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Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey

The eccentric cult writer and artist’s life is explored in this fascinating play with three actors portraying him, as well as the use of animation, film and puppets.

Phil Gillen, Andrew Dawson and Aidan Sank in a scene from “Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

Phil Gillen, Andrew Dawson and Aidan Sank in a scene from “Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Before the fascinating biographical exploration Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey begins, the audience is able to walk around the stage and see up close the totemic objects used in the show.

Gorey’s fur coat, an old record player, an artist’s table, vintage luggage and trunks, shelves of books and records are among the items on display.  The back wall of the stage is adorned with reproductions of manuscript pages of his writing and drawings and during the show home movies, animations, slides of his work, and images of his residence are projected.

Three very talented actors, Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen, and Aidan Sank all in Gorey’s trademark tennis shoes simultaneously portray the eccentric writer and artist from youth, to middle and old age during the sixty-five theatrical minutes.

The Chicago born Harvard graduate Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was a prolific and ubiquitous cult cultural figure. Mr. Gorey was known for his distinctive darkly whimsical pen and ink illustrations for book jackets, children’s books and his own surrealistic works.  He designed the black and white sets and costumes for the 1977 Broadway revival of Dracula starring Frank Langella, for which he received the Tony Award for Best Costume Design.

Using letters, journals and interviews, playwright Travis Russ has comprehensively and ingeniously rendered Gorey’s life and career in this affectionate concise dramatization.  Mr. Russ’ script combines the biographical facts with inspired narrative techniques resulting in an engaging full-fledged portrait.

Using a Citizen Kane and Grey Gardens style framing device the audience gets a tour through the hoarder Gorey’s cluttered Cape Cod house.  The treasures under examination include a collection of over a thousand old postcards of dead babies that are discussed and briefly shown.  Gorey put on puppet shows and this activity is depicted.

His idiosyncratic world-view, loneliness, artistic achievements and inner life are depicted through the use of representations of him in the three phases of his existence.  The actors address the audience and interact with each other most poignantly when the older incarnations counsel the younger.

He became friends with the eminent choreographer George Balanchine in the 1950’s and became obsessed with attending performances of the New York City Ballet.  A very funny sequence detailing one of Balanchine’s rare and obscure fiascos is enacted.  There’s also a humorous and insightful reenactment of a Dick Cavett television interview.

Though infatuated several times with men and psychically and outwardly gay, he was essentially asexual.  He channeled his passion into his works and to his numerous cats.

Aidan Sank and Phil Gillen in a scene from “Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

Aidan Sank and Phil Gillen in a scene from “Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey” (Photo credit: Jenny Anderson)

Mr. Russ also is the director and his staging perfectly complements his writing.  The expert placement of the actors combined with the outstanding technical elements achieves a visual liveliness as well as emotional depth.  Katie Proulx’s witty choreography enlivens the main dance sequence and in addition adds a graceful quality of fluid movement to everything the actors do.

As “Gorey #1” the bald, bearded and bespectacled Mr. Dawson bears a strong resemblance to the older version.  Besides his limber physicality, Mr. Dawson’s dynamic performance relies on his soothing vocal abilities that has the realistic cadence and rhythms of the past.

The black haired and bearded black clad Mr. Sank’s persona is impishly 1960’s cool as “Gorey #2.”  His twinkling eyes, lilting voice and charming demeanor are facets of his very engaging characterization.

The youthful and intense Mr. Gillen as “Gorey #3,” wearing chinos, blue blazer and a red tie, hauntingly conveys the anguish and volatility of a struggling sexually and socially uneasy WASP’s life journey.  With his voice periodically cracking and his animated presence he is quite moving.

John Narun’s projection and lighting design crisply evokes the fluctuating time periods and strikingly visualizes the events and locations.  The eerie and jubilant musical selections and effects are part of Emma Wilks high-level sound design.

Peri Grabin-Leongs costume design represents Gorey’s shift from conventional preppy to aesthete with well-selected classic garments.

The puppetry design by Elizabeth Ostler is playfully accomplished. Russell Warren‐Fisher’s excellent original artwork strategically is interspersed with Gorey’s.

A “fantasy memoir” is how Mr. Russ describes Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey. Fantasy and memoir are on dazzling display in it.

Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey ( return engagement through January 14,, 2017)

Life Jacket Theatre Company

Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, 18 Bleecker Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-925-2812 or 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.ovationtix.com

Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (449 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

2 Comments on Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey

  1. Darryl Reilly Darryl Reilly // August 25, 2016 at 4:22 pm // Reply

    Thanks for your insightful remarks. It is probable that the play took dramatic license.

  2. Having known Edward Gorey for about 30 years, much of it through the world of ballet, i can assure you that he NEVER became a friend of George Balanchine’s. Never. It could be said, perhaps, that EG was in the same room with Balanchine, socially, on a few occasions, but very few. I wonder if he ever spoke more than ten words to the great ballet master. Further more, while EG collected postcards, he did not possess “over a thousand” documenting deceased infants – idly I wonder if ANY single collection can be said to hold such a large number, but regardless, EG’s postcard collection hardly included nearly that many and for the record the concentration on this subject area was one presented him by a fellow postcard collector,who thought the subject might be of interest to ED, and not an area of interest arrived at by him, per se. The “play” you review took great liberties with EG’s life and and work and should not be looked upon as factual. A whole lot of it was quite fanciful, and worse.

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