Review: Longmont Theatre Company’s Anatomy of Gray Has Issues

The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily be shared by the Longmont Observer.

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes
Anatomy of Gray (Photo courtesy of the Longmont Theatre Company)

There are plot spoilers in this review.

When Doctor Galen P. Gray first introduces himself to the residents of Gray, Indiana, he seems sleazy and condescending. Perhaps it’s the fact that he fell out of a hot air balloon. Perhaps its the fact that he talks like Neil deGrasse Tyson — eager to employ big words not for their explanatory utility but because they make him sound smart. Nevertheless, when you later learn he spent his formative years as a huckster alongside his snake oil salesman of a father, what will stay with you is that like this paragraph, nothing in Galen P. Gray’s history matters.

Anatomy of Gray is a study of the capriciousness of life in 1880s small town Indiana, a place where the world outside is big, mysterious and unexplored. Unexplainable events have a habit of intruding on an otherwise predictable lifestyle.

When June Muldoon’s father dies, just before the opening scene, she wishes to God that he might send a healer to their town so that no one she loves could ever fall sick again. In any other story, the thunderstorm that sweeps Galen Gray into her life on a hot air balloon would be the kind of providence which the audience accepts as a vehicle to explore the themes the playwright is interested in. Instead the story is left with only the barest impression of this improbable integration of an outsider into their small town.

The story is unconcerned with such matters of cause and effect (Where did Galen come from? Does anyone miss him? Why was he on a hot air balloon?) because the worldview of the other characters don’t require it.

The story is a frame narrative, with June Muldoon telling the story to a child. Things are as they are and it doesn’t do well to ask too many questions about how we got here or where we’re going. As in many other grating caricatures of the small town Midwest, everyone talks like a folksy hillbilly and the preacher is filled with pride and suspicion of outsiders. Especially once they learn that the new doctor is Jewish.

Anatomy of Gray (Photo courtesy of the Longmont Theatre Company)

To the extent that Anatomy of Gray is attempting to make a point with Galen’s Jewishness, I missed it. There are times where it is simply an aspect of his character which, I think, is supposed to humanize him.

Galen often visits the cemetery to pray over the neglected grave of a Jew. This provides an opportunity for him to bond over the grave of June’s father and become closer to her mother. On the other hand, it also forms the basis of a variety of anti-Semitic behavior from the other characters.

Early in the play, two characters gossip about Galen spending time in the cemetery at night, referencing a variety of malicious rumors of Jews harvesting organs from the dead. Later on, once a mysterious sickness starts to spread, other characters use his otherwise plot-irrelevant religion as a basis to accuse him of such anti-Semitic tropes as defiling corpses, charming people and spreading the illness.

I am not the kind of progressive social justice warrior who is hyper-attuned to violations of political correctness, but these instances of anti-Semitic behavior on the part of the characters jumped out at me. I am neither accusing the author of the play or Longmont Theatre Company of anything. However, I am very confused because Anatomy of Gray never demonstrates enough self-awareness for it to be known whether it is engaging in these tropes intentionally, or is commenting on them.

Part of what I found difficult in the story is that all of the characters lack agency in their lives. Things simply happen to them. June’s father dies. Galen is blown adrift in his hot air balloon. June’s mother, Rebekah, is pregnant (I’m still not sure who the father is, and it turns out to be completely irrelevant to the story which only makes the mystery more distracting). Pastor Wingfield has a debilitating kidney stone. Several people die of a mysterious illness which they had no ability to prevent. The cause is suddenly revealed at the end of the play as a non-sequitur, but not until after the lives of every person in Gray is systematically destroyed by it. I can only assume that this is a deliberate choice on the part of the author, but I’m not sure what the narrative purpose is except as an endorsement of Calvinism’s doctrine of predestination.

All of this is not to say that there aren’t things worth enjoying here. As usual, Longmont Theatre Company demonstrates the incredible talent of the people in our community. Allegra Michael plays a wonderfully engaging teenage June Muldoon, full of sass and belief that the outside world is so much cooler. Peggy Holm is wonderfully flirty as the preacher’s sister, Tiny Wingfield, interested in Galen Gray but also surprisingly serious and moving in the second act. Renee Malis (Rebekah Muldoon) really made me believe she loves June, and is worried for her future. The set is spartan, but the artwork bracketing the stage honestly reminded me of Indiana.

Anatomy of Gray by Jim Leonard Junior is suitable for teenagers and older. It will have six performances by the Longmont Theatre Company. March 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 PM and March 17 and 24 at 2:00 PM at the company’s playhouse at 513 Main Street, Longmont, CO. Tickets are available online for a fee and at the box office, $20 for adults and $18 for those under age 18 and over age 65.

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