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Randall puts a modern spin on 'Dorian Gray'

The Randall Theatre Company is using an iPhone and television to update an eerie moral tale from the 1890s about a forever-youthful man whose portrait ages in his place.

Instead of putting different paintings on stage to show the portrait changing, the company used an iPhone camera to take photos of actor Nico Hewitt, who plays the main character in "The Picture of Dorian Gray." A video feed and television monitor serve as a virtual painting — revealing to the audience the effects of Gray's descent into a life of evil.

While Gray remains handsome and young, the aging portrait reflects the ravages of his actions that begin with a selfish pursuit of sensual pleasures but become increasingly cruel and violent.

"It's amazing the things that can be done nowadays with the technology available," says Randall Theatre' Artistic Director Robin Downward. "We could have just done a painting, but instead we have used video technology to create what appears to be a painting that actually moves."

The play opens at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at the theater, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Opening night includes a reception and dinner with drinks for $22.

Tickets to other performances are $18. The play continues at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24; Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 29-Oct. 1; and Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 6-8. Matinee performances are at 1 p.m. Sundays, Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and Oct. 9. Tickets are available by calling 541-632-3258 or visiting www.randalltheatre.com.

The play has adult content and is not recommended for children younger than 17.

When Oscar Wilde's novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" first appeared in a magazine in 1890 and then as a book in 1891, it offended moral sensibilities of the time — with some even calling for Wilde to be prosecuted.

Randall Theatre is staging a more contemporary version of the story, setting the play in the 1980s.

"The traditional novel takes place at the height of the decadent artistic movement of the late 19th century in England," Downward says. "The 1980s had a very similar flavor as the late 19th century in both the United States and England. People were more free with their money and themselves. Worry was thrown to the wind. Although I have always loved the original story, I felt that placing it in an era that more people alive today would recognize would be not only challenging for us, but also different and exciting for our audience."

Russel Medeiros composed original background music for the production that taps into synthesizer-heavy 1980s musical styles.

Downward, who came of age in the 1980s, says the music and staging of the play will bring audiences back to that time.

He points to the popularity of the Netflix series "Stranger Things," a nostalgic throwback to the 1980s that is like a mix of classic Stephen King novels featuring kids, and the television series "X-Files," about FBI sleuths investigating the paranormal. The series attracted a cult-like following, with viewers already clamoring for a second season.

As with the soundtrack for  "Stranger Things," the music for "The Picture of Dorian Gray" will pull audiences back to that era, Downward says.

"I'm sure patrons familiar with the sound — people from the ages of 40 to 60 — should get a thrill," he says.

Toni Holley, the director of the play, said the message from the 1890s novel still resonates today, even if many people think moral standards have slipped.

"We decided to do an updated 1980s version to show the idea is universal and ageless," she says. "Even more than a century later, wrong is still wrong. There are still consequences. Guilt and remorse are still valid. It doesn't change because the era has changed."

In the play, a painter is smitten by the appearance of Gray and enshrines his likeness in a portrait.

Realizing his looks will fade, Gray says he wants to sell his soul in order to win eternal youth. Meanwhile, the portrait begins to show how he would have aged and records the effects of Gray's behavior.

Gray experiments with drugs and his actions cause the deaths of other characters.

While in Wilde's novel the main character visits an opium den, the drug of choice is updated to cocaine in the Randall Theatre's 1980s staging.

Holley, who has directed four musicals for the theater company, says the focus this time was on character development — rather than singing and choreography.

"We delved really deeply into the characters," she says. "That was a real luxury for me. It's been fun to watch the people really flesh out these characters."

In addition to portraying Gray, Hewitt is the Randall Theatre's resident set designer and created a gray, moody set that incorporates the television and video-feed technology.

Other cast members are Jon Oles as Harry Wotton, Jeff Mercer as Basil Hallwood, Rhyon Ingalls as Alan Campbell, Susie Gabumpa as Sibyl Vane and Karen Oliver, Brad Zentgraf as James Vane, Mia Gaskin as Victoria Frost, David Hagemaier as Detective Trevor Morse, Meagan Kirby as Christina, Alexandra Bringer as Ellie Gardner, Isaiah Brown as Fritz, Brittany Hreha as Maria Bella and Robert Fort as Senator and Theodore Ruxpin.

Nico Hewitt plays Dorian Gray in Randall Theatre's contemporary take on the Oscar Wilde novel. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch