Take It to the Mattresses: For Dorian, debauchery is no bed of roses.

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Being generally fond of D.C.’s penchant for theatrical updates—Shakespeare with Uzis, Racine with wet T-shirts, Dumas in drag, all in the last couple of months—I confess I was intrigued by advance word of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s 1980s-inflected The Picture of Dorian Gray. Say what you will about Victorian social mores, there’s obvious promise in the resetting of Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel—about a narcissistic pretty boy who keeps evidence of his depravity hidden in the closet—in the age of AIDS. Promise, alas, that proves a little too obvious, as the audience can’t help getting a bit ahead of the storytelling. Still, make Dorian (blandly attractive Roderick Hill) a gym-rat with washboard abs; make the portrait painter (shamblingly amiable Clinton Brandhagen) openly gay; and make their unapologetically hedonist buddy (Sean Dugan, positively oozing snark) a wealthy arts patron turned Hollywood producer, and you have at least the makings of a Bret Easton Ellis/Neil Labute take on things. Except that Ellis and Labute relish depravity while Wilde feels obliged to punish it, and the social niceties Wilde enjoyed spinning into webs to snare his antihero no longer exist. So while the early scenes of Dorian partying hearty, abusing the folks he beds, and indulging in variously unsavory behavior work just fine, the notion that any of this would scandalize jaded Hollywood types doesn’t play at all. They’d more likely be fighting to turn his tale into a screenplay. And while Blake Robison’s sharply paced, terrific-looking production does the script quite a few favors, with designer James Kronzer’s enormous spinning concrete slabs whisking characters from London clubs to Los Angeles mansions and all manner of less reputable spots, Round House has economized on casting in a way that’s less helpful. For a longish while, until someone says a name and you can be sure who’s who, it seems that Sybil (Julia Proctor) the unfortunate woman who first catches Dorian’s fancy, is the sister of one of Dorian’s best friends. If you know the story, this’ll seem a bold departure—Aguirre-Sacasa conflating the title character’s chief nemesis with the guy who helps him hide his crimes, and had that actually been intended, it might’ve proved interesting (especially toward evening’s end, when Wilde’s supernatural plotline settles into a dramatic arc that was pretty breathtaking when he wrote it but has now become so conventional in horror flicks that it could use some shaking up). Turns out, though, the two characters are simply being played—one with a hat, and one without—by the same actor (Joel Reuben Ganz). In modern dress, there’s just not much that distinguishes them—something you might also say of the contemporized Dorian Gray.