“I see dead people!” Remember that quote from the film The Sixth Sense? It made perfect sense last Saturday after seeing the play Spoon River Anthology at Victoria Hall. Based on an early-20th-century collection of poems by Edgar Lee Masters in which dead people are imagined as speaking directly to the reader, Spoon River was inspired by the lives of those buried in an Illinois cemetery. In the play, rather than speaking to us as ghosts on the page, these dead people come alive through the performances of the cast.
Directed by Ed Giron, Spoon River unfolds in a series of monologues that are by turns humorous, tragic, and bawdy. With nearly 90 personas portrayed in two acts, occasional songs are useful in keeping the successive recitations from overwhelming the audience. The show’s constant parade of characters allows many different views to be represented, whether through boasting or crying, in vengeance or in jest. There’s Emily Sparks, Fiddler Jones, Mrs. Kessler, Ida Frickey, Doctor Meyers, and Anne Rutledge, to name a few, and the switching happens so fast that the audience doesn’t have time to pick favorites. The six dedicated actors, scripts in hand, made the whole thing appear to be an improvisation.
Indeed, the skill with which each actor represented the many men and women of Spoon River was phenomenal. Stephanie Sivers sang and hummed beautifully in the background while Bill Waxman played piano for their alternately funny and edgy recollections. The cast-Giron, Deborah Helm, Jerry Oshinsky, Sivers, Leslie Story, and Waxman-truly made the dead come alive. Saturday night’s relatively small audience seemed to reflect the type of spectator Spoon River Anthology originally attracted as a play-intellectually and emotionally aware people who have lived through enough to relate to and even sympathize with each character. Admittedly, if you had come to the performance without some background knowledge, you might have had a hard time getting into the play. Still, the professional acting compensated for the difficult concepts of Masters’s dramatized anthology.
In the end, this Spoon River Anthology granted spectators the privilege of “catching a little bit of the ether reserved to God himself.” All 90 of the deceased lived within these six actors and begged you-an impossible task-to avoid the all-too-human mistakes they committed.