Spoon River: The Cemetery on the Hill
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
At the Eclectic Company Theatre
Through March 22
Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology was first published in 1915, and is probably referenced in just about every grade or middle-school American literature text ever adopted. The Anthology consists (in case you’ve forgotten) of The Hill, an opening poem that states the theme of the work, followed by 244 brief first person narratives. Each encapsulates the experience of a deceased person living in a fictional small town in the 19th century American Midwest. The main idea is the fleetingness of mortal existence and the folly of our joys, aches and passions.
On the page – and excepting the treacly preface – the unembellished blank verse holds up. Masters zeroes in on human vanities and shortcomings and disappointments – the same heartaches that afflict us today.
Adapter/director Maureen Lucy O’Connell’s piece mixes a selection of poems, recounted by nine performers who depict multiple characters with a medley of folksy hymns and songs. Some of these are pretty corny (“Camptown Races,” anyone?). The performances take place around Ryan Siebrasse’s uncluttered set, which suggests a cemetery, with everyone uniformly dressed in dark clothes (costumes by Pat Noles), underscoring the solemnity of the ashes-to-ashes message.
The staging serves to emphasize both the bathetic and anachronistic aspects of the material. This stacks the deck against the performers. Some, including David Aaron and Steven B. Green, do capable work and evoke animated portraits of the dead townsfolk. Others confuse reciting the lines and looking expressive with living the part, so that at 90 minutes the show seems to go on forever.
The Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd., N. Hlwyd.; Fri.- Sat. 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m; through March 22. (818) 508-3003, www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org