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As the looming loss of PianoFight stirs a flood of strong memories, I recall Sam Bertken’s 2016 adaptation of Lear, produced in the bar by the troupe of which I was part.
The penultimate night’s packed crowd unexpectedly included an adolescent girl with her mother, and Repo Men director Alex Cox (screening his latest film in PF’s main stage). They clearly weren’t expecting a show to happen around them, but they were utterly hypnotized by the performance of Edmund. In a slapstick-heavy adaptation, it was the brooding turn of the lusted-after bastard that captivated these PianoFight first-timers.
That wasn’t the first or last time Charlie Gray stole the scene. Hell, it’s practically become their calling card. Described by playwright Marissa Skudlarek as “actor-singer-musician-clown-fashion [icon]”, the Oakland-based multi-hyphenate can frequently be found mining for laughs with Killing My Lobster, operating Dave Haaz-Baroque’s beautiful monstrosities, or breaking hearts with any number of torch songs in their repertoire.
Anyone who saw Megan Cohen’s Free for Fall at Cutting Ball no doubt remembers Gray as one of the mostly-silent below-the-line workers for an affluent San Franciscan (played by Stacy Ross). Even without Cohen’s trademark bon mots, Gray’s razor-sharp side-eye spoke volumes about the characters’ “upstairs-downstairs” dynamic.
Yet, for all their on-stage personae, the off-stage Charlie is wholly assured of their identity, whether by advocating for LGBTQ+ rights—making for some often-sharp-tongued social media posts—or molding young minds as an educator. It was before a KML performance last year (at PianoFight, no less) when Gray told me that teaching fulfills them in a way no other job ever has.
That’s probably why the kid watching Lear stands out so much. In an increasingly digital world, it always warms my heart to see a young person genuinely take to live theatre, especially Shakespeare. I love knowing that was one of many kids having their worldview expanded by someone as diversely talented as they are untethered by traditional gender archetypes. It gives me hope for what those kids can do in the future.
And for us adults, a hopeful future means finding whatever unique performance Charlie Gray has planned next.
Charlie Gray can be found online at GrayCharlie.com .