6/20/2013 — Writing a play for children based on the works of Edward Gorey is no easy feat.
Gorey’s books, while attractive to children, are full of dark humor. Dialogue is sparse in these short, illustrated stories, and his characters are strange and wear outlandish clothes. But the most challenging aspect of all, said writer and director Shannon Sexton Potter, is trying to create a beginning, middle and end from his ambiguously written tales — though there’s a thrill in that challenge, too.
“It [writing] was pretty awesome in a way. You’re open for anything,” Sexton Potter said during rehearsals for Andy’s Summer Playhouse’s interpretation of Gorey’s work.
She has spent about nine months researching and writing for this summer production, and she’s excited to see what the kids bring to the show, The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, which premieres June 28 at Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton.
In The Awdrey-Gore Legacy, Miss D. Awdrey-Gore is found dead at the age of 97. The cause of death is, to the reader, unknown, but there are clues that might lead to the answer. Though the book is fun to read, it’s difficult to translate to the stage, Sexton Potter said.
“His stories are mostly just narrated. A lot of them don’t have any true storyline; they’re a collection of images you can pull from to put your own story together,” Sexton Potter said.
So she melded this story with another, called The Other Statue, also by Gorey. She created some new characters, too: a brother and sister, Augustus and Emily, whose venture to find a lost toy (his “twisbee”) becomes intertwined with solving the murder.
“I wanted a child’s perspective. A big thing at Andy’s is that we respect the intelligence of kids and respect their understanding of the work. Lots of the shows come from the perspectives of children,” Sexton Potter said.
The children in the show often become very involved in how their characters are portrayed and how the story flows. They have a suggestion box at rehearsal, to which students are encouraged to contribute. “We want to give them a sense of ownership over the work. It’s important that they feel connected it,” Sexton Potter said.
This ownership for their characters is often key to the show’s success.
“We’re one of the few theater companies that does all original work. The way they [the kids] play them, they’re totally inventing these characters. The kids have a lot of ownership of the material we do at Andy’s. They bring so much to our productions. They’ll come up with ideas that will totally change the course of the show,” said DJ Potter, Andy’s artistic director (and Shannon’s husband).
The characters these kids are portraying are pretty out there. For example: The Village Ancient (yes, that’s the character’s name) is a very old peddler-type person with a crotchety look. The character is sort of the mumbling Boo Radley of the play. We don’t know if she’s a man or a woman.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Dr. Belgavious, a very wealthy American millionaire. He owns his own relish company. He pretends to be very manly, and he has one very long monologue about what it means to be a man.
Perhaps it’s the creativity of the creatures, or perhaps it’s due to the way Gorey drew them, but the kids have little trouble getting into the characters.
“Kids instantly have affection for them,” Sexton Potter said.
The set will be full of drama, with drapes and curtains ready for dramatic reveals, and the kids will be clad in fur, tweed and plaid, with lots of patterns, DJ Potter said.
“Gorey would put someone in an animal print vest with plaid pants, horn-rimmed glasses and a fedora,” he said. “It looks totally outrageous, yet, it’s all part of this world.
The show is quite different from what Andy’s has performed in the past, but the kids are ready.
“The child in me loves the work. I really wanted to do a show in which there was a little bit of dark humor for Andy’s. I wanted to show that kids understand that, and that they have the ability to represent that on stage,” Sexton Potter said.