Spoon River Anthology
Written by Edgar Lee Master
Stories of departed souls that might stir yours
|Provision Theater Company presents|
|Spoon River Anthology|
Review by Clint May
True to their mission of bringing works “that challenge us to explore a life of meaning and purpose,” Provision Theater Company brings its own adaptation (there are others) of Edgar Lee Master’s opus of the same name. For the dead, there are no challenges left, nor guile to be had. From their place “sleeping on the hill,” they can recount their lives in the fictional town of Spoon River without any need for secrets. Each of the free verse poems is an epitaph of revelation—some tell of love scorned or lost, opportunities missed, hidden shames, or even just to decry the state of their gravestones. Some 80+ characters from the 245 total in the epic cycle (found online here), Director Timothy Gregory has styled the work with intermittent music both period and contemporary. A cast of 10 actors (including several first-timers to the Provision company) take turns inhabiting the diverse array of characters to create an often mournful, sometimes humorous, poignant memento mori that feels like a natural continuation of Our Town.
With measured pace and matter-of-fact voice, we are tellingly treated first to the ignominious stories of rascals, the unhappily married, a gambler, the squanderers of life, and a murderer. Gregory has grouped the disparate works into thematic categories not found in Master’s original for increased clarity on stage, i.e. “Side-by-Side Satisfaction,” “I Just Snapped,” “Life is Short and War is Hell” along with several stand-alones. Few comment on how they died, or even the preciousness of life. They do accuse, or take smug satisfaction, or preen, and some even regret. The cast gets to have great fun reenacting the vignettes as they are told, from courtroom dramas to battlefield charges.
Gregory has directed this very talented cast with a steady hand that keeps their performances on even par with each other in a tone appropriate for so many different kinds of stories. Still, there are some stand-out performances from Daria Harper, Torrey Hanson, and the always-compelling Jack McCabe. Victoria Blade has a voice of beautiful bell-like clarity for numbers old, original (by Michael Mahler, Alaric Jans and Gary Fry), and contemporary (the show ends with Mumford and Sons’ 2010 “Awake Your Soul” sung by all).
Although it could still stand to lose about 15 minutes runtime to avoid dilution and a bit more of a break-up between the various stories to ensure that they don’t run together, this is still a pleasant and heartfelt evening. If contemplation of death seems a less-than-enjoyable evening, fear not. Maybe it’s the existentialist in me that believes keeping death always in sight helps you make the most of living, but theatre of this ilk shouldn’t be seen as a downer. Instead, it should leave you feeling more connected to your neighbor (or as Dickens said, “fellow travelers to the grave”) and hopefully more eager to tackle life with all its joys and failures.
Spoon River Anthology continues through June 16th at Provision Theater, 1001 W. Roosevelt (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $10-$32, and are available by phone (312-455-0066) or online through OvationTix.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ProvisionTheater.org. (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Megan Gallagher
Torrey Hanson (Actor 1), Sean Cooper (Actor 2), John Kelly Connolly (Actor 3), Colin R. Wasmund (Actor 4), Jack McCabe (Actor 5), Alex Weisman (Actor 6), Joan Kohn (Actress 1), Lia D. Mortensen (Actress 2), Daria Harper (Actress 3), Victoria Blade (Actress 4)
behind the scenes
Timothy Gregory (director), Inseung Park (scenic design), William Kirkham (lighting design), Constance Lee (costume design), David Pierczynski (sound design), Alfredo Aguilar (production manager), Kari Warning (production stage manager), Gary Fry, Michael Mahler (original music), Alaric Jans (original music, musical director), Jeff Reid (asst. music director), Megan Gallagher (photos)