Aurora Theatre presents the regional premiere of John Ahlin’s Gray Area, a play with a title that has as many multiple meanings as the puns and statements in the play itself. Directed by Sherri D. Sutton, the play stars Glenn Rainey, Bryan Brendle, Bart Hansard and Scott Warren.
After reading Farragut’s (Rainey) column that says that Civil War re-enactors are “the very worst of actors” and that they provide a “spectacle of stupidity,” a group of re-enactors (Brendle, Hansard and Warren) kidnap Farragut and take him to their camp to make him see the error in his ways. From that point on, a humorous, verbal chess match ensues. The two sides debate the fine points of the Civil War, race and stereotypes.
The set, designed by Phillip Male and given stunning realism by scenic artist Sarah Thomson, impresses at first glance. The camp, complete with trees, a campfire, and an authentic tent, evokes the same realism found in the Tony Award® nominated set design for Jerusalem, which played Broadway last season. Rob Dillard’s lighting design and Bobby Johnston’s sound design accent this carefully crafted environment, completing the transformation from stage to the re-enactors’ camp.
As Farragut, Rainey provides a captivating opening to the show. Announcing his character’s retirement as a theater critic, Rainey delivers a delicious tirade full of derisive remarks against the theater community. Coming off his appearance in the summer tour of Guys and Dolls, Rainey shows why he’s a formidable comedic talent. His gentle nature and amusing facial expressions add likeable qualities to the elitist character he portrays.
Hansard brings heart to the story with the role of Keith, the de facto leader of the re-enactors. Hansard’s gruff, but gentle, portrayal of the character fits in well with the play’s desire to shed stereotypes. Both Brendle as Randall and Warren as Horse deliver many comedic lines in the play. As seemingly bumbling idiots, the two bring grace and heart to the characters that make them audience favorites.
The audience learns that the trio may be just as good with words as Farragut is. In addition to what Farragut describes as “method” re-enactment, the group enjoys debating a variety of subjects. Horse sums it up best saying, “Sometimes we talk philosophy, sometimes we talk farts.”
Ahlin’s script is quite clever and his impeccable mix of double meanings, historical references and pop culture references is laudable. His points on race and perception of the Civil War are clearly made during the intellectually stimulating second act. But, like a sermon in which the minister just doesn’t know when to stop after making a point, the show begins to drag even though the second act is much shorter than the first. Nonetheless, the four adept actors continue to charm through the play’s satisfying conclusion.
Overall, the talent both on and off stage in Gray Area creates a memorable production. Every detail of the set to the ensemble of actors fit perfectly to create an enjoyable and thought-provoking experience. Gray Area plays at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville through October 30. The show runs approximately 2 ½ hours including an intermission. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.auroratheatre.com/.
– A. Wesley