Terry McHale, a partner in the lobbying firm of Aaron Read & Associates, has penned a play about Gray Davis – titled Gray.
Earlier this week, on Monday evening, I attended the staged reading of Gray by members of the B Street Theatre Company. Attendance was complementary as were the drinks and nibbles.
The description of the play was most intriguing – An embattled staff finds humor, discovers hidden ambitions, learns about betrayal, and even manages to fall in love, as their Governor confronts the challenges of an historic recall.
What is a Staged Reading?
After the staged reading of Gray, there was a brief opportunity for the audience to ask a few questions of the playwright, director and several of the members of the B Street Theatre Company who participated in the reading. Producer and Director Lyndsay Burch explained that the staged reading was produced in accordance with Actors’ Equity Association rules and regulations – which only allow up to 15 hours of rehearsal. The actors largely read the script – as opposed to acting out the parts. After hearing a play read, she explained that a playwright will often decide to make changes to the dialogue, etc.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
Joseph Graham “Gray” Davis first entered California politics serving as the Executive Secretary and Chief of Staff for Governor Jerry Brown from 1975 to 1981. Afterwards, he served as a member of the California State Assembly (1983 to 1987), the California State Controller (1987 to 1995) and, the 44th Lieutenant Governor of California (1995 to 1999).
Gray Davis was elected and served as the 37th Governor of California from 1999 to 2003.
In 2003, Gray Davis was recalled and removed from office during his second term – only the second state governor successfully recalled in U.S history.
A number of factors contributed to his low ratings prior to the recall, including the energy crisis.
Although Gray Davis won reelection in the November 2002 General Election, besting Bill Simon, he won with only 47.4% of the vote.
The low voter turnout in the Davis-Simon race allowed for a lower than normal number of signatures required for a recall. The threshold was met in July 2003.
Gray Davis was succeeded in office on November 17, 2003 by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won the race to replace Davis.
Gray -The Play
In the play, the ghost (or spirit) of Jerry Brown fades in and out as he adds his two cents and pointedly shares his opinion. Throughout the play Jerry refers to Gray’s role in his Administration as being his “Executive Secretary” – refusing to acknowledge the title of Chief of Staff.
Comment: As one would expect, Jerry has a number of good lines in the play. Given my background as an Ag lobbyist during his first stint as Governor, I appreciated the brief reference to what was a very big deal at the time – the medfly infestation.
Gray’s personality and his flaws are key to the play. He insists that his staff call him “Mr. Governor”; he is controlling and has a complete disregard for the feelings of his staff. He is demanding, yells and curses, never says hello or thank you, and does not address his staff by name.
His trademark blue shirt and red tie are woven into the story, as is his everyday routine – a standing appointment with his barber every Thursday (to keep his hair just so) and his daily lunch – a turkey sandwich and broccoli salad. A new staff member is instructed on the importance of picking out any other vegetable that might be in a salad before presenting it to the Governor.
Comment: From my earlier Sacramento lobbyist days I well remember the turkey sandwich for lunch story – but I can’t say that I remember the broccoli salad.
References are made to Gray’s well-known ability to raise campaign contributions (aka dialing-for-dollars) – something he would much rather do than go out and make speeches. This may be one of the reasons he failed to “connect” with California voters during times of trouble.
The energy crisis is front and center – repeated reference is made to lights flickering off and on. Also mentioned – car accidents resulting in death when the lights at intersections are out and patients dying on the operating room table.
Other members of his staff feel loyalty and/or dislike for their boss – but some also envision riding his coattails to the national level. The idea that a bodybuilder/actor could replace their boss was laughable.
A receptionist in the Governor’s Office who was let go because Gray did not like her shares her (unfavorable) point of view – and also states that she is voting in favor of the recall.
The play portrays the relationship between Gray and his wife Sharon as loving – she is supportive of him through thick and thin. His parents have issues with each other – but they love their son.
The reading of Acts 1 and 2 of Gray ran about two hours – with a ten minute intermission. This was the first time I attended a staged reading, and I was glad of the opportunity – it was an interesting experience.
Note: During the Q&A period after the reading Terry McHale, the playwright, was asked if the characters in the play were based on “real” people. McHale replied that not all the characters were “real” people – mentioning those who were – Jerry Brown, Sharon (wife of Gray), and Doris and Joe (parents of Gray).
Comments on Gray or Gray Davis?
Did you attend the staged reading of Gray? What would you add?
See related posts: Chessman – The Story Behind the Play (Part 1 of 2)
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