The Gray Man is a haunting ghost story about a man named Simon as he navigates reality and perception. Following the death of his mother and a string of child disappearances, Simon sets out to regain control all while remembering the story of a boogeyman type character who tempts and lures children from their home. What The Gray Man does flawlessly is great storytelling. Farmer is sharp by allowing the story to unravel through bits and pieces. What Farmer and director Andrew Neisler do well is play upon our greatest fears. Haunting and scaring an audience takes expert precision and their collaboration did just that. But in a live theatrical piece, sensory trucks are just as important. Darkness is a great fear. And depriving the audience of seeing was brilliant. The live music soundscape was vivid and necessary to get inside the audiences head. Playing with echoes and vibrations allowed the harsh reality of darkness settle in. But when darkness was abandoned for light once again, the audience needed to see the fear that they projected. And that's where that huge risk comes in.
|photo by Suzi Sadler|
Capable storytellers were brought together to bring this tale to life. As the perpetually fearful Simon, Daniel Johnsen captured the essence of mystery. By playing scared and weary, he allowed the audience to tag along on his journey. As the curious best friend John, Shane Zeigler found a way into Simon's psyche. Katharine Lorraine and Claire Rothrock took on the dual roles of maternal storyteller and neighborly comic relief. Both Lorraine and Rothrock happened to be wonderful reciters of fear. As Simon's neighbor and confidant Grace, Tahlia Ellie was youth on display.
When it comes to engaging the audience, Neisler succeeded. The goal was to spook the audience and he did just that. As previously stated, Neisler focused deeply on senses and it was a fascinating psychological experiment. Lighting designer Christopher Bowser capitalized on the use of light and lack there of. During the darkness montage, Bowser and Neisler allowed the company to navigate the stage safely, bringing the story all around the space. As a transformation occurred, the space filled with fog and when Bowser brought the lights up, the throw of the light cast seemed to play tricks on your mind. These snapshots were short and forced the audience to quickly find the voice and the light.
The Gray Man is a winning production when it comes to distinctive storytelling. There is nothing more exciting that knowing you’re about to be scared and attempting to prepare yourself for it. But that set! It’s unfortunate that an experience could be altered by one giant element.