Editor's Note: This guest post from long-time GLAAD volunteer Dan Bacalzo is part of GLAAD's effort to draw more attention to theater projects with LGBT content. To find more LGBT-inclusive plays in Los Angeles and New York, please visit theater.glaad.org.
By Dan Bacalzo
Oscar Wilde, best known as a playwright, wrote his first and only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890. It famously tells the tale of a man whose likeness is lovingly captured in a painting that grows increasingly hideous to reflect the darkness of the man's soul even as his physical body remains young and beautiful. Wilde's final literary creation was a letter he penned to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas while Wilde was imprisoned for acts of gross indecency. It reflects upon the love affair between the two men as well as on Wilde's spiritual growth within prison. The letter was published posthumously in 1905 under the title De Profundis.
These Wilde pieces now serve as the source material for The Picture (of Dorian Gray), adapted and directed by Neal Utterback, which receives its New York City premiere at the Paradise Factory May 15-23. "It's really interesting how the two works are wrestling with a lot of the same ideas," says Utterback. "The blurring of an artist and an artist's work, the fluid nature of identity and how vulnerable identity is to influence, and the sacrifices we make for the things we want and the things we think we want."
Utterback eschews the Victorian context of Wilde's works in favor of bringing the action much closer to the present, and examining contemporary LGBT issues. "We as a community ask the outside world to treat us compassionately and equally, yet we often internally can be the meanest to each other," he says. "This particularly influences LGBT youth, and we need to be more nurturing."
That idea is reflected in the make-up of his company, The Gravity Partners, which is a professional theater organization based out of Juniata College in Central Pennsylvania that utilizes both current and former students. "These are not our school productions," says Utterback, who is an Assistant Professor at Juniata. "We create new work using the college as an off-site incubator where we can make all sorts of wonderful mistakes. And then we send the work out into the world, principally as part of festivals."
The Picture (of Dorian Gray) originally debuted at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in 2009, and is now part of The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. Utterback's stripped down minimalist style is a good match for the eco-friendly arts festival. The writer/director is also impressed by the festival's commitment to linking each of its productions to a charity that is in keeping with the work the artists do. "Each company in the festival can choose how they support the charity," says Utterback. "Some people are doing on-site fundraising events. Others are taking donations at the door, something we're doing as well. But in addition, we as a company decided that all of our ticket sales – anything that we make – is going straight to GLAAD. I love that GLAAD's mission is largely about sharing our stories, as that's sort of what I'm in the business of doing."
The Picture (of Dorian Gray) is being performed at The Paradise Factory (64 East Fourth Street, New York, NY) from May 15 through May 23. Tickets are $18. For complete schedule of performances and more information, visit http://nytheater.glaad.org/2014/view.php?id=138.