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The Gray Man

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Shane Zeigler and Daniel Johnsen
Photo by Suzi Sadler

Halloween is a month away, but if you are itching for a bit of that spooky, scary stuff now, you would do well to spend an evening with Pipeline Theatre Company's production of Andrew Farmer's The Gray Man at Walker Space.

Simon (Daniel Johnsen) grew up listening to the story of the Gray Man who steals children away, a cautionary tale meant to frighten children into listening to their parents, something along the lines of James Whitcomb Riley's famous poem "Little Orphant Annie" (The Gobble-uns ‘ll git you/Ef you don't watch out!).

That poem would also have been familiar to Simon, who had been a little boy when it was published 25 years before the play takes place. Such stories scared Simon out of his wits as a child, and he remains a very anxious man in 1910. He lives alone in a tenement apartment in New York, which, until recently, he shared with his mother. She had always been there for him, watching over and protecting him from the monsters that lurk everywhere. But she has passed away, and Simon does not know how he will make it on his own.

More than anything, it is the city itself Simon finds most threatening. He wants to leave, return to the peace and quiet of the countryside where he had lived as a child, maybe even start a family. Perhaps with the help of his friend John (Shane Zeigler) and the wise-beyond-her-years neighbor girl Grace (Tahlia Ellie), he will be able to get away, escape the fate of his three sisters, and no longer have to listen to the screams emanating from the apartment down the hall or from inside his own head. Thereby hangs the tale as bit by bit the pieces fall into place, and we learn what Grace already knows —that children from the neighborhood have started to disappear. The Gray Man is on the prowl.

Director Andrew Neisler has fashioned an appropriately atmospheric production, in which the audience is frequently plunged into darkness, metaphorically as well as physically. As we try to separate reality (confirmed by newspaper reports) from imaginary (Simon's befuddled mind), the excellent cast members bravely maneuver their way across the large floor space, with only Glow Tape to mark their spots. You never know who will pop up right in front of you when the lights come up, including two additional characters (Katharine Lorraine and Claire Rothrock) who serve as narrators and casually neglectful mothers who don't always know what is going on with their children. Josh Millican's sound design contributes mightily to the eeriness, while Andy Yanni's set design gives members of the audience different views of the action, depending on where you are sitting.

With The Gray Man, Pipeline Theatre Company definitely lives up to its motto, "Serious Make Believe," and provides both a trick and a treat to kick off the Halloween season.

The Gray Man
Through October 18
Walker Space, 46 Walker Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: