Review: ‘Anatomy of Gray’
For starters, if you’ve never seen a University Theatre production, you’re missing out. The school of drama at OU is literally bursting with talent, and its productions are well worth your time – theater aficionado or not.
University Theatre is again starting the school year off right with its production of “Anatomy of Gray,” an equal part comedy and drama set in dreary Gray, Ind. during the 19th Century.
It’s not an ambitious project, and the play, by Jim Leonard, is solid though unremarkable, but this University Theatre production makes the most of what it has to work with, thanks largely to an excellent cast with no weak link.
“Anatomy of Gray” centers on June Muldoon, a plucky 15-year old with aspirations beyond her boring farm-life existence. Nothing ever happens in Gray, Ind., she complains, and though everyone else in the town is satisfied with a ho-hum existence, June longs for some excitement.
Once the story begins, she doesn’t have to wait long. A terrible storm brings a doctor in a downed hot-air balloon and though the townspeople are astonished by the unfamiliar contraption, it’s nothing compared to what this doctor has in store for them.
June is instantly enamored with the doctor, Galen Gray, who happens to share a name with the town he’s stumbled upon. She’s not alone. The single women are quite willing to be examined by the doctor, while the men, particularly the pastor, Phineas Wingfield, are skeptical at best.
To his credit, playwright Leonard doesn’t let the potential faith versus science subplot steal too much of the thunder. Ultimately, it’s a story, not a polemic, and that keeps the play in appropriate balance.
Part of the reason “Anatomy of Gray” works so well for University Theatre is its small cast and minimalist settings, which both the cast and the crew have clearly used to their advantage to assemble a technically superb production. The costume design works beautifully, especially for a scene that requires several characters to strip down to their skivvies. And the set design is well-executed, save for a moving wooden plank meant to be a boat that never quite comes off right.
But the real selling point of the entire production is the cast. Made up of only nine actors, each one is required to his or her share of heavy lifting, and each one rises to the occasion. “Anatomy of Gray” requires a lot of character interaction, but it rarely becomes sloppy in its staging, and never feels forced from the actors.
Clearly, it’s a group that knows each other well, and the audience gets the pleasure of witnessing every bit of good rapport you’d expect from such a small cast.
Jessie Downs, drama sophomore, is totally winning as June, whether she’s acting pouty or smitten. She would nearly steal the whole show if not for the anchoring presence of drama senior Ryan Edward Claxton as Dr. Gray, who excels at both the comedic and dramatic elements of his character.
The only thing that drags down “Anatomy of Gray” is its slightly hazy second act. The first act is tightly focused, and the character development is nearly flawless, but it all builds to an increasingly chaotic storyline in the second act that never goes much of anywhere. There’s a feeble attempt at a surprise ending, but by the time the key revelation is made known, it doesn’t mean much anymore.
Still, “Anatomy of Gray” is a highly entertaining and fairly thoughtful play, and the excellent production by University Theatre makes it worthwhile.
— Dusty Somers is a journalism junior.