Death need not always be feared. In fact, how many great words of wisdom in our history have come from the epitaphs on tombstones? Edgar Lee Masters explored that very idea in Spoon River Anthology, which, adapted by Charles Aidman, is appearing in a new production in the Midtown International Theatre Festival.
If the idea sounds distateful or morbid, rest assured it is neither. The thoughts and feelings that poured out of the folk in the Illinois community that spawned the tombstones tell tales that are frequently entertaining and uplifting, but always more than suitable for a solid theatrical work, even if it seldom turns out the way you expect.
With over sixty segments in all, this comes as little shock. What is more surprising is that the director, Ken Bachtold, managed to pace the action and the staging so fluidly that it never feels dull for a moment. The set and the costumes, uncredited in the program, also add a tremendous amount to the show's atmosphere. The set evokes quite well a grassy country pasture, while the costumes, particularly the dresses for the women, exude a strong rustic charm.
Nearly every member of the fourteen person cast is required to play several roles, and they all handle their tasks well. Two particular standouts are Heather Carmichael who sings "He's Gone Away" and "I Am, I Am" and Kara Stewart, who lets forth her voice on "Times Are Gettin' Hard" and "The Water is Wide." Occasionally, members of the cast accompany dialogue or song using a harmonica, a guitar, bano, piccolo, or violin, all of which are played well and add their own special zest to the show.
Though the spectre of death is omnipresent over the characters of Spoon River Anthology, the play is ultimately about life, not death. As one of the characters articulates late in the show, "It takes life to love life," and that is perhaps the best message to take away. This play will force you to examine the lives of its characters and perhaps encourage you to look at your own life more closely as well.
A Company of Players