Spoon River Anthology

For most of humanity's short evolutionary existence, oral tradition has been the means by which history is passed down, and although this process has been generally replaced by the written word, poets (and songwriters) continue to use the spoken word to evoke spirits long vanished from this material plane. Using this device in his Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters draws upon his adolescence in Lewistown and Petersberg, Illinois to paint glimpses of small town life in an America on the verge of its empire in the late 19th Century.

Fifty years later, in the early 1960's, Charles Aidman adapted these poems for the stage and brought the show to Broadway, earning a Tony Award. Now forty years hence, as currently produced by Germinal Stage Denver, Director Ed Baierlein conjures up Spoon River Anthology as a Halloween séance, with each of his six talented actors defining nearly a dozen characters that materialize before us, ethereal yet hauntingly compelling, beckoning us back in time to hear of their joys and sorrows.

For some, it is a trail of tears, missed opportunities, deception, deviousness, lost ideals, and even murder. For others, love of life abounds, with joy and laughter driving away the final darkness of mortality. Masters, the poet, suffers no illusions, cutting through the hypocrisy and façade of everyday life in search of earthy truths, baring our insensitivity to each other. Mixing soliloquy and chorus and using music to bring forth each round of visitations, Baierlein orchestrates this song from the heartland to the meter of the current from Spoon River itself.

The ensemble of Kelly Leo, Michael Shalhoub, Lori Hansen, Tim Elliott, Carol Elliott, and Augustus Truhn, in turn are passionate, wistful, witty, fragile, bewitching, bitter, and broken as a panoply of characters including a blind gardener, a soldiers on the Philippine campaign, a soldier's mother who pleads with Lincoln, a farmer's wife, a lover, a salesman, a broken husband, a politician, a former slave, a doctor, country bumpkins, a poetess, a mentally handicapped man and others.

In its day, Spoon River Anthology was often compared to Whitman's Leaves of Grass; whatever favor it has lost is more likely attributable to the discomfort caused by the continued relevancy of Edgar Lee Masters' keen anti-imperialism than to any lack of artistic merit. His words are brought forth full force in Germinal Stage Denver's production. It runs through March 3rd. 303-455-7108.


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