Review: ‘Gorey Stories’

"Gorey Tales," a deliciously macabre assortment of tales, songs and limericks from the gothic outpourings of writer-illustrator Edward Gorey, cleverly compiled by scripter Stephen Currens, is given a sumptuous staging by helmer Pat Towne and Sacred Fools' nine-thesp ensemble.

A correction was made to this review on Oct. 5, 2005.

“Gorey Tales,” a deliciously macabre assortment of tales, songs and limericks from the gothic outpourings of writer-illustrator Edward Gorey, cleverly compiled by scripter Stephen Currens, is given a sumptuous staging by helmer Pat Towne and Sacred Fools’ nine-thesp ensemble. Gorey’s jaundiced, neo-Victorian vision of sinister adults, persecuted waifs and malevolent creatures is abetted by the thematically perfect production design (Michael Franco), sets (Joel Daavid), costumes/masks (Ann Closs-Farley) and lights (Cricket Sloat), all in his trademark B&W and shades of gray.

Towne’s use of the story theater technique — having characters narrate themselves into and out of the action — is ideal for Gorey’s spare, ghoulish sketches and morbid, elegantly mirthful prose. A prominent theme in many of the tales is the victimization of the helpless, particularly children, chronicled with Gorey’s customary dispassionate whimsy.

“The Wuggly Ump” nonchalantly relates the activities of a dragon-like monster that devours little kids. In the same vein, “The Insect God” follows the abduction of a pretty girl (Ryan Templeton) from a park. Her subsequent misadventure concludes with her being fed to a giant bug.

Another well-worked Gorey theme is sexual depravity. “The Curious Sofa” is highlighted by an impressive display of ensemble teamwork as a simplistic but lusty young lady (Lola Ward) is relentlessly but imaginatively violated by a whole series of aristocratic debauchers.

One of the more bottom-feeding vignettes focuses on “The Loathsome Couple” (Joe Jordan, Templeton) whose sexual dysfunction as a couple eventually leads them to become jaded serial killers.

Throughout all these depictions of mayhem and decadence, the ensemble never loses touch with the sardonic wit embedded in all Gorey’s tales. A particular charmer is “The Willowdale Handcar,” following the odyssey of three Victorian children (Towne, Joe Fria, Ward) as they abscond with a railroad handcar and gleefully comment on all the human tribulation they witness during their travels.

In a change of pace, the ensemble also scores with Gorey’s “The Gilded Bat,” a melancholy chronicle of one fan’s (Towne) disastrous obsession with a self-absorbed opera diva (Ward).

The most complex vignette is “The Unstrung Harp,” focusing on the efforts of senile author C.F. Earbrass (Henry Dittman) to finish his novel, hindered by the uncooperative shenanigans of the characters who decide to wage war with their creator. Particularly captivating is Paul Plunkett’s perf as the novel’s protagonist, the spiritually burdened Little Henry.

An offstage instrumental quartet performs as an added member of the ensemble. Douglas Lee’s virtuosity on the musical saw and tuned wine glasses evokes the haunting eeriness of an electronic Theremin.

Gorey Stories

Sacred Fools, Hollywood; 75 seats; $20 top

Production

A Sacred Fools Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts, adapted by Stephen Currens from the work of Edward Gorey, music by David Aldrich. Directed by Pat Towne. Choreography, Jessie Marion. Musical direction/keyboard, Graham Jackson.

Creative

Production design, Michael Franco, sets, Joel Daavid; lights, Cricket Sloat; sound, William Levine; costumes/masks, Ann Closs-Farley. Opened Sept. 22, 2005. Reviewed Sept. 30. Runs through Oct. 31. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

C.F. Earbrass - Henry Dittman Hamish - Joe Fria Mary Rosemarsh - Jenifer Hamel Lady Celia - Kelley Hazen Harold - Joe Jordan Little Henry - Paul Plunkett Mona 7 - Ryan Templeton Jasper Ankle - Pat Towne Ortenzia - Lola Ward
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