Theatre Now presents a relatively new adaptation of Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The story stays the same, but playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa set the characters in the late 20th/early 21st century. We heard from director David Heck and new Wilmington actor Jay Zadeh about the show. Listen to Heck above, and see an extended transcript below. Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00pm at Theatre Now through August 26.
Audiences can choose to have dinner with the show (Chicken Wellington, Succulent Seafood Duo, or Carrot Flan with Summer Vegetables are the themed options for this show) or purchase a "show only" ticket. Tickets are available through the Theatre Now Box Office.
Gina: David Heck, tell me-how did you get into this project?
David: Well, it was pretty simple. I got a text from Zach Hanner, who is the Creative Director for TheatreNOW, and he asked if I was interested in doing A Picture of Dorian Gray for one of the summer shows. He and Alisa [Harris] had talked about it and they were looking for someone to find the right balance between, you know, interesting and spooky and who's going to be able to pull that off, and that's my background. I do interesting and spooky and Halloween is like my Super Bowl.
Gina: Yes, you do scary stuff. And can you give us just a really brief overview for folks?
David: Well I stepped into it probably about 20 years ago. I build haunted attractions and I've done them in several different states. I've worked for horror conventions. I just came back from one in Williamsburg and rolled right into tech week for this show. It's just something that I just happen to be good at. Up close props, acting, stage combat, you name it. Those are the things that I kind of make dark and humorous at the same time.
Gina: So of course you'd be a great pick for this show. When you looked at the script, what was your reaction to it?
David: Well, I have to say, I read the script at least two times before I made my decision because it's a lot that's happening in there and there's a lot to process. You look at reading it for entertainment and then you read it the second time for flow and you read it the third time to see if there's any other hints and it scared me. I'd never directed a theater production before, so I was worried about it. And I was doing some Googling online and checking it out and I came across a director's comment saying that, don't always do a show that you love at first, do a show that you know you're not sure about. So I told Zach that I would do it and it made me work all that much harder. I think I came in super prepared, highlighted notes, had a good idea of what I wanted to show in the space that we had available to us.
Gina: That's saying something--that directing this play scared David Heck! Tell me about the setting, the timeshift.
David: Well, Oscar Wilde's original Faustian tale takes place in the 1890s, I believe, and this one is brought up to the 1990s, so it's got a much more modern feel. The characters, such as Dorian, are a bit less innocent. They also are not, you know, random chance meetings. They all seem to be college friends and childhood friends as we travel through about 25 years of their life where Dorian makes a deal with the devil, doesn't get older and everyone else gets older or dies around him.
Gina: And for folks who are really big fans of the original novel, are they going to be freaked out? Are they going to be like, I can't believe they've done this to the story?
David: There's a bit of a change here. But, for me, it was minor details. The same plot rolls along and they've made the characters updated and interesting. Alan, who is the doctor in the original story, plays a pharmacist in this one, who is vulgar and annoying and everything else and Kai Knight makes it truly pleasurable to watch. And you can understand that, even though he's kind of a jerk, his friends love him. And that's important. And that's one thing that Roberto Sacasa, who did the rewrite of this, has worked very hard to make the characters integrate and work with each other well. So when I was casting, that's what I was looking for as well. Somebody that would work homogenously with the rest of the group.
Gina: You know, one thing I think that's important, because there's a lot of parody, there's so much parody nowadays, and a lot of times when there's an adaptation of a classic like this, people will expect that it's humorous, like, like it is making fun of, or overblown--
David: Yes. Yes.
Gina: And that's not what this is.
David: That's actually a very important point. I look at this in my horror movies as well. Especially comedy horror movies that pan things. The writer took this very seriously. This is not winking at the audience. This is not making fun of the original characters. There is a depth and a darkness that's within Dorian – (actor Grant Hedrick), that he displays with ease. And he goes from charming to malevolent and just a switch of a sentence or just a change of tone. And we wanted to capture that because, you know, even though it is updated and it's a little bit different, the seriousness of it is there. We just wanted to make the characters dangerous and likable at the same time.
Gina: Jay Zadeh, tell me about the part that you play in this show.
Jay: I play Harry Watton who is sort of an upper middle class guy, he's probably one of the, one of the most affluent members of the characters that we have in the play. And he's Dorian's best friend. And over the course of the play, he sort of takes on new roles as sort of Dorian's promoter of various projects that Dorian engages in. And, you know, I'm sort of, you know, a talkative guy who likes a drink and, you know, who has a very concrete idea of what is valid and valuable and what is not. And in the original book, the character of Lord Henry, who's been adapted into my character of Harry, was sort of a hedonist who introduces Dorian into this world of, you know, do whatever you want and consequences- who cares? And so, in this play, I think that sort of attitude has always been within Dorian. And so I just sort of helped to reinforce that a little bit and sort of push the story along.
Gina: And tell me where are you from? How did you get here? How do you get in the play?
Jay: I'm originally from Kansas. And in 2010 I moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina and then I lived in Jacksonville for a couple of years, and then in early May I moved to Wilmington with my mom and, you know, helping make sure that she's taken care of and everything. And in April I was in a play called King Kirby that was at the Red Barn Studio Theater directed by Blake Howard and that was my first proper theatrical role. I'd been in a fourth grade play. I played a jelly bean in a play about dental hygiene. I'm sort of a comic book geek. I'm writing my own comic book. And it's a play about a comic book artist who co-created the vast majority of Marvel characters that people think about when they think about superheroes. And I thought, if I'm going to be in a play, that's the place to be in. And so, I mean, I, you know, I auditioned. I got an ensemble role, and so I fell in love with theater.
