Author and illustrator Edward Gorey lived a life of contradictions. He hated interviews but granted more than 70 in three decades. He'd claim he hadn't really contemplated his work before holding court on his influences and style. An animal rights advocate known for his trademark raccoon fur coat, he comported himself like a British literary professor who happened to grow up in Chicago and live most of his life in New York.
Gorey's talent was making the macabre seem amusing and fascinating. The best moments of Blindfaith Theatre's production of "Gorey Stories," now playing at the Viaduct Theater, provoke this multi-layered reaction. Relating 18 Gorey favorites, the players roam, prance, leap and stagger around a spare stage, portraying characters blissfully unaware of impending misfortune.
Gorey's slim but precious stories have been collected in three "Amphigorey" volumes. They're typically written in verse and best read aloud, appropriating the sing-song cadence of an adult-themed children's story:
They had come in the fugue to the stretto When a dark, bearded man from a ghetto Slipped forward and grabbed Her tresses and stabbed Her to death with a rusty stiletto.
Gorey invents perfectly ordinary folks overwhelmed by dark forces beyond their control. A family comes undone when an insect god kidnaps their child. An opera buff murders a star soprano so his favorite understudy may sing the lead. An unwelcome guest throws a household into disorder.
This is Blindfaith's third Gorey showcase, and the company seems to have benefited from experience. Set designer William Crowley has done his homework, imitating Gorey's artistry in set pieces like an ax that provoked some of the night's most enthusiastic laughter. The ensemble relishes the chance to push beyond their roles, each of them mastering a series of clownishly pained and relieved reactions inspired by Buster Keaton. Jennifer Santanello masters the role of tragically sympathetic Charlotte Sophia in "The Hapless Child," keeping her spirits up even as she's orphaned and blinded. Ortenzia Caviglia embodies the doomed opera diva in "The Blue Aspic." And J. Preddie Predmore—a name Gorey would have loved—commands Act II as flustered writer C.F. Earbrass, battling writer's block and status anxiety to relate the final seven tales.
Not every selection hits home. While the narrative pieces are a particularly strong mix of sly humor and gloomy resolution, the more poetic selections tend to fall flat. Seemingly stuck for action, the cast mostly exclaims verses loudly and quickly in "The Listing Attic" and "The Gashlycrumb Tinies."
Don't expect this swift production to inspire the same wide-eyed fascination as Gorey's storybooks and sketches. Audiences have no pause or rewind button, no time to contemplate how the mysterious stranger appeared and where she will drift after leaving the stage. But this show is an enjoyably fitting mix of certainty and bewilderment, best appreciated after, but not intended as a substitute for, reading an Amphigorey or two.