The Picture of Dorian Gray — Image via newepictheater.org

Adaptations at Minnesota Fringe

At this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival, through some combination of choice and chance, I saw three adaptations of works that, in turn, I’ve never read or seen performed before. Though that circumstance leaves me woefully unqualified to weigh in on the quality of the adaptations, I can at least comment on the performances.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
New Epic Theater

Under their previous moniker, Perestroika Theater Project, New Epic Theater made a strong impression at last year’s Fringe with Moisés Kaufman’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s short story One Arm. This year, they returned to the festival with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s modern-day take on Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Much like last year’s show, this was a fierce, confrontational production that never shied away from the story’s darkest elements.

In Aguirre-Sacasa’s adaptation, Wilde’s characters are transported into the midst of the Young British Artists scene of the 1980s. Director Joseph Stodola’s staging pulled things a little further toward the present (the eponymous picture was created on a laptop) while also looking back at Andy Warhol’s 1960s Factory scene. Overall, we were given the impression of an overheated, fashion-obsessed art world that was all too happy to elevate hanger-on Dorian Gray (Trevor Goris) to celebrity status.

The play’s strongest moments included some of the early rigorous, movement-driven scene-setting, the interactions between tortured artist Basil Hallwood (Caleb Fritz Craig) and hedonistic gallery owner Harry Wotton (Casey Hoekstra), and Dorian’s shockingly cruel dismissal of his actor girlfriend Sibyl Vane (Alexandra Dorschner) after she gave a weak performance in a play. Toward the end, on the other hand, as Dorian descended even further into heinous vice, things started to feel a bit rushed. Perhaps, if New Epic gets an opportunity to reprise Dorian Gary outside the time constraints of Fringe, as they did with One Arm earlier this year, they can give the play’s latter portion more room to breathe.

Pariah, or The Outcast
Teatro da Bexiga

Of these three adaptations, August Strindberg’s Pariah appears to have been altered the least from the original. In Teatro da Bexiga’s rendition, Strindberg’s play has been translated into English, relocated to a vaguely modern-day California, and shortened somewhat, but apparently not significantly rewritten. It’s an experimental, dialogue-driven play, with nothing to distract from the battle of wits between two coworkers, one of whom, Mr. Y (George Dornbach), has just been released from prison for a relatively minor financial crime while the other, Mr. X (Adam Houghton), has escaped punishment for a far worse offense.

Pariah — Image via facebook.com/events/347584752078957With visual and auditory conceits kept to a minimum (the only notable props were two creepily quasi-realistic masks worn by the actors at the beginning and end), this production relied almost entirely on Dornbach and Houghton’s intense portrayals of their respective characters. Houghton was particularly memorable as the proud and disdainful Mr. X, coating the word “stupid” with bile every time he hurled it at his colleague, while Dornbach did an excellent job at portraying Mr. Y’s guarded resentment. While this was definitely not the most accessible production at Fringe, there was a great deal to observe and absorb, and it was definitely worth experiencing.

Bartleby
The Windmill Company

Writer Connor M. McEvoy’s musical-theater take on Herman Melville’s story Bartleby, The Scrivener, may have been the least polished of the three adaptations I saw at Fringe, but it contained much of interest and the potential for further development. Performed largely by recent graduates of Hamline University, the production featured only a few full-on musical numbers. More intriguing was the decision to have the titular Bartleby (William Ketter) communicate only through singing. If the comments on the Fringe website are to be believed, I am not the only person who walked away from the play with composer Alyssa Skinner’s leitmotif for Bartleby’s catchphrase, “I’d prefer not to,” stuck in my head.

That being said, in McEvoy’s adaptation, the focus was not primarily on Bartleby himself but rather on his employer (Mike Merino)’s reaction to his employee’s eccentricity and gradual withdrawal from his duties and his life. In fact, the employer was such a dominant presence — despite the fact that there were six actors on stage, Merino had what was probably a majority of the lines — that his fruitless attempts to get through to Bartleby toward the end of the play lost some of their power; by then, we were already used to him being the only person saying anything of consequence. All in all, Bartleby contained some strong ideas and memorable moments but could use some more work.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.