Hedonism and Moral in the Picture of Dorian Gray
A thought-provoking tale of hedonism and morals sums up A Picture of Dorian Gray, it’s a production so engrossing that time flies quicker than usual. Director Michael Michetti brought Oscar Wilde’s famous novel to life in a fresh and daring way. Set during the late 19th century, the play tells the story of a young man whose portrait decays while he stays young and beautiful. The painter named Basil Hallward is a virtuous man who always sees the good in life; his model is Dorian Gray – a quite susceptible young man – with youthful good looks that attract the attention of many. Basil’s friend named Lord Henry Wotton is fascinated by Dorian; he corrupts him into thinking that beauty is the only thing that matters in life. Dorian wishes that he could stay young forever and for the portrait to grow old instead of him. In the play we see that happen, and each passing day Dorian commits selfish acts that destroy the lives of people around him.
“A Picture of Dorian Gray” was filled with many different themes and messages throughout the play. An important theme was identity. Dorian falls in love with Sibyl Vane because of her immense talent as an actor. But once Sybil gave a terrible performance the spell broke, so Dorian ruthlessly cuts all ties with her. The problem was that Dorian fell in love with Sybil’s acting, but she lost that ability once she fell in love with him. Sibyl tells Dorian that he is responsible for showing her reality; she became conscious of the “hollowness, the sham, the silliness of the empty pageant” she had always acted in. Sibyl declares that she will never act again because how could she mimic such passion inside her? But Dorian does not accept this, because of his unrealistic view of Sibyl as a perfect actress that she cannot live up to. Another theme in the play was unrequited love. Basil has strong feelings for Dorian which are not reciprocated. Sibyl sees Dorian as her “Prince Charming” and wants to get married; but he sees her as nothing but a third-rate actress and harshly ends their relationship. Dorian leaving her causes her to commit suicide. After this terrible event happens Dorian hides the portrait in the attic because it begins to reflect the state of his morality. Even though the audience cannot see the portrait we know that with every crime and selfish act committed, the more marred and blemished the picture becomes. The portrait is a symbol for Dorian’s soul because it represents all his actions.
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The main message of the play was how one’s mortality can affect their life. After Sibyl dies Dorian completely loses himself to temptations and sins. Dorian – with a life full of debauchery – chases pleasures of the flesh and harms people in the process. He completely disregards all virtues he once had. In the climax of the play Dorian kills Basil, a man who represented the moral side of life. When Dorian showed Basil the decayed and disfigured painting, Basil did not turn away but instead kneel and begin to pray. Basil believed that Dorian could be forgiven of his sins and all he had to do was say a prayer of his repentance. But this only angered Dorian – who believed it was too late – so he stabbed Basil to death. Afterwards Dorian shows no remorse for the death of his once friend and blackmails a scientist into getting rid of the body. Dorian’s soul is in complete deterioration and the audience sees no chance for his redemption. This tale of morality ends with Dorian fully succumbed to his nefarious way of life.
The actors gave outstanding performances throughout the play. The leading man Colin Bates embodied the character of Dorian Gray. He moved with confidence on stage, and he looked and sounded the part. He did an outstanding job of portraying Dorian’s emotional state; for example, the heartless breakup scene. In this scene Bates acting had such intensity which showed his dedication to the role. Most impressive was his complete control – even while being completely nude – and mastery of his character. All the other actors in the play were also believable in their roles, with a standout performance from Amin El Gamal who played Basil. Gamal’s performance showed compassion and longing in a genuine way. The scene where Basil confesses his love for Dorian was where Gamal exceled because he made it feel authentic.
Michael Michetti’s rendition brings a fresh take with new attention to the psychological and homosexual aspects (Basil’s declaration of love for Dorian) of the original novel. For example, the horror aspect is not as prominent as it was in previous adaptations present in the media. Instead of physically showing the portrait becoming more and more grotesque, the portrait stays empty for the audience to imagine for themselves. The audience knew the portrait was “decaying” because in each scene with the portrait, background characters dressed in all black would arrive. They would emerge from the back of the theatre and solemnly stand in the aisles, giving off an eerie feeling. Making their way to the stage, they chanted all together creating a loud rumble. In addition, the scenery was well-thought-out by showcasing gold and black Victorian furniture pieces that fit perfectly in that era. Above the stage there were empty gold portraits ranging in size, which gave off a luxurious vibe. The costumes were beautifully designed Victorian fashion pieces, with almost all characters wearing dull brown and gray colors. Dorian Gray was the exception, he wore an all-white outfit which represented his lost innocence. Also, the lighting was wonderfully utilized, including the most dramatic scene at the end. It was after Dorian stabbed the painting when the room was engulfed into complete darkness. When the lights came back on we saw Dorian in the portrait, and an old man lying on the floor. Dorian had destroyed the portrait and himself at the same time. He died an old man ruined by corruption.
In conclusion, I would recommend this play because each element came together to create a unified production. Even though the play centered on a self-indulgent and reckless character, I still cared about his fate. There was a great element of suspense that kept the audience holding their breath. I liked that it had a gothic fiction element to it with: romance, death, and horror. The play asks us to embrace pleasure but to not go as far as Dorian Gray did. The piece asks us to meditate on morality and what we believe is right and wrong. What Dorian failed to understand is that life is not always black or white; purity or sin. We do not need to choose one side or the other, but instead embrace both sides in a healthy amount.