Heading into Lyric Arts' production of Anatomy of Gray, the only familiarity I had with this play was that it was billed as a "children's story for adults" based on life, loss, and love. Knowing this, my initial thought was that this would be a light hearted story with a take away of a life lesson or two. What I experienced in the end was something much more powerful and poignant.
Anatomy of Gray is a coming-of-age story told through the memories of June Muldoon, a 15-year-old girl growing up in the small town of Gray, Indiana, in the late 1800’s. After her father’s death, June prays for a healer to come to her town so that “no one will ever have to die again”. When a stranger blows into town in a hot air balloon, June thinks her prayer is answered; however, she begins to doubt this soon afterwards as her town’s residents are struck by a mysterious plague.
Resident Director Scott Ford’s stage direction and Jim Eischen’s scene design provided the ideal springboard from which this story was brought to life. The minimalistic set evoked the feeling of a life-size diorama which, when paired with Eischen’s emotionally impactful lighting design and a very talented cast, resulted in many visually satisfying moments throughout this show.
Nykeigh Larson portrays protagonist June Muldoon with youthful pluckiness & confidence balanced with uncertainty & vulnerability. Jessica Scott turns in a powerful performance as Rebecca Muldoon, a recently widowed mother struggling to be the solid foundation that her daughter needs while facing several life changing events and fears of her own. As the healer that is blown into town, Ty Hudson’s Galen P. Gray is charming, comical, and confident yet constantly plagued by self-doubt.
The town residents of Gray are portrayed by James Ehlenz (Homer), Nancy Lipinski (Tiny Wingfield), Don Maloney (Pastor Phineas Wingfield), Cassandra Proball (Maggie), Timmy Rawerts (Crutch Collins), and Beth Tangeman (Belva Collins). All put forth sincere and wonderfully enjoyable performances, providing much of the humor in the play but also driving the antagonistic force within this story by way of their characters’ fear and ignorance which is magnified as events unfold.
The production also included original guitar compositions by Warren Sampson who was featured on stage throughout the entirety of the show, often silhouetted against the Midwestern prairie sky. Sampson’s music added to the rich and beautiful texture of this piece as it was woven through the fabric of the play’s dialogue.
While I may not have known what to expect heading into Anatomy of Gray, I came away having enjoyed a performance that was as thought-provoking and touching as it was humorous and charming. For those seeking such an experience, Lyric’s production is not to be missed.
Rick Wyman is a Twin Cities based actor and Lyric Arts alum. When not onstage, he enjoys volunteering for local performing arts programs, travelling with his wife, Cheri, and continuing his life long quest to hone his repertoire of really bad jokes & puns (much to the chagrin of his two kids).