Gorey's wicked little stories only seem over the top. He's really a minimalist, a master of dreadful understatement and as a lifelong fan it was painful to see all these devilish dialogues and naughty nursery rhymes turned into frenetic cartoons of cartoons. The wordy show is set at such a breakneck pace it's impossible to understand let alone savor most of what's being said and the extra-busy blocking confuses much more than it clarifies.
What went wrong in costuming is anybody's guess. Where were the men with enormous beards? What happened to the great woolen sweaters and massive fur coats? Who did away with the high top Converse All-Stars and other whimsical hallmarks of Gorey and his ill-fated characters? Must all this Edwardian goodness be turned into generic Victoriana? And seriously, who thought it would be a good idea to illustrate Gorey's most famous piece, The Gashleycrumb Tinies, by gluing photocopies of the original artwork to smallish pieces of foam board to be held up at appropriate moments. I was on third row and couldn't make out the images on display. And then there are the lights, which were so dim I, quite literally, developed a headache while straining to see the one truely Gorey-esque thing about the entire production: the hand-drawn set.
The cast of Gorey Stories is hardworking and blameless. The material simply didn't transition well from the page to the stage, and director Jason Spitzer—easily one of my favorite Memphis actors— hasn't done much to help it along.
Some shows that get off to a rocky start grow into something wonderful before the end of their run. Maybe—hopefully— that will be the case with Gorey Stories. If I were to write that story in the style of Mr. Gorey, however, I would title it, "The Doubtful Prospect." And it would not have a happy ending.