I was a huge fan of Edward Gorey in my early teens. I can recite most of “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” by heart. Because of that book, I created my own book of demented carols, much to my schools and parents dismay. It was with glee that I headed to the Sheen Center to catch GOREY: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey. Three actors simultaneously play Gorey at various stages of his life and sometimes all at once. We have Phil Gillen in his mid 20s, Aidan Sank in his mid 30s and Andrew Dawson as Gorey at 75. In this production Gorey comes off as closeted, he was not. Rebuffed for being a gay man and a shut-in. Gone is his working in the Art Department of Doubleday illustrating Bram Stroker’s Dracula, The War of the Worlds or Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Not talked about is his Tony Award winning efforts for Dracula on Broadway. What about his work on PBS’s Mystery?
Though it is true he lived up in Cape Cod, he was hardly a recluse. He was known for his papier-mache puppet shows known as Le Theatricule Stoique. Gorey was a huge lover of the ballet and he religiously attended all performances of the New York City Ballet in fur coats and tennis shoes. It wasn’t until 1995 to his death in April 2000 that Gorey became a recluse. I state all this because the show does not.
Written and directed by Travis Russ, the artistic director of the Life Jacket Theatre Company we are lead to believe this is a fantasy, yet the play is almost entirely biographical. Gorey did go to Harvard where he shared a room with Frank O’Hara. He did get rejected by The New Yorker. He did love George Balanchine choreography for the New York City Ballet, but did they have an affair because this show makes the audience believe they did. They make his recluse days seem forever, when in fact they were only five years. It is more of an outing to get Edward out of the closet, but as Edward stated: “I’m neither one thing nor the other particularly. I am fortunate in that I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something … I’ve never said that I was gay and I’ve never said that I wasn’t … what I’m trying to say is that I am a person before I am anything else …”
The performances are riveting, but the story highly confusing. Especially when the youngest Gorey states: “Did something happen to me? When was it?” Both my guest and I took it that meant Gorey had been abused, but that subject is dropped.
I found myself not interested in this man I have admired for so long and my guest who did not know Gorey’s work was just as unknowledgeable.
GOREY: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey: Life Jacket Theatre Company, The Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker St.through January 14.