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Justice High School in Falls Church, Virginia, presented “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to the Cappies Critics on February 17, 2024. Here are the top two Cappies Critic reviews.

Allie Vargo

McLean High School


What would you sacrifice to live forever? A haunting story on the omnipresence of time, Justice High School’s The Picture of Dorian Gray investigates intrinsic questions of the nature of human mortality and morality, while exposing the sinister core that lurks deep within the human psyche.


The Picture of Dorian Gray, based on the Oscar Wilde novel of the same name and adapted to stage by Neil Bartlett, first opened at the Irish Abbey Theater in 2012. The play follows Dorian Gray, a young and beautiful Adonis, who is forced to recognize and fear the fleeting nature of his youthful allure after gazing into a beautiful painting of himself. Gray’s achievement of immortality, however, comes with a price: the loss of his soul.


In the role of the titular character, Elijah Kassa delivered an incredible performance that captured the souls of the audience. When introduced, Kassa’s meek, mild manner and avoidant stance portrayed the young, impressionable nature of Gray’s original personality. However, after descending into the debauchery and sin of his own creation, Kassa put on a true show of madness, using physical ticks, self-scratching, and wide, crazy eyes to depict the pits of insanity that Gray has fallen into. Throughout his time on stage, Kassa’s acting never stumbled or faltered; in fact, his performance was so captivating that he made the goals and intentions of a madman seem sane.


As Dorian Gray’s mentor in sin, the conniving Lord Henry Wotton seized the attention of the audience through Sophia Hemmens’ sharp-witted, unemotional, and pessimistic portrayal of the character. Hemmens’ straight posture, sharp, pointed glare, and almost predatory smile made it quickly evident of Henry’s wicked morals and sinful disposition. Even Hemmens’ voice, flat and condescending, portrayed Henry’s lofty aristocratic mentality. In contrast, Basil Hallward, played by Valeria Peterson, provided a warmhearted and humble foil for Henry’s greed. Peterson’s wide, trusting eyes and open posture portrayed the goodness which rested within Basil’s soul, as well as Gray’s humanity before his obsession of youth.


Every scene in the play was supported by the phenomenal cast of ensemble members, each of whom had both an individual role in the play and a part within the mob who haunted the story of Dorian Gray. When together, the actors chanted lines in cadence, forming an uncanny rhythm that resonated throughout the play. Their impressive synchronization, coupled with the disconcerting nature of their lines and their slow, solemn movements built an eerie tone that permeated through the small black box theater.


The costumes, created by Emy Fase, Abigail Leegwater, Bailey Farkas, and Laryssa R. Wilkins, enveloped the audience into the story’s 19th century setting with fitted suits, corseted dresses, and ruffled accents. Similarly, the set dressings and props, designed by Jasper Geer, Ellie Juarez, Laryssa R. Wilkins, and Nour Abbas, utilized dark hardwood furniture and time accurate props, such as an impressive old-fashioned wheelchair, to develop the set’s ambiance. The show’s hair and makeup designs, executed by Makayla Freeman, Angel Standfield, and Nour Abbas, were extremely immersive; both normal and aged makeup appeared flawless, even at close range. But the makeup team’s magnum opus was the final mask of Dorian Gray. Chillingly twisted and grotesquely detailed, the mask provided a stark contrast to Gray’s young and pristine face.


A sorrowful tale of life and death, youth and age, beauty and repulsiveness, Justice High School’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is a philosophical journey that is a definitive must-see.

Emily Reisman

McLean High School


Artist Basil Hallward picks up a paintbrush, applying every brush of gold and stroke of scarlet to capture Dorian Gray’s youth, a youth not withered by time but by vain desire. Justice High School’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray showcased an eerie side of humanity through diverse portrayals of characters and sinister imagery.


Neil Bartlett adapted Oscar Wilde’s classic 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray in 2012, debuting at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The play tracks the titular character through early 20th century London when Dorian gives his soul to a portrait of himself in exchange for eternal youth. While Dorian’s face remains radiant through every decade and act of malice, the image in the painting rots away.  


Elijah Kassa’s performance as Dorian Gray was grippingly unpredictable, illustrating the instability of the character. Kassa displayed Dorian’s initial fascination with Lord Henry Wotton’s cynical philosophies through lingering gazes and wistful smiles, serving as compelling foreshadowing for the indulgent path Dorian would take. Kassa employed increasingly erratic mannerisms as Dorian descended further into evil. Composure would slowly break into jittering hands, surging breaths, manic hitches in the voice, and widened eyes. A charismatic lilting laugh suddenly became a chillingly unfeeling one. The dynamic behavior illuminated the volatile nature of Dorian, creating anticipation of how Dorian’s twisted version of happiness would destroy him.


Sofia Hemmens’ depiction of Henry Wotton was serpentine in Hemmens’ smug cadence and imposing posture. These decisions heightened Wotton’s manipulative presence, symbolizing the temptation of vices. As a contrast, Valeria Peterson’s performance as Basil Hallward emitted innocence. The sympathetic furrowing of her brow and compassionate tone juxtaposed with the depravity of the atmosphere, representing normalcy and human morality.


The ensemble members livened Dorian’s crumbling sanity by surrounding the audience on all sides. Their taunting chants and accusatory scorn ricocheted around the room. The performance embodied a crazed cacophony of Dorian’s guilt, providing an immersive view into the character’s conscience.


Emy Fase, Abigail Leegwater, Bailey Farkas, and Laryssa R. Wilkins’ costumes contributed to a rich historical environment while personalizing each of the characters. The image-conscious Henry strode out in a suave charcoal-colored 20th century suit, glittering rings sparkling on their fingers. Mirroring Dorian’s fashion after Henry’s detailed the former’s infatuation with the latter, adding vibrance to his downfall. The clever choice to feature Dorian’s first outfit in his final scene served to visualize his lost innocence, as there were two distinct Dorians wearing the same silky white frills and modest brown vest.


Crimson red bleeds over the portrait frame, looming in the back of the room. Benny Ward’s lighting design and execution governed the focus of each scene, emphasizing an aspect with bright illumination or building suspense with pitch darkness. His choice of coloring developed the mood of every event, moments of wickedness bathed in disquieting reds and tempered scenes washed in a gentle blue.


Makayla Freeman, Angel Standfield, and Nour Abbas’ makeup designs expressed the aging process, allowing for Dorian’s youth to be underlined in comparison. By penciling in lines across the performer’s natural ones, a realistic depiction of an elderly face was created. For Dorian, a mask was crafted to represent his tainted soul. The bulbous eyes, sickly complexion, bumpy skin, and yellowed teeth presented the pollution of the character. A jarring sight embedded with Dorian’s monstrous actions.


Justice High School’s production of The Picture of Dorian Gray painted an entrancingly ominous portrait of prioritizing superficiality and gratification, a theme of humanity as ageless as Dorian Gray himself.   


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