Pentacle Theater's Dorian-The Remarkable Mister Gray falls flat
By Therese Oneill
from WillametteLive, Section Stage
Posted on Mon Apr 21, 2008 at 05:37:46 PM PDT
Throughout the first act of Pentacle Theater's latest production "Dorian - The Remarkable Mister Gray," the man sitting next to me was groaning. At intermission, when I asked him what he thought of the play, he said, "We flew all the way up from Texas to see our grandson in this thing." He then stood, with effort (he seemed and smelled quite drunk) and asked me if I really wanted his honest opinion. He leaned close and whispered harshly, "The play stinks."
The man and his wife were two of the near quarter of the audience who did not return to their seats at the close of intermission.
Recurring Pentacle director Randy Bowser took on a lot to make this play. He wrote the script as well as all the music and lyrics, and he scored the music himself, using orchestra samples from the Garritan Personal Orchestra program.
The result of Bowser's efforts is a 3-hour musical telling the story of Dorian Gray's descent into carnality and vice, the effects of which leave him untouched while corrupting his portrait.
There were a lot of things right about this play. The costuming was exhilarating -- unfinished pieces of Victorian plumage attached to plain brown smocks and the technologically advanced handling of Dorian's decomposing portrait was arresting.
The ensemble players, a nightmare chorus, were the best part of the performance, accomplishing the most entertaining action on stage as well as being granted the most interesting songs.
The biggest struggle for the audience was the music. Bowser did not write a typical American musical with catchy tunes and buoyant dialogue. He used a more operatic approach. The singing was constant; sprawling and unmemorable to an untrained ear. The story of the play had to squeeze in around it.
There were other stumbling blocks. The actors were never able to establish a deep connection with the audience. Jokes that were no doubt funny to Oscar Wilde's contemporaries sounded mild and empty when delivered by the show's actors. The production vacillated between odd and dull.
The American operatic style of musical is a relatively new creation, perhaps not what most locals are looking for when they lay down their time and money for entertainment. It is possible that Salem is just not ready for Bowser's interpretation of Dorian Gray.
An amused reply from the writer/director of DORIAN
by rbowser on Tue Apr 22, 2008 at 09:43:21 AM PDT
"The one thing worse than being talked about is Not being talked about."
Thank you, Salem Monthly, for talking about my musical, "Dorian-The Remarkable Mister Gray."
It was an unusual approach, for a reviewer to validate her opinion by quoting a drunk patron. Very novel and amusing.
This article seems to be based on Saturday the 19th's performance. A car wreck caused a bridge to be closed and traffic diverted. A full half of the patrons who had bought tickets never arrived at the theatre. We had to delay the start time a full 20 minutes. I was tempted to cancel the show, because I could sense that the people who had managed to get through the hail storm and the winding detours to get there, were in a dark and unreceptive mood.
The dismal evening that followed was painful. 20 people left at intermission, and those who stayed remained detached and seeming to resent the outstanding efforts of the cast and crew. I was very proud of the cast for not pulling back an ounce of their energy or enthusiasm, despite the sheet of ice that seemed to cover the auditorium.
Happily, that dud evening was flanked by two wonderful performances. Both Friday night and the Sunday matinee had the auditorium filled with enthusiastic patrons who laughed warmly at the 19th Century jokes, and who leapt to their feet for standing ovations. At both of those successful performances, many patrons sought me out to tell me how much they loved the music, how they were enthralled with the story, and how it was "The best musical I've ever seen," to quote a non-intoxicated theatre goer.
It's perplexing to me when it's assumed that musicals are always written with New York in mind. I had no intention of writing a Broadway show. I wasn't interested in writing for any manner of commercial mold like that. I composed a play set to music comprised mostly of impressionist pieces which I'd be horrified to have the audience humming along with.
However there are several "take out" songs such as "We Can Step Into Forever" and "Some Love Too Little," and I'm gratified that those songs are being appreciated and even loved out of the show's context. But to create a show of nothing but tunes engineered to stick in the audience's head was exactly what I didn't want to write.
Perhaps this reviewer is right that Salem "isn't ready" for a semi-operatic piece like my "DORIAN," but I have a higher opinion of our public than that. To now see that there are many enthusiastic fans of the show supports my more positive opinion.
I'm grateful that the show is finding its audience. And as I've known all through the many years it took me to create this show, its audience couldn't ever possibly be the majority.
It's too bad that this review was of a disastrous night for the show, but I trust that curious people will still come to see for themselves that "DORIAN" is an unusual theatre piece, waiting and very able to entertain anyone who expects more out of live entertainment than easy-to-absorb fluff.
People who enjoy the original stage version of "Sweeney Todd" I can practically guarantee will be excited by the score and the superb work from performers like Jason Bailey and Sheree Ross who star in this unique piece--singers mysteriously not mentioned in this review, but who are giving some of the best performances I've ever seen in a local musical.
My show couldn't possibly be everyone's cup of tea---and thank heavens for that.
Thank you Ms. Oneill for a most entertaining article.
Randy Bowser - creator and director of "Dorian-The Remarkable Mister Gray"--which plays through May 10 at Pentacle Theatre, not through the 20th as incorrectly listed in this paper