via Flickr/Andrew Odhusky
SHOW: Spoon River Anthology
GENRE: Theater/Free-form poetry
GROUP: Manayunk Roxborough Art Center
ATTENDED: Sat., Sept. 7, 6 p.m., Laurel Hill Cemetery
CLOSES: Sun., Sept. 8
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “The dead of a Midwest burial ground speak from beyond the grave to relay the sordid details of their lives and deaths.”
WE THINK: With a cast mostly comprised of poets and non-actors, this rendition of Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology clumsily evokes the author’s haunting verses. Originally published in 1915, this collection of epitaphs depicted small-town life in an unconventional way at the time and became an instant success. But with this production, we only get a few glimpses of what made the text so popular in the first place.
Set in Laurel Hill, the production begins with the spirits meandering among the gravestones until they form two separate lines behind microphones. One by one, they deliver a few introductory lines, some with more gusto than others, and return to their places behind the tombstones. Then, the monologues begin. A graying Don Juan bemoans the loss of his good looks; a budding writer tells of how she married, birthed eight children and had no time to work (“Sex is the curse of life” -- what a zinger); a man who ran away to the circus in order to follow his lion-taming love recounts his foolish death. These stories all have bite, but the awkward delivery of these monologues made my focus wander and I began reading the gravestones, plucking weeds or checking the time. This isn’t to say there weren’t some stirring performances: my skin tingled when a delirious Nancy Knapp (Courtney Bambrick) confessed to setting her house on fire, and Lambert Hutchins (Michael Cohen), a rumpled businessman gone mad, had my full attention. But if you want to fully appreciate Spoon River, I'd recommend reading it in print instead.
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