- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2009

We’ve been so good lately. We recycle. We’ve gone back to basics. And we’re learning to appreciate the simpler things in life.

Maybe that’s why the debauchery and gothic abandon of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s modern adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is such a sight for stingy eyes.

If you’re too poor or too prudent to sin, you might as well look at it. The deviance in this world premiere play is depicted with remorseless beauty by director Blake Robison with an eye to the aesthetic and Dionysian.

Oscar Wilde’s scandalous 1891 novel combines Faustian themes with gothic chills and ruminations on the purpose of art and the unassailable supremacy of youth and superficial beauty. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa - whose resume includes writing for the theater, Marvel comic books, and the Mormon sex-romp cable series “Big Love” - seems the perfect man to make Mr. Wilde’s purplish prose and witty epigrams newly relevant. Perhaps because of his comics background, he doesn’t shrink from the lurid extremes of Mr. Wilde’s novel.

In fact, as far as this adaptation goes, more is more. The book only made perfumed insinuations about homoeroticism, drug use, bisexuality and more, but the stage version makes the implied literal. The casual nudity and sexual situations are not so much shocking as depicted with high-minded voluptuousness amid the hard surfaces of James Kronzer’s industrial chic set.

In modern parlance, Dorian Gray (Roderick Hill) is an experience junkie. Exchanging his soul for eternal youth - while a grand portrait painted by a besotted artist friend Basil (Clinton Brandhagen, touchingly human as a shy, self-deprecating genius) shows the ravages of age and corruption - is depraved enough. But Dorian takes things one step further by making an art out of perversion, much like the Marquis de Sade in his writings. Dorian makes his life a gleaming retrospective of his sins, a paradox of surface beauty and ugliness underneath.

It all sounds very grand guignol. Yet Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa sets his adaptation in London circa 1988 up to the early millennium; a heady time where there was plenty of money and excess and an explosive British art scene. This setting of beautiful people and seemingly endless supplies of wealth are a perfect canvas upon which Dorian can paint his egomaniacal masterpiece.

Mr. Hill personifies Oscar Wilde’s description of Dorian Gray as “made of ivory and rose leaves.” His physical beauty seems as pure as the white clothes he wears, but Mr. Hill reveals the relentless cruelty and selfishness of the character. Anything for his art. As his friend Harry Wotton, Sean Dugan faultlessly plays the aristocratic aesthete who uses acerbic barbs to keep him safely removed from the messiness of life. His wife Victoria, as played with frosty derision by Kaytie Morris, proves the perfect partner.

As Mr. Wilde said, the only way to rid oneself of a temptation is to yield to it. Misbehave nowadays and you wind up a temporary YouTube sensation. Far more sensible - and fun - is to sink into the dark pleasures and cheeky wit of Round House Theatre’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray. What’s more, you’ll like yourself in the morning.

….

WHAT: “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, based on the novel by Oscar Wilde

WHERE: Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Oct. 4.

TICKETS: $25 to $60

PHONE: 240/644-1100

WEB SITE: www.roundhousetheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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