|Catrionia Johnston, Aaron Morrow, Ted Schroeder, John Knowles, and Pat Romans|
By Tina Arth
Mask & Mirror Community Theatre’s selection process in the last couple of years has yielded some real gems – and their current show, Anatomy of Gray, is definitely a rare jewel. Jim Leonard Jr.’s 2006 play is funny, touching, and thought provoking – one of those works that lingers, quietly revealing new facets long after the final curtain. Director Sarah Ominski and her cast have done a fine job with this nuanced play, allowing the actors and audience to have an enormous amount of fun without sacrificing the poignant and sometimes painful elements of this tale of love, loss, and community.
The opening scene is comfortably familiar – young Junie Muldoon, trapped in the tiny 19th century hamlet of Gray, Indiana, begins with a monologue about boring life in this boring town, immediately followed by her father’s funeral. Shortly after she writes an anguished letter to God asking for a doctor “so that nobody will ever have to die again” a massive storm arrives – and any pretense of reality goes on the back burner. The first clue is when Junie tears across the stage crying out for her lost dog – shades of Toto – followed by a huge twister that brings the mysterious Galen Gray crashing down in his balloon. Obviously, at some level we’re not in Indiana anymore.
The xenophobic Pastor Wingfield is suspicious about the newcomer, who conveniently turns out to be a doctor, and the good pastor’s suspicions are inflamed by the appearance of mysterious and deadly lesions on some of the locals. Ultimately only Dr. Gray, Junie, and Junie’s hapless suitor, the soda-pop swilling Homer, are free of infection. A combination of hometown wit, physical comedy, and well-played pathos keeps the audience engaged as we gradually see parallels between the events in Gray and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
There are several great supporting roles – I particularly liked Steve Horton’s guitar playing. Donna Haub’s crisp take on Tiny Wingfield and Ted Schroeder’s narrow-minded enthusiasm as Pastor Wingfield. However, the show really pivots on the performances of Aaron Morrow (Galen P. Gray), Caitriona Johnston (June Muldoon), Renae Iverson (Rebekah Muldoon), and Robbie Estabrooke (Homer). Estabrooke is perfectly cast as the awkward, love-struck suitor – his earnest overtures are just what I’d expect from a young man of that time and place. Iverson gives her performance a kind of timeless depth and enlightened sensitivity, and she manages to play the martyr without pathos or melodrama.
Morrow gets some of the best material, especially in the realm of physical comedy, and makes the most of it without ever seeming silly – he delivers his lines with a solid intelligence and honesty that allows his character to emerge organically. Johnston’s “Junie” is a nice blend of innocence, longing, and precociousness, and she has the audience on her side from the moment the lights come up.
Speaking of lights, Brian Ollom’s work as Technical Director plus light and sound designer and operator plays an enormous role. The dreamlike nature that reinforces the play’s allegorical intent is expressed almost completely with lighting, as set and props are starkly minimal. The play moves from farm to graveyard, home to river with not much more than a few boxes; it is Ollom’s lighting that really sets each scene (and his storm is authentically terrifying in its intensity). Viola Pruitt’s costumes help to anchor the show in its time period; despite its thematic progressiveness, we always know that on one level we are still in a 19th century farm town.
Anatomy of Gray is not a show you’re likely to see again for quite awhile, and this production will definitely enhance your understanding of how theater can tell multiple stories simultaneously. Ominski and her team have worked long, hard, and successfully to bring the play to local audiences, and they deserve a run of full-houses.
Mask & Mirror’s Anatomy of Gray is playing at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard through May 21st, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.