Secret Lives (and Loves!) of Edward Gorey

Photo by Jenny Anderson

Photo by Jenny Anderson

We learn in Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey that choreographer Ted Shawn used to say, “When in doubt, twirl.” This seemed to be the mantra of the production, written and directed by Life Jacket Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Travis Russ, which was full to the brim with feats of technology and design.

To that end, the back wall of the stage was papered in copies of documents and drawings that were found in Gorey’s study, which became a projection surface for a myriad of Max Wolkowitz’s visual imaginings and John Narun’s video and lighting effects. Emma Wilk’s sound design provided a complex underscoring to the emotional journey of Gorey’s life depicted onstage. The storytelling was tight and fast-paced, incorporating moments of puppetry, pantomime, and a song, arranged by Chad Stoffel.

Gorey was depicted by three actors, representing different phases of his life, which gave the opportunity for a 360 degree examination of all the events of his life, from his boyish hopes and doubts to his elder analyses and reflections. Russ’ direction has a way of hyper-focusing his actors’ attention on the gestures they are articulating, which is not always my favorite aesthetic, but certainly lent a unifying tic to these actors’ performances. For someone who lived so frequently in his imagination, it makes a certain amount of sense that Gorey’s interactions with the material world would be overly wrought.

All of these elements helped fill in the pieces of this reclusive artist’s life. Gorey spent most of his adult years writing and drawing and daydreaming in solitude at his house in Cape Cod. Russ used a combination of Gorey’s real words in journals, interviews, and letters, along with his own poetic imaginings, to paint the full picture. Thanks to this concoction of reality and theater magic, it was possible to envision Gorey’s reality, though we know so little about it.

Russ chose to focus on the relationships in Gorey’s life, which was a difficult pursuit because so little is known about his personal sentiments. Russ positioned Gorey as a closeted homosexual, although he is careful not to pigeonhole him as such. Gorey refused labels throughout his lifetime, defending his singleness with lines like, “Sometimes I ask myself why I never ended up with somebody and then I realize I didn’t want to or, obviously, I would have. [I am], I believe the phrase is… married to [my] work.” And yet, references to Gorey’s college roommate Frank O’Hara, famed choreographer George Balanchine, and “Michael,” a museum curator from New York, liberally pepper the play, insisting on Gorey’s missed opportunities for love.

Personally, I was more interested in Gorey’s solitude than in his relationships. I loved the line, “There are more people passing this window than Jane Austen saw in her entire life,” wistfully spoken on a solitary Christmas Eve. I also loved that Gorey had a collection of photos of dead babies, which he would arrange as if at a tea party and converse with over breakfast. Gorey had cats, like many stereotypically solitary people, but he also had a magnolia tree growing through one of the walls of his house. His quirks and charms knew no bounds, and it was a delight to pay homage to them through this production.

Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey runs through May 22 at HERE.

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