At some point in our lives, we all look in the mirror and wonder, “How the hell did I end up here?” Family, house, career – but it’s not enough – or maybe it’s too much. The pressures, pains and struggles of everyday life creep up on us until we’ve dove so far into the deep end of escape, we can’t pull ourselves back to balance. Directors Adria Dawn and David Tarleton beautifully tell this story with Gray Area, a short film based on Kelley Kitley’s book MY Self: An Autobiography of Survival.
Kate Gray (Meghan Maureen McDonough) seems to have it all – a loving husband (Ryan Kitley), good kids, a nice house, a successful career in psychotherapy – but her life is spiraling out of control as she sinks further into alcoholism. After a particularly horrendous blackout, she finds herself pregnant with her fourth child and confused about its origins. Rather than correct her life right there, she sinks deeper into despair, now a middle-aged woman with a newborn. Her husband is loving and caring. He loves acting, and when he leaves her alone to work on a play, she sinks further into the demons of her addiction. Ultimately, she has to make a choice, but will she make the right one?
Dawn and Tarleton have essentially crafted a masterful take on the confines, hopelessness and inner turmoil that come with addiction. In just 17 minutes, we’re given an epic insight into this everywoman’s life. She could be our family or neighbor, even a co-worker you admire, and she’s immediately relatable and likable, which drags us deeper into her anguish. From Tarleton’s beautiful cinematography to Dawn’s non-judgmental empathy, we’re drawn to this character and want the best for her – regardless of her mistakes.
Of course, such a strong character can’t be possible without the actor embodying them, and McDonough is absolutely captivating as Kate. It’s a brave, unflattering role and she completely nails it. All her helpless grasping is right there on her face, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kitley turns in an emotional performance as well, which is not surprising considering he’s married to the author of the autobiography. All his love for his spouse is right there, as well as his confusion about the situation. He obviously cares about her, but in all the disarray of life, he failed to recognize the chaos right in front of him until it was too late.
In 1980, Talking Heads released one of their most popular songs, Once in a Lifetime. In it, vocalist David Byrne examines the nature of this moment – when you suddenly wake up and wonder where the years have gone and what you have to show for it. Some of us handle it well, while others. . . need a little extra help. . . especially when the demons come calling and everyone around you feels too alien to truly connect.
Things can change for the better, but only if we take the first step. Thanks to Adria Dawn and David Tarleton, that message rings loud and clear in Gray Area.