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Highland Theatre to Present Anatomy of Gray

published October 3, 2016

Highland Theatre to Present Anatomy of Gray

Come enjoy an evening of love, loss, and hope with Highland Community College’s latest theatre production, Anatomy of Gray, playing November 3-5 on the Mary Helen Gilmore Porter Stage in Culbertson Auditorium.

“Sometimes to find your faith, you must first lose your way”

Jim Leonard, the award-winning author of The Diviners, And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson, describes his newest play as "A children's story for adults." Set in heartland America during the late 19th century, “Anatomy of Gray” is a coming-of-age story that explores the intersections of science, faith, love, loss, and hope.

There's a river that runs by the town of Gray, Indiana, and it plays a big part in the lives of those who live there. Physically, it's the place where the people of the community come to draw their water. Spiritually, it's the place where the local clergyman takes his flock to be baptized. How deeply the waters that make up that river come to define the existence of those who depend upon it is what Anatomy of Gray is all about.

After experiencing the death of her father, 15-year-old June Muldoon prays for a doctor to come to her little town to minister to its people. Shortly thereafter, almost as if by magic, a storm drops one abruptly into their midst. The doctor had been driven off course in his hot air balloon by a tornado, and has come to rest in the very river that flows by the town. If there was any doubt that the union of the two was anything but predestined, the doctor, Galen P. Gray, just happens to carry the same name as the town.

Playwright Jim Leonard's script takes place in the late 1800s and it's easy to imagine its creative roots coming from the same wellspring as Thorton Wilder's Our Town. Gray is essentially a piece of Americana and its narrative representative of the same circle of life alluded to in Our Town. The town's inhabitants are at the heart of the story, and birth, life, and the subsequent passage into death are realities that each generation of townsfolk must experience.

Initially, Doctor Gray's arrival spurs a great deal of interest. Women, especially, are smitten with the handsome doctor, and flock to him with their infirmities, both real and imagined. The townspeople are basically uneducated, and the doctor's diagnoses of ordinary diseases like gastritis and arthritis are received with all the finality of a death sentence.

Doctor Gray is peculiar in that he is a physician who can't stand the sight of blood, a fact that accounts for some of the humor that is scattered about this otherwise dramatic play. But Gray is serious about his doctoring and proves a god-send to the townsfolk. He correctly attributes a gallstone as the source of the pain Pastor Phineas Wingfield is experiencing. His counseling of June's mother Rebekah allows her to give birth to a happy, healthy baby. But most importantly, he takes notice of the suspicious marks that are appearing on many of the townsfolk, marks which seem to be a precursor to a deadly infection taking hold of the citizens.

The doctor's popularity takes a turn for the worse when he asks permission to perform an autopsy on the body of one of those who was marked and subsequently died. Cutting up the dead seems an unholy practice to the townsfolk, whose religion comes mainly from the preachings of their Bible-thumping Pastor.

There's a lot to like about these homespun people of Gray, Indiana. The characters are hardworking individuals with an all but childlike simplicity. When they address the audience directly, as they sometimes do, their honesty demands respect and appreciation. Highland Theatre Director Sam Smith has assembled a mix of students who are themselves likable and do well in defining the townsfolk.  As Smith says, “this play, like Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town,’ is very theatrical in a minimalist sort of way. The audience really gets to use its imagination, which to me is the magic of live theatre.  It’s a beautiful story with universal themes that remain very relevant to our world today. It’s a very funny play, but at the same time, if we do our job right, there are going to be some moments that might break your heart as well.”

Anatomy of Gray is essentially a play about the age-old discord that exists between science and religion. The forces of each can be found symbolically in the river. Leonard has enriched his basic theme with several minor storylines that complement the play. There's the infatuation that the younger Muldoon feels for the doctor. There's the relationship that develops between the doctor and Mother Muldoon, which eventually leads to an interesting nurturing arrangement for her baby. And there's the contrast between the results achieved by educated decisions against those that are a result of superstitious belief.

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