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Anatomy of Gray
a Comedy/Drama
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Jim Leonard Jr.

COMPANY : Lionheart Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Norcross Community and Cultural Arts Center
ID# 1698

SHOWING : September 01, 2006 - September 09, 2006

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Galen Gray is having a crisis of faith. A young doctor who doubts his own abilities to heal, Galen wanders the American heartland looking for purpose in his life. In a small town named Gray, he saves the life of a local teenage girl, who quickly becomes his protégé . But when a ferocious disease spreads through town, the locals blame Galen and turn on him, forcing him to take action.

Set in the 1880's, Anatomy of Gray is a fable for all ages- a powerful reminder that sometimes in order to find yourself, you must first lose your way.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Joanie McElroy
Rebecca Muldoon Tanya Carroll
Pastor Phineas Wingfield J. Michael Carroll
June Muldoon Emily Dark
Maggie Pam Fox
Homer Jesse Green
Tiny Glory Hanna
Belva Collins Laura Lankford
Galen Gray Bob Smith
Crutch Collins Allen Stone
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Anatomically Correct and Spiritually Satisfying
by line!
Thursday, September 21, 2006
4.0
I saw Lionheart’s production of “Anatomy of Gray” on September 2, 2006 and wrote the bulk of this review on September 20, 2006. Due to my “sepia toned” photographic memory, I may have inadvertently missed some details. However my original impression of the show hasn’t changed.

“Anatomy of Gray” is the story of the seemingly miraculous delivery of a “man of science” into a small 1880’s “faith based” town and the conflicts this presents to all involved. Both the man and the town share the same name: Gray. The story explores the anatomy of both. This is a parable concerning the limitations and pitfalls of relying solely on faith or science in times of crisis. There are some very good examples of how ignorance of either faith or science can lead to undesirable and unintended outcomes. The townsfolk of Gray, and Gray the man, struggle to find a balance between Faith and Science in times of both personal and civic crisis while dealing with both the allure and fears inherent in each philosophy. In the end, a black and white viewpoint just won’t work: it has to be “gray”.

The venue for this presentation was an historic 100 year old wooden church in downtown Norcross. It will soon be transformed into a community arts center. The old wooden church created the perfect ambiance to compliment the themes and setting of this story.

The show was staged “in the round”, or more accurately “in the square” surrounded on four sides by the audience with the cast making their entrances and exits via the corners.. I found this staging particularly important for this story because when combined with the breaking of the fourth wall and the narrative style of the many of the scenes, it made the experience much more intimate for the audience. These were people, not characters. The only negatives to this staging were the lights. There didn’t seem to be any way to avoid being occasionally blinded during some of the scenes. The light trees were placed opposite of the seats ( I assume to keep the corners clear for the actors to use). Next time, they may want to consider some other placement to minimize the discomfort to the audience.

The key thing that sticks in my mind about this production was how artfully it was presented. There was a wonderful style to the presentation that transformed a lack of budget into an elegant simplicity, innocence and cleverness. There was no set and minimal props, only a few items of furniture that were used very creatively and imaginatively in different scenes. The material aspects of the production never interfered with the most important thing: the story.

I wish I could remember it exactly, but there is a quote from famed director John Houston who once said something like “if you cast it right, the rest is easy”. I know it wasn’t easy, but “Anatomy of Gray” was most definitely well cast. This ensemble was talented, balanced, cohesive and well rehearsed. The show ran smoothly, with good pacing, and all actors appeared comfortable and confident on stage.

The character of June (a teenaged girl overflowing with all the hopes and foibles of youth) serves as the thread which runs through the story. Emily Dark’s portrayal combined a wonderful mix of youthful innocence, passion for adventure and boredom with the confines of her small town. Like many teenage girls, Emily sometimes delivered her lines like she was going to run out of breath before she managed to get them all out. While this was charming and true to character, it occasionally made her dialogue difficult to hear and understand.

Jesse Green’s performance as Homer was a highlight of the show. This young man was totally believable as June’s wannabe suitor, who is still a boy, but wants desperately to be treated, and respected, like a man. He was a joy to watch.

J. Michael Carroll, as the town’s preacher and de facto leader, Phineas exemplified the darkness of blind faith, without succumbing to a stereotypical portrayal. The blindness of his belief is demonstrated with a story of his attempt to baptize a cat, which cost him an eye (surely that was not what God had wanted).While being humorous, it also shows the depths of his commitment to his faith. The humanity of his character came through in his body language even while everything else about him was unbending. Though his words were absolute and stern, his mannerisms allowed the man behind the preacher to show through and thus made the ultimate compromise at the end of the play much more acceptable. Carroll’s Phineas is part comic relief as he is involved in several scenes that are preposterous at first glance, but deadly serious underneath (the upside down “stones” treatment and the “witch hunt” come to mind).

.I do have one costuming question though: I am curious as to why the character wore a pair of glasses with one blacked out frame instead of an eye patch to cover the eye lost to the cat baptism?

Tanya Carroll’s Rebekah Muldoon is the pivot point for the story. She is the center of the fulcrum around which everyone strives to find their equilibrium ( as she herself does also). Her portrayal is beautifully understated and appropriate. She uses her hands more than her face to transmit her character’s emotions and that is a perfect fit with her character’s place in time and society. She brings a quiet dignity and grace to Rebekah that softens her stoicism. The part of the story where she and Galen become a couple seems contrived and unnecessary to me (reads to me like an attempt to appeal to the female demographic). Carroll does an admirable job of not letting her character get too “girly” in the romantic scenes and maintains her character’s core strength throughout.

