Jacqueline Wright has a long history of challenging her audiences with oblique, inaccessible plays that can be so off-the-wall that they seem channeled from a lunatic’s fever dream.
“Driving Wilde,” Wright’s play premiering at Theatre of Note, is one of her more disciplined and linear efforts — at least initially. Perhaps that’s because she has loosely based her new play on existing source material: “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” Oscar Wilde’s homoerotic novel about the corruption of a young man who sells his soul to maintain his corporeal beauty while the ravages of his evil are visited upon his ghastly hidden portrait.
Of course, Wright’s play does segue into the outlandish. However, the surreal outpouring is punctuated with a surprising amount of ameliorating humor — an effective counterpoint to Dorian’s grim unraveling.
A master of the offbeat, director Bart DeLorenzo delivers a briskly paced, well-acted staging that is perhaps most notable for its splendid design elements. Martin Carrillo’s sound, Brandon Baruch’s lighting and Ann Closs-Farley’s costumes are all first-rate, and Ben Rock’s video and projection design are virtuosic components that lend depth and coloration to Song Yi Park’s purposely stark set.
Michael Kodi Farrow plays the handsome, doomed Dorian, who awakens from a coma a childlike innocent ripe for the corrupting influence of Henry (David Wilcox), a jaded sensualist who is ultimately dismayed by the monster he has created. Carl J. Johnson plays Basil, Dorian’s doting friend, the nurturing artist who creates the portrait that houses Dorian’s iniquity. The cast is rounded out by Raven Moran, who plays two of Dorian’s ill-starred lady loves, and Michael Sturgis as a young man who also features into Dorian’s moral decay. Stephen Simon plays Wilde, a meta-theatrical presence whose own sad decline mirrors that of his literary creation.
It’s difficult to know the point that Wright is trying to make with her dramatic jumble, but DeLorenzo and his able cast keep our attention riveted. A wild ride, this production is more about the thrill of the journey than the final destination.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 21
Info: (323) 856-8611, theatreofnote.com
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
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