Clay Cartland (right) in Gloria.
Critics have spent a decade trying to accurately describe what Clay Cartland does. He is renowned for his endlessly inventive comic chops, a droll delivery, and a nimble, expressive physicality reminiscent of the early work of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. But he reminded audiences last season of his abilities as a straight dramatic actor in GableStage's Gloria. Cartland begins the first act as a party boy, the lord of the office who loves holding court, soaking up the gossip, and engaging in poisonous talk. His character thrives as the center of attention but is quietly unhappy with himself. In the second act, Cartland expertly transitions into a man clearly broken, who has lost his sense of self and might even be aware that any dreams and hopes he once had will never be realized. In a single year, Cartland crooned the Sinatra songbook with a straight face, played the young hero in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, and took on the role of the preening, over-the-top megastar in Slow Burn Theatre's Rock of Ages. He is more than willing to be an anonymous member of the ensemble, but something about his charisma radiates so brightly that, like Cassie in A Chorus Line, that Cartland cannot help but be noticed.