Fall Play Review: “The Anatomy of Gray”
The cast and crew recreated a 19th-century Indiana town for this touching drama-comedy
This year’s fall play was The Anatomy of Gray, by Jim Leonard Jr. Performances ran on Thursday, November 1 and Friday, November 1. The cast included Riley Werner, Marian Zens, Anna Boden, Andrew Jones, Haely Callahan, Hank Withington, Tom Yue, Gene Chang, Hye Soo Jung, and Liz Nanavati. The 80-minute play was divided into two chapters with an intermission in between.
The play takes place in the boring little town of Gray, Indiana. The main characters in the play are Galen Gray, a doctor; June Muldoon, a 15-year-old girl, and her mother Rebekah Muldoon. When Galen Gray arrives in town, he falls in love with June’s mother, the widow Rebekah; while Rebekah returns his affection, her daughter June also develops a crush on the young doctor. However, this relationship is not the central idea of the play. The storyline focuses mainly on the struggles of Galen after he is blown into town in his hot air balloon by a tornado. Gray, whose last name is the same as the town’s and this serves as a short inside joke at the beginning of the play, is an enigmatic but suspicious character for the townspeople. With very little knowledge of infectious diseases, proper hygiene, or common medical practices, the residents of Gray are both enthralled with and horrified by their new “healer”. In the end, he tries to save the people from a plague that has arrived in town.
The story line, although itself quite depressing, depends mostly on dialogue to provide laughter. For example, the character Homer has a crush on June, the main character. However, during the conversations that happen between them, the audience can clearly see June’s indifference in contrast to Homer’s enthusiasm. In one scene, when June and her mother Rebekah are hanging clothes on a rope between two trees, June talks about how much she likes Gray. Homer, holding the hanging line with another character in order to represent two trees, turns to break the fourth wall and says, “If trees can talk, I would be crying now”. This comment, while garnering a few laughs, also conveys his sarcastic hopelessness. Fourth wall breaks are common in the play, as characters frequently turn to the audience to concede a factual inaccuracy (“I’m asleep right now, but I’m here to represent a tree”) or future plot point, usually to hilarious effect.
Another source of humor is Gray’s ironic squeamishness. The fact that a doctor is afraid of blood comes as a shock to the townspeople, and many of them comment on it with tones of confusion or frustration. Incapable of even looking at blood without passing out, Gray is unable to perform surgery, and has to guide June through a delicate procedure, ultimately sparking her budding interest in becoming a doctor.
While dialogue and situational irony drives the brunt of the comedy, there are still several points when the actors rely on physical gags to get a laugh. At one point, Pastor Wingfield (Andrew Jones) seeks relief for his gallstones and Galen (Riley Werner) turns him over into a full handstand. Simultaneously, Wingfield’s sister Tiny (Haely Callahan) asks the doctor to look at a mark on her thigh, and she is asked to continue supporting her brother in his inverted state while the doctor scurries under her skirts to examine her thigh.
Since the play is set in a rural Victorian town in the Midwest, people are isolated and have been exposed to very little technology. The preacher even admits he cannot read, but rather has committed the bible to heart from hearing each passage read aloud. Therefore, the mistrust of clearly correct medical procedures, such as washing with soap and water, is common. At the same time, this connects Gray to the audience; audience members are sympathetic to his plight and equally shocked by the townspeople’s ignorance, given their shared knowledge of obvious medical facts. For example, it is quite common for patients to submit a urine sample when visiting a doctor, in order to screen for possible diseases or medical disorders. When Gray asks Tiny Wingfield to do so, however, she is angrily affronted and hilariously yells at him, calling him a “monster!”.
According to June, Gray is a place where everything can be seen as a flat land where even the hills are flat. The setting is conveyed to the audience through the characters in an person to talk in front of the whole crowd made it furthermore an intriguing performance.
Marian Zens’s incredible performance as June Muldoon, the fifteen year old narrator of the story, was the driving force of this production. Fully immersing herself in the character, Zens had the audience rolling with laughter as she delivered comedic lines, while at the same time causing periods of complete silence after presenting tragic plot points.
Riley Werner dove straight into his character, carefully articulating certain quirks, fears, and emotions through the use of body language and tonal shifts. Werner’s dedication to his character shone through his incredible delivery of a Jewish prayer in full Hebrew.
Anna Boden took on the difficult role of Rebekah Muldoon, a grieving widow who suddenly discovers she is with child. Boden perfectly illustrated her internal struggle and debate on what she will do with the child, including whether or not to have an abortion. Enveloped in her character’s dark storyline, Boden managed to deliver an incredible performance with convincing accuracy and empathy.
Throughout the play, there was no major change to the set. Even though the set itself appeared to be a well-constructed bulk, multiple parts could be moved as the plot required. What the audience could see was the main stage, which consisted of three platforms of connected wood blocks running diagonally across the stage. A huge background was painted grey with the pattern of bark to create the sense of countryside. In addition, actual tree trunks stood on the sides of the stage (though strongly secured at the top and base to ensure the actors’ safety). The stage was multi-functional; as the plot unfolded, the stage served not only as the graveyard of the passed Mr. Muldoon, but it also became a church, backyard, and even a river for the boat to travel down.
Speaking of the boat…many audience members have commented on it, speculating how it was operated. It skated across the stage with surprising smoothness, and at first glance no one could tell how it worked. Two scenes in the story involved rowing a boat in the river, so the set included the necessary skiff, stored under the constructed wood platform. When needed, a crew member pushed the boat under the stage, setting it up for the actors to control. Even though the audience could not completely tell the “secret of movement”, attentive observers could catch a slight clue of how it was moved across the stage. By pushing their feet along the ground through a hole inside the boat, the actors was able to control the direction of the boat (which was loaded on a set of wheels, thus explaining the smoothness of the ride). Only close attention from the audience would lead to the discovery of the mechanics.
In addition to the multi-functional stage, the sound effects also played a prime role. Director of Technology Stephen Rogers did a great job of cuing the right sound at the right time, and they were all used sufficient and necessary. Winds were provided to signify the great storm, birds indicated the approach of dawn, and the sound of flowing water recreated the sensation of being on a river. In addition, the projection of moon on the drapery, the light arrangement, and the diverse,detailed costumes came together to create a realistic world.
The costumes also played a large role in conveying key information throughout the play. When the townspeople begin the group prologue, they are dressed grays, browns, and blacks – mostly drab colors. Once the doctor arrives, the audience is treated to splashes of yellow, red, and blue in the characters’ clothing. A character’s death is symbolized in their change to a white or pale outfit; since several characters die in the play, this visual cue is a useful tool. The costumes’ rich fabrics and fine details demonstrate the efforts made by the production staff to accurately recreate the time period.
The cast and crew of The Anatomy of Gray should be proud of their efforts, as they put together a beautiful show filled with laughter and sadness.