Anatomy of Gray marks the first non-musical I have seen at Anoka’s Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, and to put it succinctly, I was glad I went. The show is a little bit drama, a little bit comedy, a little bit medical mystery, and a little bit fantasy (I mean, come on, one of the main characters arrives by way of a wayward hot air balloon!), and entirely entertaining.
Set in small-town Indiana in the 1880s, Anatomy of Gray follows the story of a teenager named June (Nykeigh Larson) who becomes fascinated with the recently arrived Dr Galen Grey (the town’s first doctor, played by Ty Hudson) as he is faced with the puzzle of a mysterious illness affecting some of the townspeople.
The show’s beginning and ending are a little clunky; I’ve never been a big fan of the “story within a story” construct, and Anatomy of Gray starts with the narrator informing the audience that there once was a girl who looked an awfully lot like her, and this her story – at which the entire cast breaks the fourth wall and announces, “Chapter One.” It doesn’t take anything away from the story that is about to come, but I’m not sure it adds anything, either, and it makes the ending just a little too cheesy for my taste.
That said, all the parts in the middle are worth it. Leonard’s script creates a world that is just odd enough to be interesting, but not so odd as to be unbelievable. The small town of Gray, Indiana is, of course, full of quirky characters with strong opinions, and they’re all endearing. From the adorably innocent and single-minded Homer (James Ehlenz) to the blustery, stubborn Pastor Wingfield (Don Maloney, who is does a particularly good of being the straight man who causes significant laughter), the cast is endearing. To my delight, they never slip into cliché territory, either; each character has quirks, but they also have depth. Galen Gray gives off the air of a sophisticated, well-educated man – a big city doctor – but he’s also incredibly squeamish and scared of blood, quiet about his past, and devoutly religious. To the utter delight of this feminist reviewer, the main character, June (Larson) is a teenage girl who is obsessed with finding a boyfriend (and eventual husband) — but she is also obsessed with getting out of her town, learning new things, and medicine. She is able to focus not only on the object of her affections, but on contagious disease. You know, like a real girl. It shouldn’t be that noteworthy, but… it is.
Although he has no speaking parts, Warren Sampson is on stage for all (or almost all? I’ll admit I can’t recall) of the play, seated unobtrusively in the back, providing the show’s soundtrack with his guitar. As the composer/musician, he has done a great job of creating and performing music that adds the perfect touch — it supplements the action without distracting from it.
I have consistently been impressed with the sets, props, and costumes at Lyric Arts, and this production was no different. Kudos to scenic and lighting designer Jim Eischen on a visually interesting (but not distracting) set, and prop designer Emma Davis and costume designer Stacey Palmer for their awesome attention to detail. There are some really neat thematic things done with colour that I won’t spoil for you, but if you pay attention, you’ll be impressed.
Anatomy of Gray isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a well-told story that is impressive in its blending of comedy, drama, and mystery. The cast is solid, the production values are consistently high, and I applaud Lyric Arts‘ decision to try something a little different, a little less-known. It is absolutely worth your time and the cost of admission (uh, and the popcorn in the lobby is cheap and comes in a perfect snack size — just saying!).
Anatomy of Grey by Jim Leonard, April 22-May 8, 2016 at the Lyric Arts Main Street Stage, 420 East Main St, Anoka, MN. Show is recommended for ages 12+. Tickets $15-30 at www.lyricarts.org or (763) 422.1838.