The United Solo Festival is an annual event that produces over a hundred one-person shows each year.
These sometimes address nerdy themes, especially gothic horror like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Playwright/Director Darya Gauthier returns to the festival year with her one-man adaptation of Wilde’s novel featuring an amazing performance from Michael Abourizk.
Gauthier whittles the novel down to use as many monologues as possible, but Abourizk will still sometimes play two or more characters in the same scene. This is always a difficult aspect of one-person shows; having a single performer switch between multiple characters having a conversation. In this case, the acting and directing are up to the challenge and there are magical moments when Abourizk changes personas. Dorian Gray will remove his hat, passing it just briefly in front of his face, and in that split second suddenly he becomes someone else holding a different hat.
The novel features numerous characters who engage in Wilde’s witty dialog, so this a very tricky performance for one-actor. Abourizk switches fluidly between Dorian, Basil (The painter who created the cursed portrait), and their cynical friend Lord Henry as they spout clever quips and Victorian philosophy. He also plays some supporting characters including a young ingenue, an old lady, and an oafish lout.
In the earliest scenes there are recorded voice overs where Abourizk provides the voices, which is something of a cheat in a one-person show, but once this prolog is complete the entire performance is done live.
For those who aren’t familiar with the tale, the story involves a cursed portrait that magically changes over time, allowing an innocent young man to engage in a lifetime of immoral behavior without taking on the countenance of a sinner. The supernatural portrait is depicted onstage with a large computer monitor turned on its side and mounted in a large gilt frame.
True to the story, this portrait will slowly distort over the course of the show. Sometimes this happens while the frame is covered, but at other times attentive audience members will catch this happening in real-time over the course of a monologue. The monitor is occasionally used for some other multimedia functions too. The prolog and epilogue use still art and written quotes from Wilde to literally illustrate the themes of the story (With graphic design by Ilya Gerasimenko).
Costuming is handled in a resourceful manner. Abourizk wears a period-appropriate suit, but observant audience members will notice that other cloth items like bed sheets are made of matching fabric. At different points in the show these items are transformed into garments like a gentlemen’s traveling cloak. It adds some visual variety without calling for downtime while the actor changes outfits.
This show is a surprisingly adept production from a first-time playwright and a young performer. Exactly the sort of project that thrives in a small theater. Unfortunately this was a one-night-only event. The show has been performed multiple times, including last year’s United Solo festival, so it seems likely to return at some point in the future. Persons who wish to catch the next run can find more at www.doriangray.us. Other productions in the United Solo festival are still running through November 24th. The festival schedule is available at www.unitedsolo.org.