Marsh has also designed the evocative set, a backdrop of tombstones set
amid bare wintry trees behind a few large blocks of stones rising to
another tombstone, giving the performers several levels to work on. We see tombstones because Masters' poems record the voices of the dead lying in the graveyard in the small central Illinois town of Spoon River. They tell us of the joys and sorrows of lives lived in 19th century America.
The poems do tend to fall into those two groups, those of the sorrows of life, remembered by some with sadness and by some with bitterness, and the joys of life, happily celebrated in memory. Masters' rings multiple changes on these basic attitudes. But you do notice the sameness over the course of two hours.
The poems often are marvels of brevity, wrapping up a life in a few lines. And Aidman has sometimes been able to arrange them in pairs, so that we get, say, the contrasting views of a husband and wife on their marriage. But this structure does not lend itself to the excitement of dramatic scenes or a suspenseful plot. For all the handsome staging, Spoon River Anthology is essentially an evening of reading poetry.
And that can be very enjoyable, as it is here, with a director and actors who usually make quite clear what they are saying and who quickly sketch each character without burdening us with eccentricities. Nancy Crouse has kept the costumes simple and attractive, long dresses from the 19th century for her and Lubowitz, and period silhouettes with vest and without coats for Cooper and Reidy.
And on stage right, on stone benches in modern dress where they seem to evoke the dead and respond to their words, Marsh has placed two musicians, Kathy Schottel and Marc Strathman. With guitar, banjo, and recorder accompaniment, they sing an original piece and arrangements of folks songs by Aidman and Naomi Hirschhorn, welcome interludes in the course of the evening.
I don't know if high school students today read Edgar Lee Masters, as I did once. It was pleasant to be re-acquainted with him.
Hawthorne Players' production of Spoon River Anthology continues through Sunday afternoon (November 11, 2007) in the Florissant Civic Center Theatre. Phone 921-5678 for tickets or information.