are fusionable atoms which bounce, slide and carom, exploding in a million very personal facets of (shall I say it, April- cruel?) mixed memory and desire.

Light, angle, texture, distance, every iota in film's milieu is controlled by a tyrannical director, whereas a poem's words are ever pristinely birthed out of a new persona and modulated voice (in each poem). Yet those same words, to come alive, simultaneously demand an actively participating reader -- one individual, private word-horde then, interinanimating with one other -- and a unique experience with the history and allusion and irony of Western Civilization, from The Iliad to this morning's headline on Kosovo.

I do, of course, include as 'art' fiction and nonfiction which are, respectively, 'slowpoke' and 'rhetorical' verse. Conversely, the flick wants your eyeballs -- period! Each still -- frozen-frame -- skips across the surface of a real mind like a flat stone ripplin' 'cross a pond: There is no lexical 'verge,' no cognitive 'deep forest' as there is when words and lines combine to make poem qua poem (inner), and reader (outer) interact. Admit it, there just isn't.

One might conclude that I hate film. I love it, and have since the age of 8, happily allowing myself to be a slave to its illusion of motion (discrete, still frames remember), its illusion of participation (spectator-ticket/consumer-popcorn), and its illusion of reality. No? Come, come now, think a moment! What could be more unreal, ersatz and illusory than Citizen Kane, Frankstein or The Sound of Music?

Yet here and now, older and wiser to the guile of this mechanical 'art,' a little more cognizant of the 'buttons' (need/desire) within myself, even a bit more mature than at nine or ten years of age, when I traveled on the electric Aurora & Elgin between Glen Ellyn, Lombard and Wheaton, Illinois to see movies -- thanks to wonderfully permissive parents. I adore flicks. Here's how they help me poetically:

Visual epiphany: a single-frame as the
essence, nature and meaning of a whole film.

When Shane rides into town to Grafton's at sunset, Hollywood orchestra booming, special-effect lens gathering lower-registered Teton-ic clouds, the gunfighter's deer-skin-coated right arm to the fore, passing by twin saplings (freshly planted by prop men), Mr. and Mrs. Starrett know, little Joey knows -- hell, even I know -- that the Hand of God is moving to bring Justice, to destroy Evil. Our civilization's literature floods through me: Ulysses at Ithaca, and Beowulf at Grendel's mother's underwater cavern -- then, twenty years later, dying in a smoldering heap at the slain dragon's lair. Or think of Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth: Per Hansa, lost all winter, found frozen in Spring among the sere shocks of last Autumn's harvest, but the man is facing West!

When Terry Malloy, covered in blood (chocolate syrup), rolls upon gangster-beaten, pummeled body (dead in any real world) onto his knees, then up, up, tediously up ("Slower," shouts the director, "Slower. Savor it, Marlon!") onto initially wobbly baby feet -- Ya gotta crawl before ya walk! -- the Contender stands at long last as Champion in On the Waterfront. Our civilization's poetry floods through me once again when the spaceman in Clarke's Science Fiction novel touches the monolith: MAN HAS COME THIS FAR; H.G. Wells's time traveler takes his invention too far forward, past a dying earth and sun, into a future loneliness so aching and remote that even imagination yearns for its return to the once-scorned present -- to the hearth and home of its own 19th Century day!

When Charlie Alnutt and Rosie, having consummated their love, having pushed the ol' African Queen (C.S. Forester) into the ever-shallower tendril and muck of the estuary of that heartofdarkness [Edenic] river, both of them exhausted, bleeding hands, leech-welts to the armpits, in extremis prayer intoned . . . Oh my, gee whiz! Here comes the well-earned Noah-downpour on the upper reaches of the stream, cascading, whole trees and all, a miraculously-rising water level down, down, downstream to their stranded little craft...and lifting, rising, lifting, floating ("Gawd, John Huston, I understood the epiphany at the very first raindrop that fell on Rosie's brave, sweet palm!") its aging hull into the lake.

Our civilization's poetry floods through me yet again with the first lines of Billy Shakespeare's The Life of King Henry, The Fifth, as the Chorus calls out, "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/The brightest heaven of invention," that Henry might find the courageous persona/tone/voice to lead a fractious, intrigue-beladen English army against the far more powerful French -- and damned if he doesn't!

I've already discoursed elsewhere in this mag on the persona of Bobby Frost's "The Most of It," who cries out to the universe for something more in return than its own, mocking "copy speech"…receiving a stag "crashing" off the "talus" cliff and swimming across the lake, water "pouring like a waterfall" off its hefted body's triumphant shore landing, its forcing "the underbrush - and that was all." [See Archive, Mar 2001, Essays. Ed.]

Yes, a flood, in response to the thousands and thousands of works of our civilization's literature I have read: V.S. Naipaul (23 nonfiction as well as fiction books); The Neverending Story (Boy, what a poetic novel for young & old!); The Yearling and Where the Red Fern Grows (animal companion/lonely boy novels); Mr. Flood's Party (ol' town drunk) and Parting, Without A Sequel (silly girl). Come on, folks, the work of words is always better than the movie:


So, yes, I do love flicks, but really now, they are saltine crackers which forever crumble before the eight-course Lucullan feast of poetry, of novel, of treatise, of words: 26 letters and a score of diacritical marks which we artisans fret and labor over, revise again, again, and again -- even if only one day, mayhap, to reach those grubby hands of Hollywood SpecFx, and those scheming minds of propagandizing, agenda-riddled directors. Whatever you do -- sure, go see the truncated visual tinsel -- but read the book and poem for yourself!

(Tim Scannell writes often for Big City Lit (tm). He lives in Washington State.)