“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” These two sentences morbidly greets the reader in the first few pages of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabet book about 26 children. With their name corresponding to each letter of the alphabet, these children die untimely
The four-member Manoa Readers/Theatre Ensemble performed this book and other limericks, alphabets and short stories by Gorey, an author and illustrator. The performance, “Ascending Peculiarties, Wuggly Umps, Nosebleeds and Other Happenings: The Sublime, Absurd and Mystical Mr. Gorey,” took place Friday night at the Orvis Auditorium.
Introducing the program, Manoa Journal Editor Frank Stewart reads his “unsolicited” work, a thick bunch of papers, his life story: “On a dark and stormy night.” Then two actors lead him to sit on the side and put his papers into his shopping bag, and the performance starts.
In “The Doubtful Guest,” a penguin-like creature (Wayland Quintero carrying a picture of the creature) overstays his welcome at a house for over 17 years. A quote from the book: “It would carry off objects of which it grew fond. And protect them by dropping them in the pond.”
For “The Wuggly Ump,” three kids (Nyla Fujii-Babb, Chang and Quintero) sing about the wuggly ump. The wuggly ump (Dann Seki holding Gorey’s drawing of the wuggly ump) eventually eats them, and they sing, “Sing glogalimp, sing glugalump, From deep inside the Wuggly Ump.”
In “Story for Sara,” Sara, (Chang as a girl), feeds two birds (Fujii-Babb holding two pictures of birds on two sticks). She tells them she has more food in the bottom of her bag, so the birds go into the bag, and she closes it. Sara takes them home and leaves them in the bag. A cat comes near them and hears their chirps. Sara curtsies in front of the cat, but ironically the cat eats her instead of the birds. And the birds somehow escape.
Manoa Readers/Theatre Ensemble’s performance brings Gorey’s macabre words and illustrations to life. When an actor says something shocking, the other three actors gasp in shock. To depict a thunder striking, all four actors clap simultaneously. In the last performance, in the audience area, the actors shout out the lines. Gorey’s humorous morbidity and the actors’ lively expressions entertain and delight the audience members, as evidenced by their frequent laughter.
After watching this performance, audience members may want to read Gorey’s works to re-live his words and illustrations. After all, in Gorey’s words: “Y is for Yorick whose head was knocked in” and “Z is for Zillan who drank too much gin.”