Like Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, Oscar Wilde crafted just one novel in the midst of many other masterpieces of different forms. Both deal with rescue from hell-on-earth (the former in prison and a jailer, the latter the human spirit and a soul keeper), and gender charades (Leonora must disguise herself as a man to save her lover; Dorian Gray denies and hides with horrific deadliness his penchant for young, beautiful males). Finally, more than a touch of the autobiographical lurks intriguingly in these pair of unique creations, which may in some small way explain the lack of a second attempt in the same genre by both storied men.
Duncan Roy’s adaptation of the timeless tale of selling one’s soul to the devil for eternal youth starts with promise (the back-story is skillfully done), stutters in the middle (too many effects put a drag on the early pace), but comes together for a magnificent visual and emotional climax that makes the wait more than worth the effort.
Not least of which, with a chorale from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the background, the visual payoff to the split- and frequently multi-screen offerings (often dangerously close to game-show trite) brings together a vertical/horizontal red-tile rendering of the tormented dealmaker in the shape of a cross. This truly marvellous depiction fires on many metaphorical cylinders and would have been bravoed enthusiastically by the fabled playwright.
Perhaps just coincidental is the moment when Dorian (David Gallagher, who has the perfect look for the hedonist role but can’t quite manage the subtleties of a truly inner evil as it relentlessly awakens—greedy for more) explodes at the supermarket and is wrestled into the waiting limo by Wilde’s mouthpiece, Henry Wotton (Christian Camargo, a tad stiff with his lines, but spot-on in his looks of lechery and moral resignation) as Dorian’s slightly fuzzy navel slips back into view. It’s a credit to Brian Jackson’s inventive cinematography that this image immediately recalls Basil Hallward’s (Noah Segan, courageous performance) “portrait,” which is, in this present-day version, a full-length video installation in which the so-in-love artist dwells on his subject’s tantalizing treasure trail before crossing the boundaries and having his way with he who—even for a million dollars—“wouldn’t under any circumstance sleep with a man.” In the original, it’s the single picture that ages while Dorian remains ever-attractive; here, the installation holds many more secrets than just wrinkled skin and sagging muscles. Appropriately, both for Roy and the possible link with Beethoven, the artist’s home/studio is a prison. All of which proves emphatically that “Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.”
In supporting roles, Aleksa Palladino as Dorian’s beard, Sybil Vane, can’t find the magic to make us care when her failed opening night as Juliet (and Dorian’s embarrassment at her failure in front of his friends) sends her straight to wrist-slash purgatory; on the other hand, Michael Goduti’s back-from-the-dark-side Gabriel (killed as a seventeen-year-old hustler in 1902), convincingly entraps Dorian and savours a full-service revenge fuck that isn’t entirely unwanted by the beauty-craving youth.
The tracks are brimming with salon charts, French piano music (Satie), American swing and copious helpings from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. All the more to marvel as Roy makes his point about what beauty really is and how it can vanish in an instant, whether by the vengeful jealously of the unloved or coke-induced moments of unprotected sex. JWR