Monday, March 14, 2005

Oscar Wilde

Dorian Gray, a camp hero?

Last week I saw "El Retrato de Dorian Gray", a witty Spanish-speaking production of Uncle Oscar's famous story, at the Centro Cultural de La Vila. My Spanish-speaking theatre companion was witty too and challenged me to blog about what I've told her in the intermission.
The point is that I've read "The Picture of Dorian Gray" long, long time ago, with innocent eyes, and not aware then of Wilde's homosexuality ( or is "sexual orientation" the only correct way to put it?). The text, I can see it now, is full of coded gay references (the accusations of corrupting the youth or the exalted admiration of the painter for Dorian can now be understood without the veil of XIX century social morals). And this particular production has chosen to underline those once subtle references by, for instance, expanding the body language and physical closeness of the painter and portraitee. Does it improve the readers/audience enjoyment? Is this reading more rewarding or relevant than my own, the "innocent" one, before reading Wilde's biography?
From what I remember having read about Wilde's final scandal, I think that he aimed at a double readership with "Dorian Gray". On one hand the quite large contingent of his mainstream readers, the admirers of his dazzling manipulation of the potential of the paradox, on the other hand the under-current circle, the small group of his friends "in the know", including much of Upper Class (London and English) Society.
If you stick to the first level of significance, the moral dilemma (at what cost remaining Young) with its Faust-like contract is what focus our minds. The idea that only by being un-naturally indifferent to others and to the consequences of his deeply immoral acts could Dorian Gray ensure that Time would not ravage his face is, I think, the central feature of the "deal" depicted in the story/play. While, if you add the level of a persecuted adept of 'the love that do not dare to speak its name' , you do enrich and make more colourful the central character but you dilute the central moral issue. You even make fuzzy the moral responsibility of Dorian Gray, bringing him dangerously close to the right of retribution we now tend not to condemn (like victims of gender abuse who can be excused for performing genital amputations).
I understand the Director's temptation to give us an updated production where the hidden subtext could finally "come out", but I prefer to be confronted with the vexed question, in his naked coldness. Forget victim-status and minority-issues, would you sell your soul to the devil (whatever form you translate this) in order to keep at Forty-ish that capacity to be the object of Passion, that you no doubt had at Twenty?

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