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Gorey The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey

Andrew Dawson in GOREY (c) Jenny Anderson.


                                           By David Schultz

A more than passing interest and knowledge of this macabre illustrator would be helpful before attending this slim play. But writer-director Travis Russ infuses the piece with an obvious love and affection for this offbeat artist, so by the end of this 75-minute production the audience gets an intimate glimpse into Mr. Gorey’s private life. The work is based on the artist’s own words, intermingled with snippets of his journals, letters, rare interviews, as well as some condensed versions of his stories spoken aloud. This mélange of memory has pivotal moments brought to vivid life with facts and poetic license intertwined. It is hard to discern what is pure truth and what imaginary moments Mr. Russ has devised, but the piece works seamlessly and has a dreamlike rhythm. 

Aidan Sank, Phil Gillen & Andrew Dawson (c) Jenny Anderson

The idea to split Mr. Gorey into three separate stages of life proves to be a brilliant device. The playbill lists 3 people in the work; Gorey 1, Gorey 2, Gorey 3.  Phil Gillen is Gorey 3, young fresh faced, shy, reticent in his college days at Harvard, Aiden Sank is Gorey 2, a mid thirties man with lots of ambition, talent bursting forth, with an aching love and desire for his own kind, but too fearful and awkward to relax or come to terms with his roiling emotions. Andrew Dawson is Gorey 1, the artist in his reclining years, looking back on all he has accomplished. His unfulfilled romantic life occasionally burrows into his thoughts…  His secret aside to the audience states “I am fortunate in that I have always been terribly undersexed”.

Much of the play is occupied with each of these three men conversing with their younger and older selves…. sometimes arguing, sometimes laughing, sometimes ruminating on past obsessions and always thinking up the next whimsical, fantastical story to pair up with his black and white ink drawings.

Phil Gillen & Andrew Dawson


The small stage is littered with an assortment of towering shelves, filled with his brick-a-brack belongings…a typewriter or three, innumerable sheaves of paper with half filed designs, doorknobs, papier-mâché objects, puppets, stuffed animals, boxes filled with mysterious objects. In a word, an entire universe that he incorporated into his work and art. Mention must be made also of his seven cats that remain unseen in this production; they gave him comfort in his almost hermitlike existence.

Scenic designers Travis Russ & John Narun have a bit of fun showing Mr. Gorey in his various stages of creation, with illuminated line drawings coming to life on the back wall, but more of it would have been welcome. Mr. Gorey’s imposing illustrated output is ever so lightly traced and the novice theatergoer would be hard pressed to glean the sheer brilliance and macabre wit that Mr. Gorey possessed within his demented soul. The majority of this memory play is filled with Mr. Gorey’s love and obsession with choreographer George Balanchine, recalling favorite ballets and dancers, singing commercial ditties extolling the glamour of flying Pan Am, creating new and enigmatic works, and trying hard to dodge the issue of his sexuality to the press and to himself in equal doses. Each performer perfectly compliments their other half as they all intertwine together forming a complex whole person. An upstage wall is covered floor to ceiling with drawings and etchings from his myriad stories. The audience is encouraged pre-and-post show to go onstage and look at the dark enigmatic drawings. Perhaps next time the next play about this artist will go deeper into his artistic work and what the stories and drawings really are saying in their veiled cryptic musings. Or maybe as Mr. Gorey most likely would have preferred; leave all that to the individual viewer to figure it out…. or maybe just be puzzled and smiling simultaneously.  


Playing at The Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street 


Running Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Through January 14th