Bob Smith’s portrayal of the title character of Galen Gray displayed the goodness, kindness and intelligence of the character. His mannerisms, voice and presentation left no doubt that the man we were watching had the discipline, intelligence and bedside manner to be a good doctor. When it came time for the character’s inner conflicts and demons to arise, Bob wasn’t quite as convincing in demonstrating the deeper emotions of this man who can only bear to operate on cadavers, because he faints at the sight of blood. His conflicts between wanting to help someone in need and his own need to avoid fainting or vomiting when faced with an injury crisis were played a bit too strong in my opinion. Gray is a serious, studious man and to have him change so dramatically when faced with his fears didn’t seem to fit his character to me. Bob’s acting style is very reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart to me. He was just so damn sincere and honorable; you couldn’t tell if he was acting or not and you couldn’t help but like him. You bought the character.

The supporting cast of: Pam Fox, Glory Hanna, Laura Lankford and Allen Stone as various members of the community were absolutely perfect. Each actor understood their characters completely and understood their functions in the scenes they were involved in. I had no trouble accepting any of them as anything other than their characters. Quite often in community theatre productions, actors with smaller roles will do things to make the audience notice them more. That detracts from the performance and compromises the scene. There was none of that with these folks. This bunch showed total professionalism across the board.

Director Joannie McElroy did an absolutely magnificent job of maximizing her resources in this production. The staging was tasteful, artistic and interesting. The actors were well cast and well rehearsed. The balance between asking the audience to use their imagination, and demonstrating to the audience what you wanted them to see was perfect. There was enough reality to keep the audience grounded, but enough need for imagination to make it fun. That’s the best kind of theatrical experience to me!

The sound and light crew did a very smooth job with all of the cues. I was really impressed with the music choices and the quality and detail of the audio cues. The only negative was being able to see a “tech” with a laptop in view of the audience during the performance (the occasional Windows “ding” sound bite could be heard from time to time). Maybe in the future, there will be booth for the crew.

I truly enjoyed this production. The acting was good. The story was different. The presentation was artistic and creative. It was an extremely satisfying theatrical experience.

-Rial

Note to Lionheart Theatre Company: Please give more space in your programs to the actor’s biographies. Us old folks have a lot of trouble reading them in the theater when the font is sooooooo small and the lighting is soooo dim. The ads are great but use some of the revenue to add one more piece of paper to the program-please!

Disclaimers: I have been in a show with Bob Smith (if that's his real name)and consider him to be a "friend" (he may have a different opinion). I have met J. Michael and Tanya Carroll and consider them to be "acquaintances" (they also may have a different opinion).
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The Play Fits the Theater Fits the Play
by lankylion
Sunday, September 3, 2006
5.0
Caveat: I have a binding personal relationship with a member of the cast, and have worked in the past with this theatre company, so it's fair to assume that I'm not going to trash any cast members in this review. That having been said, my review:

Lionheart Theatre Company christens the new Norcross Community and Cultural Arts Center with their innovative production of "Anatomy of Gray." And the truism..."Everything old is new again" is as fresh and relevant as ever for a play set in the 1880's done in an historic church built in 1875. In a setting built on faith, the audience is treated to the story of Galen Gray, whose crisis of faith is intertwined with the subsequent crises of faith and belief for the small town inhabitants of Gray, Indiana. The intense drama that ensues is mixed with episodes of humor and grace that underscore the complexity of the human condition.

Done in the round, this production draws in the entire audience and there isn't a bad seat in the house. With a minimalist approach to props, the viewer can focus on the characters and their journey from naive contentment to doubt to redemption and understanding.

Bob Smith has captured the angst and self-doubt of Galen Gray, a physician whose fatal flaw has kept him from becoming the healer he wants to be. The good folk of the town of Gray each contribute an important piece to the development and resolution of this tale. Laura Lankford plays Belva, a loving wife who is the first to succumb to a mysterious illness that eventually involves the whole town. Tanya Carroll is spot on in her characterization of Rebekah Muldoon, a grieving widow who's pregnant with the child of her recently deceased husband. Emily Dark plays June, Rebekah's 15-year-old coming-of-age daughter. Michael Carroll captures the essence of Phineas, the town fundamentalist, grand-standing preacher whose pants-around-the-ankles scene will leave you in stitches.

Then there is Allen Stone as Crutch Collins, Belva's good hearted, hard working husband who likes to take a nip of corn-squeezin's now and again. Pam Fox plays Maggie, who runs the local eatery and is country as the day is long. Homer is a good ole boy who has lived his whole life in Gray and has eyes for June Muldoon. Jesse Green makes him live. Last but not least is Glory Hanna as Tiny, a never-married-but-still-hopeful woman with an interest in Galen Gray and just a touch of the "vapors."

Joanie McElroy, director, has risen to the challenge of pulling these disparate characters together into an eminently entertaining and insightful whole. What a triumph of redemption through loss and love. It's not inappropriate to say..."I laughed; I cried; it became a part of me."


Alan Lankford
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