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Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey

Review by Shoshana Roberts

Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 22 May 2016
HERE, 145 Avenue of the Americas NYC

Andrew Dawson in Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

Andrew Dawson in Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey. Photo by Jenny Anderson.

BOTTOM LINE: Three incredible actors portray the late writer/illustrator Edward Gorey throughout his life, based on his journals, interviews, and letters. A multifaceted performance, excellently executed.

It is a wonderful feeling to prove wrong those negative people in our lives who do not believe we can make it, though there are those who are unable to get to that point and succumb to the seeming impossibility of their desires. They throw in the towel. And then there's Gorey. Edward Gorey. Artist. Writer. Friend of George Balanchine. Cat lover. Collector of black and white dead baby postcards/photographs. Early on in his career The New Yorker wrote him a rejection letter in which they told Gorey that “the people in [his] pictures are too strange and the ideas, [they] think, are not funny.” Throughout his 75 years of life though, Gorey went on to publish over one hundred pieces, some of which might ring a bell in your head (even without knowing who he is prior to now) such as The Unstrung Harp, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, and The Doubtful Guest.

Edward Gorey actually spent time in the army before he went to Harvard, and then on to New York City. Eventually he left the city for Cape Cod, where he was able to live with his cats and work. The thing is, he considered who he is and what he does to be two different things. His creative endeavors, in his opinion, were separate from his personality, and only a portion of his life. With his sketches came great strangeness and curiosity. Countless rumors circulated, from claims that he lived in an abandoned submarine, to the possibility of him having been molested in a library. One of his most famous images, “Doubt,” is a dark and weird creature, which is perhaps either how he saw himself or, interestingly enough, maybe how he thought others saw him. Giving information about Gorey's life outright and reenacting possible scenarios from his mind, this production incorporates not just acting, but song, dance, comedy, and even a scene with actor Andrew Dawson interacting with an animated projection of “Doubt.” Puppetry is even added into the mix. The actors tell us throughout the show about the eclectic masses of things found in Gorey's home after he died and learn that he really was an enigma. Fascinating for even those who might not have been as familiar with his work, I was educated and entertained with feelings of watching a Mr. Rogers, Mary Poppins, and Addams Family conglomerate.

Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, and Aiden Sank are like a tall glass of lemonade on a sweltering day. Not only are they amazing performers on their own, but in these circumstances they are vital and their talents add so much to the experience. All three play Gorey, but at different points in his life. These actors flow between focus on one, two, all three, or none, seamlessly and repeatedly. They have an obvious symmetry with their image and interpretations of Gorey, but then just as we change throughout our lives, despite the consistent base personality, each actor lets the subsequent experiences affect their moods, actions, and growth throughout the performance.

Director and writer Travis Russ deserves his own individualized ovation as well. He drew from primary sources to bring Gorey to life. Russ tells us he utilized “the artist's own words—from his journals, interviews, and letters—combined with [his] reimagining of pivotal moments in his life.” The result is really wonderful, and a true “fantasy memoir” as Russ describes it. I felt the production was done (and I mean this in the kindest way possible) selfishly. They wanted to create something that they would love. We often hold ourselves to a higher standard, and that is what was accomplished. Gorey is a true passion project that the audience has the pleasure of witnessing.

What really struck me is how this production captures Gorey's essence. He was such a unique individual, with obvious physical details incorporated, like one of his huge fur coats and rings on his fingers, but essence is more than the visual. It is a feeling, or as Gorey would say, it has some sort of...je ne sais quoi. They discuss the different facets of his life and personality and they practice what they preach. From the three insanely talented men who perform the show to the intricately designed puppets that emerge for a scene, with no words even necessary at times, I was inside Gorey's world—his brain. It felt real, it looked strange, and it was brilliant. 

(Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey plays at HERE, 145 Avenue of the Americas, through May 22, 2016. The running time is seventy five minutes with no intermission. Performances are Thursday at 7; Fridays at 2 and 7; Saturdays at 7; and Sundays at 2 and 7. Tickets are $18 and are available at here.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information visit lifejackettheatre.org.)

Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey is written and directed by Travis Russ. Choreography is by Katie Proulx. Set Design is by Travis Russ and Carol Vorwerk. Lighting Design and Projection Design is by John Narun. Sound Design is by Emma Wilk. Puppetry Design is by Elizabeth Ostler. Costume Design is by Peri Grabin-Leong. Stage Manager is Carl Vorwerk. Music Arrangement is by Chad Stoffel.

The cast is Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, and Aidan Sank.

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HERE, 145 Avenue of the Americas NYC