Gina: Tell me about working with the other cast members and what you think about the storytelling that's going on onstage with this show.
Jay: Well, Grant Hedrick plays Dorian and he is knocking it out of the park every night. He's got way more to do than all of the rest of us have to do, he basically bears the weight of this play, and he has been a consummate professional. And as someone who's new to the world of theater, I've always tried to ask permission for things. Like, you know, if I have to be physical with one of the other actors then I always say, hey, is it cool if I do this? Or I'm not happy about this physical choice, you know. Can I try something else and, you know, can I swat you on the belly? Can I poke you in the shoulder? That kind of thing. And I neglected to ask Grant if I could poke him in the shoulder. And I've been poking him really hard in the shoulder and the other night I asked him, hey, I didn't ask you if I could do that, I'm sorry. Is it OK if I do that? And he was like, yeah, please do that. Because it allows him to have a visceral reaction in the moment. And so he has just been up for anything. You know, he has a lot of different sort of attitudes that he has to, you know, emote on stage. And so, he's just doing a fantastic job.
The rest of the cast is blowing my mind as well. You know, Kat Rosner plays Victoria, who is my character's girlfriend at the start of the play, and she is incredible. She has been nothing but the very picture of professionalism and has taught me a ton about how to make this work. I was really worried about how to make a relationship play onstage because I've never had to do that before. I've done improv comedy where you, maybe you're dating with your scene partner for three minutes and then you're done. But to be able to convey intimacy, you know, in a relationship and that it's believable was something that I was scared that I wouldn't be able to do. And she took me under her wing and has been amazing.
Chandler Burns is, he plays Basil, the the artist who is commissioned to paint the portrait that's in the title. And there is just this incredible passion and gentleness to his delivery that really embodies the character. It's fun to watch. We have a lot of interaction onstage. Particularly in the early moments of the play. And every night I'm just excited to see how it's going to play out.
Kai Knight is, he's playing double duty. He's playing Alan the biochemist, who's sort of the lout of the group. He's kind of the baser one of the whole thing. He's just kind of, you know, he doesn't, he's sort of a Philistine as far as art is concerned. You know, he doesn't understand what everybody sees in all this fanciness, but he's still, you know, a very grounded character who, you know, knows who he is and he lets us know who he is. And then he also plays another character named James Vane, who is sort of a protective brother character. And so we get to see him play different sides, you know, of the spectrum as far as like, you know, attitudes and personality. And I've heard from the audience on at least one occasion that they thought that the two characters were portrayed by different actors because he brings such a unique take to the two roles.
Kendall Walker. Kendall Walker is is incredible as Sibyl, Dorian's girlfriend. She is just the very picture of poise and grace and in the early play, she's, you know, she's a teenager. The character is a teenager. And so she really embodies that, sort of, youthful energy that really the character really needs to have. You know, and then when things require a more serious touch she has the ability to switch gears and, you know, so we can we can sort of get the sense that this is someone who feels things on a deep level and it's believable. And so she's just been fantastic. And she plays a couple of other smaller roles in the play as well.
David: She returns as Karen 25 years later. Sibyl's doppelganger. Who is, quite honestly, completely different. They look the same but she is much more cynical, much more apathetic, much more willing to do things that Sibyl wouldn't have thought about in her right mind. And I remember when she was reading for both parts, she walked out of the script and was just Sibyl. She was so innocent and pure and then I had to read her for Karen and it was completely opposite and I felt bad inside, like I had ruined her somehow.
David: I mean... the audition process, you know, I was worried from one step to the next. And when Harry came in, when Jay came in, and he read for Harry I literally wrote down Harry and just put it down and just read that. That was my note. And then Katherine came in and I had him stand next to Harry and she spoke. All right. So they were set. They were set before they left the table and I probably shouldn't give that away, but I was so sure of them because I'd read the script so many times. These characters were walking around my house like ghosts. I knew what they were and I wanted to know how they felt. And that's exactly what was going on in my mind.
Jay: I wish you would've told us because that would save me some stress.
Gina: David, why should we go? Why should any of us go to see an adaptation of a classic tale by Oscar Wilde that's set in the late 20th century?
David: Well, you know, I could give you an answer that my father would give me. Is that, that literature has relevance. And timeless literature has relevance timelessly. We didn't need to readapt the story. We probably could have done the original one and it would have been just as effective. The story is relatively the same, we've just modernized the characters so that we can identify with them. We all know Harry, we all know a Dorian, we all know a Sibyl, we all know these people. They live and breathe in our own lives. I see it all the time. So, that's what makes them much more real. There's a lot of scene changes, there's a lot of good action, there's a lot of camaraderie, and anguish and pain that happens on the stage. It wouldn't have lasted 100 years if it weren't a good story. So re-adapting it and making it more modern is not going to hurt it.
I just have one more thing to add. There is gunfire. We have a blank gun that happens in the second and third act. So, and it's pretty honkin' big. So just be forewarned. In the second act you'll know it's coming, in the third act, you will not.
Gina: And it's also for adults.
David: Absolutely. It's definitely adult content, don't bring the kids.