Gray (Theatre Inamorata)
Theatre Inamorata, formed by four women frustrated by the lack of good roles for them elsewhere, discovered it was no easy thing creating the kind of work they craved. Adapting classical (and, rights-wise, cheap) work has proven problematic; creating their own from scratch, too long a time frame (though company member Michelle Langille has new work being read in Nightwood Theatre’s Groundswell Festival this week).
Their feature play debut is the result of a collaboration (by way of a series of workshops) with local playwright Kristofer Van Soelen, and the end result has just the right amount of what the company sought: strong, complicated roles for women, plus a healthy dollop of intersectional inclusion, with multiple bisexual characters and transgender representation.
All this has been grafted onto the framework of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In Van Soelen’s update, Dorian (played by a luminous Tennille Read) is a naive girl who moved to the big city from her native Caledon after her parents died in a car crash. She’s searching for meaning and purpose in her life, and when brazen gallery owner Opal (Langille) discovers and covets the exquisite statue that Jane (Ximena Huizi) has made of Dorian, her wining and dining of the two exposes Dorian to the heady excess of the art world.
The resulting notoriety, including social media celebrity, doesn’t sit well with Dorian, who wants desperately to be seen as an artist rather than a model-muse, despite a lack of any discernible talent (or discipline for its cultivation). Her burgeoning relationship with Sybil (Sydney Violet-Bristow), a gender-transitioning actor, is threatened by Dorian’s insecurity and projection; it also infects Opal’s relationship with her wife Laura (Mamito Kukwikila), and colours her interactions with a series of insecure men (all played by Edward Charette).
Director Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster and designer Lindsay Woods do their best to transition between an emerging artist’s studio and a chic gallery space on an shoestring indie budget, aided in part by Andy Trithardt’s slick original score. What works best aesthetically is “Dorie,” the disturbingly textured sculpture, coloured in the same shade as the show’s title; revealed late in the show, it seems to indicate a strong plausibility, absent in the source material, that Dorian herself has mutilated her representation to match her feelings of self-worth.
Read and Langille deliver career-best performances; the show was, after all, tailored to showcase their company, and we haven’t seen either in recent roles that have played so well to their strengths. Huizi also impresses in the limited time her morally conflicted artist spends in Dorian’s orbit before she spins off. The most challenging part of the show, which isn’t quite solved, is the subtle differentiation between “good” and “bad” art; a supposedly disastrous performance of Romeo and Juliet isn’t noticeably different than the supposedly promising excerpts we see before its opening night. (In contrast, Lancaster wisely uses blank canvas and lighting to suggest exquisite paintings in Opal and Laura’s gallery.) There’s a lot to unpack in Van Soelen’s topical script, and a bit more “less is more” in the staging might help keep the focus there, rather than on any artwork beyond the pivotal “mirror up to nature” sculpture.
To October 1, The Commons (587a College Street), Wednesday-Sunday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., $15-$25.