Dorian Gray Naked – The sublime death of reason. (Theatre Review)

Dorian Gray Naked

Popinjay Productions with Limelight on Oxford

30 Jan – 16 Feb. You can grab your tickets here.

Images: Clare Hawley

For Wilde, and other strong thinkers of his ilk like Derrida and Foucault, Western reason is identified with an oppressive and totalitarian way of life and a sociocultural imperialism in which reason equals power. As is written in the program for Dorian Gray Naked, “…so powerful are Wilde’s plot, language and characterization that post the post-modern age, distinctly inverted interpretations offer new creative possibilities.” To quote Lyotard “reason and power are one and the same… you can dress the first up with prognoses or with the dialectic, but you still have the other dished up intact: prisons, prohibitions, selection processes, the public good.”[1] This move of identifying reason with power and domination has been approached in multiple ways by Oscar Wilde, and it can be argued there is no better metaphor for the decay inherit in Western Reason than Dorian’s portrait revealing the effect of the shadow side. As with Dorian Gray, the only way to purity involves a complete death of that which destroys.

It is this circular aspect of Oscar Wilde that Librettist Melvyn Morrow understands and successfully represents in the outstanding production Dorian Gray Naked. Dorian Gray’s creator (no longer god) is Oscar Wilde himself, but is he not equally a culture that destroys in the name of Artistic Representation and its companions Reason and Meaning? Oscar Wilde has been claimed by LGBTQIA community (and rightly so) in recent decades, but this ownership provides a clarity for the white western cannon that we must not ignore via appropriate disinterestedness. After all, it is our image rotting in the locked room.  Melvin Morrow intuits this perfectly via his enquiry into the character Sibyl Vane and his wonder that her mistreatment was the catalyst for Dorian’s decent. While there is no question regarding the importance of Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray to the queer community, it is Sibyl Vane (and through her Socrates, Wagner, Shakespeare Christ and Faust) and her sacrificial death that call forth the western cannon and all its imperialist ways. Like Lars Von Trier[2] in the late 90’s, if a woman isn’t sacrificed for it, then it just aint art. Melvin Morrow sees the sensuously queer Dorian Gray as the modern possibility of a Grace[3] with which to stab ourselves and restore our work to a pure aesthetic glory.

This only scratches the surface of what is called forth in this production and it is already a lot to take in. A theatrically and intellectually rich effort, Dorian Gray Naked is one of those impossibly rare moments in theatre when all elements come together to make a truly perfect whole. Limelight on Oxford have moved this clever production to the middle room, and re-vamped a sophisticated version of the space’s predecessor, creating a sexy bar vibe for a sumptuous show. Lighting design by Mehran Mortezei benefits from clever beats that enhance with gradation and subtlety. Choreographer Nathan Mark Wright relishes the cabaret style space to feed thrilling movement to the cast. Peter Henson is a marvelous costume talent, creating enviable imagery that hops back and forth through time.

Outstanding however, is the collaborative work between Melvyn Morrow, Musical Director Dion Condack and Blake Appelqvist as their Dorian. Blake Appelqvist presents with remarkable clarity the puppet that makes its creator. It is in his obedient break with his own creators that we come to terms with the possibility of a break with reason – that which Hegel and Horkheimer and Adorno and others have claimed is essential but impossible. Any domination by the text, music or direction is dragged into the abyss by his very role as object/thing. Blake Appelqvist must dominate his creators (including his lucid reasoned self) and only does so by his becoming of the elusive ephemeral thing that works in a circular fashion around his character. His is a beautiful performance, poetic and lithe but equally impossible to pin down – even in words.

Applause equally goes to Dion Condack whose music brings the enormity of Melvyn Morrow’s words to our hearts and creates accessibility for a possible absence of reason. The audience will be brought to tears by the beauty of music such as Father and Sons (a stunning rumination on the death of god – among other things) and romanced by Erotomania and Being God among others. Dion Condack and Blake Appelqvist work comfortably with the circular nature of creator and creation, sharing the stage and playing the creative energy back and forth between them. They work as well together as Condack and Morrow are in synch. It makes for a deep and cohesive theatrical experience that inspires the audience in their own lofty thoughts.

I see a lot of theater in Sydney and I am always glad to have ventured out of my cozy home to do so. But every so often something reaches a little deeper. Dorian Gray Naked is a sublime example of philosophy and art in harmony (like Oscar Wilde himself) and an exquisite evocation of creative potency.

Please Note: the paper draws heavily on the ideas presented in Reading Derrida Politically (Contra Rorty) by Rick Roderick. You can read the paper here.

Source: PRAXIS International (PRAXIS International), issue: 4 / 1986, pages: 442­449, on

[1] Jean-Fran~ois Lyotard, Derive a partir de Marx et Freud (Paris, 1978) p. 13. Also see: Richard Rorty, “Habermas and Lyotard on Post-Modernity”, Praxis International, Vol. 4, No. 1 (April 1984)

[2] Ref: Lars von Trier’s stunning Golden Heart Trilogy

[3] Ref: Grace, from Dogville. Lars von Trier’s subsequent film after Golden Heart Trilogy