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A CurtainUp Review

The Gorey Details

I see no disparity between my books and everyday life . . .
I write about everyday life
-- Edward Gorey

Kevin McDermott
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

The late Edward Gorey
The every day life which Edward Gorey created in words and pictures is full of hapless victims, often children, coming to undeserved death. Remove the "e" from his name and you have the perfect adjective to describe the details of his dark tales. Macabre . . .creepy. . .gothic. . .sinister. . .eccentric are also apt adjectives for the words and finely etched images that flowed from his pen. A whole cult of Goreyphiles has grown around his bump in the night, creepy-crawly picture story books. (see link below)

Gorey's grandly attired men and women moving among giant urns and caskets have been most famously animated as the graphic that introduces Public Television's Masterpiece theater. In The Gorey Details, which has opened at the Century Center for an open run, the bearded man with notebook and quill pen in hand from that PBS graphic as well as other Gorey writings and drawings, leap into three-dimensional life. With its mix of bright and aptly dark music by Peter Matz, the show is a stylized story revue or, as its creators have tagged it "a musicale."

Call it what you will, The Gorey Details, the latest of a number of staged Gorey stories, is an enjoyable entertainment. The show's core audience will no doubt be Gorey enthusiasts. That's why its being housed in the modestly sized and conveniently located Century Center is ideal for helping it find the audience needed to sustain an extended run.

The nine-member ensemble, led by Kevin McDermott, has accurately and exuberantly captured Gorey's spirit and style in sixteen gruesomely funny scenarios about abandoned children, opera divas, ballerinas plus such nonhuman creatures as bats and a hippopotamus. From the moment he bicycles on stage, McDermott, captivates as the quill pen wielding narrator and Gorey alterego, Ogdred Weary. Bald and resplendent in Gorey's own signature costume of fur coat and white sneakers, he actually resembles Weary's creator. McDermott/Weary's face is an ever-changing map of facial expressions, and his voice strongly delivers spoken and sung dialogue. Aided by the mysterious Q.R.V. cureall potion, which is also the title of the opening and closing number, characters burst from notebook page to stage.

The music and settings establish a tone and pace that sends us see-sawing between giddy cheeriness and funereal darkness. The three-piece band comprised of piano, cello and percussion is well positioned in two boxes. The black and white cardboard set includes human scaled urns bearing ominously labeled "mud", "ashes," and "croquet balls." Although all sixteen pieces are fun, some tip the imagination scale more than others; notably, The Inanimate Tragedy which "stars" a glass marble, a knotted string, a button, a nail and a needle -- all mounted on sticks and a triumph of Craig Kennedy's skillful lighting. Like set designer Jesse Poleshuck, Martha Bromelmeier has translated the Gorey costumes with enough drop-dead outfits to fill several walk-in closets.

Though the look of the show is a major asset, it's the actors, individually and as a team, who make the eccentricity work. Clare Stollak's opera training is evident throughout, especially in The Blue Aspic,. Allison Crowley's is particularly terrific as the abandoned Theodora in The Weeping Chandelier; so are her bat rescuers and eventual partners in a music hall act, the versatile and agile Daniel C. Levine, Ben Nordstrom and Christopher Youngsman. In the previously unpublished The Admonitory Hippopotamus, Alison DeSalvo dances her way through eighty-one years (from 5 to 86) with hippo Daniel C. Levine popping up regularly admonishing her to "flay at once" because "all (whatever all may be) is discovered." I could go on detailing a star turn for each performer.

Daniel Levans has staged the show so that each piece flows smoothly into the next and without any attempt to give it any deep meaning. Nor has he gone out of his way to tap into its potential as a family show even though Gorey's characters and images do bring to mind Theodore Geisel's beloved Dr. Seuss books and, not surprisingly, many Seuss devotees grew up to become devoted Goreyphiles. While the new Dr. Seuss inspired musical, The Seussical, has been battling the perception that it's a strictly family oriented show, this less hyped "musicale" is less likely to have such an image problem. That's not to say you can't take the kids (preferably aged at least nine or ten). After all, Gorey actually wrote many of his stories with children in mind and they are no more scary than Maurice Sendak, the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm or Shockheaded Peter which was a big hit with kids and their parents at the New Victory a few seasons ago.

P.S. I saw the show on Friday the 13th, and left unspooked by any Goreyan mishaps -- except an irrepressible urge to add some of his quirky chapbooks (each featuring some of the show's stories) to my bookshelves, an urge easily satisfied since all three "amphigories" ( an amphigory meaning a nonsense verse or composition) are still in print and available at our book store.
      Amphigorey .
      Amphigorey Too
Amphigorey Also
      For more about Edward Gorey himself there's The World of Edward Gorey by Clifford Ross (Karen Wilkin,Contributor) and The Strange Case of Edward Gorey by Alexander Theroux, a slim little volume, more a colorful character sketch than a bio and of interest because Theroux knew Gorey.

by Edward Gorey
Music and Orchestrations by Peter Matz
Direction and Staging by Daniel Levans
Cast: Alison Crowley, Allison DeSalvo, Matt Kuehl, Daniel Levine, Kevin McDermott, Ben Nordstrum,Liza Shaller, Clare Stollak, Christopher Youngsman
Set Design: Jesse Polshuck
Lighting Design: Craig Kennedy
Costume Design: Martha Bromelmeier
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Musical Direction: Bruce W. Coyle
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission
Century Center, 111 E. 15th St. 239-6200
Performances from 9/26/2000; opening 10/16/2000
Closing 12/10/00

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/13 performance

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