A contemporary Dorian Gray that maintains the classic Wildean values

A contemporary Dorian Gray that maintains the classic Wildean values

There are a number of directors in the Capital Region I’m glad to see helming a production; there are three or four whose names I see attached to a production and I’ll immediately buy tickets to the show, no questions asked. Aaron Holbritter, currently directing The Picture of Dorian Gray for Creative License at the Albany Barn is one of those directors, and, as always, his work here doesn’t disappoint.

This update on Oscar Wilde’s iconic novel (written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, whose brilliant Abigail/1702, another fresh take on a classic, is also a must-see) stays fairly true to the source material, but brings the story into the modern age – instead of the late 1800s, the show is set in the late 1980s, progressing through about 20 years. Twenty-year-old Dorian Gray, upon viewing a portrait his artist friend has painted for him, makes a wish he could stay that young and the portrait, instead, could bear the ravages of time for him; his wish comes true, and he begins to push at the edges of morality with the extra time and beauty that has been granted to him – but the cost may be more than he’s able to pay.

Ian LaChance, a frequent collaborator of Holbritter’s, does strong work as Gray; LaChance is one of the area’s finest actors, and this role fits him well. The character calls for a number of sharp emotional shifts, and LaChance plays each of them with utter believability (two scenes, perhaps the most graphic of the show, were physically upsetting to me – if an actor’s work is so strong it physically affects a viewer, it’s being done well.) The supporting actors do a fine job; Nick Bosanko’s timid, love-struck Basil Halwood was heart-wrenching, and Isaac Newberry’s Alan Campbell, who we see progress from an ‘80s punk to a staid career man with a wife and child, was a treat to watch.

Larissa Grossbeck’s set design was minimalist perfection: a few large frames set at different levels and set pieces that could be taken on and off, leaving us able to focus on the actors. Holbritter has a keen eye for stage pictures and using all levels of the space available to him; he knows exactly how to place his actors onstage to best form them into beautiful tableaus, and he did this perfectly throughout the production. The music was as much a character in the show as the actors onstage; Holbritter did the sound design, as well, and his choice of music through the years of the production not only set perfect scenes, but lent a sense of foreboding to the proceedings; the songs were old favorites, but, when listened to a bit more closely, were songs of warning, obsession, and excess.

This is a fine, thought-provoking piece, done very well at the Albany Barn, in a new-to-me space (and I hope shows are continued here – it’s a great venue.) I highly recommend you see this one before it’s gone – this is a treat you deserve.

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Creative License, Albany Barn, 56 Second St., Albany, through April 1.

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