Sunday, July 19, 2020

I'd Sell My Soul

I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school. It was the late eighties and I remember remarking how "relevant to the times" Oscar Wilde was and "don't we all have something we'd sell our soul for?" in an overly pretentious response to my favorite teacher Mrs. Cappellucci's "What do you like about this book?"

Reading Dorian made me feel smart, and grown up. Sophisticated. On each reading I'd pick up something new. An insight into my own character, perhaps, or a quote I'd write in my journal to ponder.

So I wasn't sure I wanted to see a stage version of one of my favorites. Firehouse Theatre often brings bold theatre, but would I get anything out of seeing my beloved novel come to life? Would it meet my teenage-romantic expectations? Would it have the same impact?

In a word, YES! The first, and by far the best reason to see it? Billy Christopher Maupin is simply superb. So deftly did he embody each character that the transitions from one to the next were seamless. I felt as though Maupin had read my diaries. His Henry, was the Henry I picture. And so with Basil, and Dorian. Maupin is such a skilled actor that each of the dozen or so characters was a creation unto its own, sometimes with just a subtle change in the timbre of his voice, or the placement of his hands. 

                Photo Credit: Tom Topinka

The second reason? For that I have to go back to the first week in March, and the last live play I saw. I never could have guessed, leaving the theatre that night, that it would be the last opportunity to do something "normal" for some time. And I never would have guessed that four months later, the definition of theatre would have to change. 

How the audience experience was executed due to the Covid-19 pandemic is almost as profound as the acting. The three masked audience members - yes, just three- were greeted at the door at 6-foot length with a thermometer check, and an assigned number. I had number 3, so I had to immediately go and wash my hands in the upstairs bathroom. The other guests, 1 and 2, avoided the climb and got the nice new downstairs bathrooms. Our seats were rows apart. The only non-masked person was Maupin, and what a metaphor that was for the interpretation of Dorian Gray.

 Usually, there is at least some crinkling wrapping paper, an untimely laugh or cough. Some audience noise that reminds me that this is live theatre. Instead, this experience felt so intimate. And the lack of audience feedback noise meant that I heard every word, and every sound. Would I have noticed Scott Burton's use of crickets for sound backdrop? I'm not so sure I would have. But really hearing all the sounds added a dimension that took my viewing experience to a new level.  And not just Burton, but the entire production team deserves a shout out.                                                  
The 19th-century gothic novel was adapted for the stage by Shirley Kagan and Billy Christopher Maupin. Ms. Kagan also directed the adaptation for the world premier at Firehouse Theatre. Dorian continues through August 7, 2020 at Firehouse Theatre.
While I know that most of us would sell our souls to have these uneasy and frightening times behind us, I think I'd sell my soul to see Maupin bring Dorian Gray to life for the first time again.