Preview: The Picture Of Dorian Gray: Scandal Of Victorian England

Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray in Book-It Reps The Picture of Dorian Gray. Photo by John Ulman.

Long before the decadence and violence of Game of Thrones, Oscar Wilde scandalized Victorian England with his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. To them, it glorified drugs, blackmail, and even murder in its message–hiding from one’s true self is the real sin.

Wilde’s only novel has been adapted for the stage by Judd Parkin and will run at Book-It Repertory Theatre until July 1st. Directed by Victor Pappas, local actor Chip Sherman, who appeared in Book-It’s 2017 production of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as Bailey, will portray the handsome Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a philosophical novel, first published complete (rather than serialized) in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine.

The novel created a scandal when it first came out. Fearing the story was indecent, the magazine’s editor–without Wilde’s knowledge—had deleted roughly five hundred words before publication. Despite that censorship, The Picture of Dorian Gray offended the moral sensibilities of British book reviewers. They immediately criticized the novel’s decadence and homosexual allusions, calling it “unclean, poisonous, and heavy with the mephitic odors of moral and spiritual putrefaction.”

Parkin’s adaptation is based on Wilde’s original uncensored version of his novel, which was first published in 2011. The licentious five hundred words are back.

Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" at Book-It Repertory Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.)

Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” at Book-It Repertory Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.)

Wilde’s tale begins innocently on a beautiful summer day in Victorian era England. In the stately London home of his aunt, Lady Brandon, the well-known artist Basil Hallward meets narcissistic Dorian Gray, a cultured, wealthy, and impossibly beautiful young man who immediately captures Basil’s artistic imagination.

Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview–that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life. Lord Wotton laments that only the young get to do so.

Understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. His wish is granted, and under the hedonistic influence of Lord Henry, Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied and amoral experiences, all the while staying young and beautiful. Meanwhile, his portrait ages and records every sin.

Brandon J. Simmons as Lord Henry Wotton in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" at Book-It Repertory Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.)

Brandon J. Simmons as Lord Henry Wotton in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” at Book-It Repertory Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.)

Dorian locks the portrait up, and experiments with every vice. He falls in love with an actress named Sibyl, who kills herself when he rejects her. He murders his friend Basil, and then blackmails a scientist to destroy the body. The scientist also kills himself. Dorian turns to opium. Sibyl’s brother James begins stalking him.

When a stunning revelation forces him to see what he’s become, Dorian pledges to lead a good life. Wondering if his new-found goodness has reversed the corruption in the picture, he looks at the portrait and sees even uglier image of himself. Deciding that only full confession will absolve him of wrongdoing, Dorian decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience, and the only piece of evidence remaining of his crimes. In a rage, he takes the knife with which he murdered Basil and stabs the picture.

Did Dorian save his soul?

If you’ve read the book or seen one of the many films based on Wilde’s novel, you already know. If you’re curious and don’t have time to read the novel before you see the adaptation, a favorite film is the 1945 black-and-white film starring Hurd Hatfield as Dorian, George Sanders as Lord Henry, and a young, Angela Lansbury as Sibyl.

Oscar Wilde once said that, in the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, three of the characters were reflections of himself: ‘The artist Basil Hallward is what I think I am: the hedonist Lord Henry is what the world thinks of me: Dorian is what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”

As we watch this rendition of Dorian Gray, we remember how Victorian society exacted its revenge on Wilde for flaunting a Game of Thrones level of amorality. Less than a decade later, he would be sentenced to hard labor at Reading Gaol. Wilde’s winter had arrived.

Book-it Repertory Theatre’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray runs June 6-July 1, Wednesday-Saturday—7:30pm (Matinées on June 13, 23, 30), Sundays—2pm in the Center Theatre at the Armory; tickets start at $26; group rates available;. $15 tickets will be available to students during the entire run with valid school ID. Purchase at book-it.org or by calling the box office at 206.216.0833. The box office is open Tues through Fri, 12pm – 5pm (Tues – Sat during production run), located in the outer lobby of The Center Theatre at the Armory.

The Cast
Ian Bond as Chorus 2/Alan Campbell,
Anastasia Higham as Sibyl/Hetty,
Imogen Love as Chorus 4/Victoria
Jon Lutyens as Basil Hallward
Michael Patten as Chorus 1/Mr. Ashton
Chip Sherman as Dorian Gray
Brandon J. Simmons as Lord Henry Wotton
Jon Stutzman as Chorus 3/Victor.

The Production Team
Director – Victor Pappas
Adaptation – Judd Parkin|
Scenic design by Pete Rush
Costume design by Ron Erickson
Sound design by Johanna Melamed
Lighting design by Andrew D. Smith
Properties design by Linda Kenworthy Reynolds.

About Oscar Wilde
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Oscar Wilde studied Greek literature at Trinity College in Dublin. Once winning the Berkley Gold Medal, he attended Magdalen College, Oxford. The Picture of Dorian Gray was Wilde’s only novel but was incredibly successful. He also wrote numerous plays which included SalomeComedies of Society, and the popularly produced The Importance of Being Earnest.

About Victor Pappas
Victor Pappas was associate artistic director of Intiman Theatre for seven years, directing productions of The Importance of Being Earnest, Playland, Betrayal, Smash (world premiere), The Turn of the Screw, The Glass Menagerie, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, A Question of Mercy and Skylight. Other directing credits include The Price, Other Desert Cities, Old Times, Mary Stuart, The Trip to Bountiful, and Stuff Happens (ACT Theare), Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The Importance of Being Earnest (Seattle Shakespeare Company); I Am My Own Wife (Portland Center Stage); An Ideal Husband (Pioneer Theatre Company); Othello (Idaho Shakespeare Festival); Ghosts (Utah Shakespeare Festival); FalsettosFollies, and Anyone Can Whistle (Showtunes Theatre Co.); the world premiere of Mark Jenkins’ All Powers Necessary and Convenient, and workshops of Jenkins’ Red Earth, Gold Gate, Shadow Sky. He received the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for Jamie Baker’s South Central Rain, and many of his productions have been honored with Footlight Awards by The Seattle Times. He is a proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA, and SDC.

About Judd Parkin 
Judd is a producer/writer of many television films and miniseries, including “Jesus “Nicholas’ Gift” and “Comfort and Joy”. He was also the author of the novella “The Carpenter’s Miracle.” Judd dedicates his work on this production to his mother, Louise Parkin, 93 years old and still causing trouble.

About Chip Sherman
Chip is a trained dancer, actor, singer, and Core Company Member at ACT Theatre who has enjoyed playing roles from Shakespeare and Brecht to contemporary playwright Moby Pomerance. Recent local productions include Beatrice and Benedict as Friar/Messenger, A Christmas Carol as Middle Scrooge, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings as Bailey/Ensemble, and Alex & Aris as Alexander the Great. Other notable roles include MacHeath in Threepenny Opera, Julian in How We Got On, Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Olivia in Twelfth Night, and The Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz.

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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