INsiders Recap: A Picture of Dorian Gray
By A Noise Within
November 5, 2018
October 23rd saw A Noise Within’s biggest INsiders meeting yet! 17 people came to hear Dr. Richard Ruppel of Chapman University discuss Michael Michetti’s adaptation A Picture of Dorian Gray, running at A Noise Within now through November 16th. Dr. Ruppel is a scholar of British Victorian literature. Last spring, he taught “Ladies and Gentleman: Gender in the Age of Victoria,” a course which focused on the Victorian expectations of women and men in British literature.
Dr. Ruppel’s focus of the discussion was the primary themes in Dorian – art, religion, sex, and horror. Of all the themes, art was the hottest discussion topic – rightfully so, since the character of Dorian Gray turns his life into a work of art. Oscar Wilde himself claimed that art and literature are neither moral nor immoral, yet, as Dr. Ruppel pointed out, Dorian is driven into evil partially due to a book.
What made Dr. Ruppel so effective as an INsiders speaker was his depth of knowledge, easily able to provide historical context for each of the themes explored in Dorian Gray. This was most profoundly demonstrated when the topic turned to religion and morality. Wilde was skeptical of religion almost his entire life, most likely due in part to his homosexuality and the church’s stance against it. As Dr. Ruppel pointed out, Wilde uses Dorian Gray to draw a straight line between religion and suffering – Dorian realizes the importance of suffering after his guilt pushes him to want to be a better person. Wilde’s own morality peeks through the entire play, because despite immersing himself in every material and sensual luxury imaginable, Dorian is completely miserable. Dr. Ruppel opened up the discussion further, pointing out that if Wilde was truly skeptical of religion, why worry about morality? If there are no consequences, what is there to fear? Perhaps Wilde asked himself the same questions, because he converted to Catholicism before he died.
Dr. Ruppel expanded on the topic of Wilde’s sexuality as the discussion progressed. At the time of writing, Wilde wouldn’t have even considered himself gay. 5 years after Dorian Gray was published, Wilde was arrested and charged with “gross indecency with men.” He had 3 trials and was sentenced to 2 years of hard labor.
A Noise Within produced A Picture of Dorian Gray around Halloween time, and with good cause – many adaptations of the story fall into the horror genre. While not the most obvious when it comes to spooks and scares, Dr. Ruppel argues that horror works best when mixed with fear and desire – something Dorian Gray does in spades. Dorian’s immortality and lack of morality make him a truly grotesque creature.
Halloween may be over, but A Noise Within will be bringing you the frights until November 16th with our production of A Picture of Dorian Gray! For those of you who like to dive deeper, there is one INsiders meeting per show, each led by a speaker with professional and personal ties to the corresponding play. For more information, contact Alicia Green at (626) 356-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.