By Judy Newell
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.
An American Classic
Wed, Nov 27-Sat, Nov 30, 7pm
Sun, Dec 1, 5pm
Teatro Santa Ana
In Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, a 1915 collection of free-form poems, we hear the deceased folks giving their own epitaphs. The dead have no need to lie and no recourse to change the past. Truth can, therefore, prevail.
A theatrical version of this American classic will be presented at Teatro Santa Ana in La Biblioteca on November 20-24 and November 27-December 1.
Directed by theater veteran Jim Newell, the work is styled with period music and dance. The cast of 10 actors, accompanied by two singers and a guitarist, take turns inhabiting the diverse array of characters and create an often mournful, sometimes humorous, poignant commentary on their former existence.
Like Chaucer’s pilgrims, the characters who speak their epitaphs represent almost every walk of life − from Daisy Frazer, the town prostitute, to Hortense Robbins, who had traveled to Paris and entertained nobility; and from Benjamin Pantier, thrown out of the house to live with his dog, to Lucius Atherton, aging lothario.
Many of the bulletins from beyond offer chilling tales: a doctor disgraced when he botches the abortion of the village poetess; a venal nephew who kills his rich aunt with chloroform; a German peasant girl’s thwarted pride in her illegitimate son, a famous judge she may not acknowledge in public.
The interplay of various villagers forms a gripping whole. Old Hannah Armstrong makes a heartbreaking visit to President Lincoln (her former boarder in Menard) to ask him to write a letter to save her soldier son.
Lucinda Matlock, a spunky old woman who died at 96 because she “had lived enough,” looks with scorn on the “anger, discontent and drooping hopes” of “degenerate sons and daughters”; she knows “it takes life to love life.”
One gets a sense not only for the lives of these people, but also the lessons learned, the loves unfulfilled, and the wishes granted. And in the end, no matter their lot in life, they “all, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.”
Musical director Kate Rowland and Jim Newell provide the vocal background to the series of self-revelations. Michael Erickson is the producer, Peggy Powell the chorographer, Sharon Marston Erickson the costume scenic designer, and Lee Harris the stage manager.
Bringing the characters to life are the actors: Andrea Dovner, Clara Dunham, Raquel Martin, Judy Newell, Peggy Powell, Michael Erickson, Stan Gray, Rick Roberts, Bill Reiner and Henry Vermillion.
The play runs Wednesday – Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 5pm for two consecutive weeks. Tickets are on sale at the Biblioteca box office. All seats are reserved and tickets are 150 pesos.