Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A glimpse into the privilege of immortality
Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was first published in the 1890s. It has since inspired the imaginations of artists and audiences across the world, both in its original form as well as in a multitude of interpretations and adaptations. The Trial of Dorian Gray (written by Gabriel Bergmoser and directed by Peter Blackburn) adds to a long list of works that draws inspiration from this source, exploring a continuation of the original story with an interesting new twist - what if Dorian Gray never died?
The Trial of Dorian Gray is essentially a single, long conversation between Dorian Gray (played by James Biasetto), a one-hundred-and-something year old hedonist who mysteriously never ages, and Michaela (played by Ratidzo Mambo), a young woman first introduced to us as Dorian's new romantic/sexual interest, later revealed as someone who knows Dorian's secret and has motive to confront him about it. The two characters carry us through a philosophical journey that fleshes out the pros and cons of immortality, using Dorian as a case in point.
Biasetto's Dorian is portrayed with impeccable conviction - he is outwardly young, sensual, attractive, but speaks and acts with the authority of someone who has lived through generations of pleasure and pain, and seen the world change dramatically around him. He is practical, cynical, and cold-hardened both by the challenges he's lived through (the personal pain of his unique isolation), and also by his immunity to the consequences of acting on his darker impulses (he can never age or die, and has infinite time at his disposal). Mambo's Michaela is also a fine performance, complementing Biasetto's characterization and energy with equally strong stage presence. However, the script does not afford her character the same depth and substance as Dorian's character, and Michaela often feels like an interrogator on duty whose only role is to draw out and challenge Dorian's perspective, rather than also contribute her own. This may be intentional and is possibly justified by a twist later on in the story, but it is a point that is somewhat jarring until the twist is revealed.
The play makes token references to the main characters in Wilde's original novel - Lord Henry Wotton, Basil Hallward, and Sibyl Vane - but they are all dispensable to this play. The painting, which is of central importance in the original work, is also made more or less redundant here, except to illustrate a principle, carried forward by the modern day equivalent of painted portraits, i.e. photographs. Dorian takes on a complex role, both as the original subject of Basil Hallward's painting (which resulted in him gaining the gift of immortality), and now also as the second Basil, a photographer. As the new artist, he seeks to recreate his experience for a new subject, a second Dorian (which he hopes will be Michaela), attempting to entice her to make the same deal with the devil that he did, and thereby end his own painful isolation.
The Trial of Dorian Gray is a deep work which explores important themes in philosophy and ethics and makes effective use of Wilde's original premise to convey messages of relevance in the twenty-first century. The writing and portrayal of Dorian's character invites an empathetic audience response - perhaps more than intended, judging by how the play ends - but the closing dialogue provides a clear rationale for the justice that is meted out, which is satisfactory at least at an intellectual if not emotional level. This play is a serious work which builds intelligently on a classic story, but can be enjoyed equally well by those with or without exposure to Wilde's original work.