LAMOINE — I love everything about Lamoine Community Arts — the cozy little, white clapboard Grange hall with its bumpy, dusty parking area, worn, wooden floors and the small but surprisingly deep stage, upon which the troupe performs.
The audience, most of whom dressed in flannel and wool this chilly October evening, the folding chairs and smell of decades of furniture polish and bake sales completed the scene on opening night, Oct. 26, of an adaption of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology.”
“Spoon River” was arranged and is directed by Lamoine resident Carol Korty, who had the crazy notion that she could cobble together a serious theater company in her tiny community a decade ago.
“Spoon River” is a provocative collection of free-verse poems that are essentially the obituaries of the citizens who lie in a pastoral cemetery in Spoon River, Ill. They have deigned to disrupt their resting in peace to tell us a little about their lives, their loves, their successes and disappointments, when they walked among the living
It is an old cemetery and the stories these spirits tell us take place in the 19th century, many during the Civil War era. But as they involve human relationships, they are also timeless and universal.
Across the street from the Lmoine-Bayside Grange Hall is the Lamoine Cemetery, and if the shades of those who are buried there should decide to tell the tales of their lives, they would not be all that different from the folks of Spoon River. We know these people.
Each of the 17 actors in this excellent cast takes on several of the Spoon River identities, but manages to make each incarnation distinct and memorable
Merle Bragdon, for instance, begins the evening as Roscoe Purkapile, a self-involved little man who complains that his wife’s abiding love was so suffocating he ran away for a year, coming home with a tale of pirates. His wife (a wonderfully self-possessed Kathy McGlinchey) makes it clear she knew exactly what her husband was up to and was calling the shots all along.
Bragdon later appears as Hamilton Greene, who pompously credits his fine heritage and parental upbringing for his many successes in life, while his actual birth mother, Elsa Wertman (a heartbreaking Svetlana Malinina), an immigrant girl whom his father, Thomas Green, raped and then claimed the resulting child, weeps, unable to announce to the world that he is her son.
Later Bragdon appears as the disgruntled John Hancock Otis, who warns us of the reckless ambitions of the self-made man, and McGlinchey morphs into the smug Lydia Pucket, who enjoys revealing that her spurning of a young man caused him to enlist in the Civil War effort, where he was promptly killed.
These three actors and the 14 others clearly understand and inhabit each of the characters they are representing, often without regard to gender. Lolly Lovett makes us long to comfort poor Mabel Osborn, who compares the dying geraniums on her grave to the neglect she suffered in her life. In another appearance she is the angry, pugnacious Robert Southey Burke, furious that the man he idolized turned out to have feet of clay.
Lest one imagine these are all sad tales, meet Willie Metcalf, (an engaging Nick Carter), a stable boy, who finds joy in observing nature, or Fiddler Jones (a powerful Fred Stocking), who quite literally fiddled his life away and has absolutely no regrets, or the endearing Hannah Armstrong, (Robin Veysey) who went straight to President Abe Lincoln to get her ailing son discharged from the service.
There are plenty of laughs as well, albeit dark ones — such as Barney Hainsfeather (a kvetching David Schick), a Jewish haberdasher who is killed in a train wreck and mistaken for another citizen, John Allen. While Allen was sent to the Jewish cemetery, Barney must lie with the Christian dead in a town he never much cared for. “Ach!!” he exclaims as he stalks off.
In the course of two fast-moving hours, the cast introduces us to 76 of these cemetery denizens and they are all worth the trip to Lamoine to meet.
If one had to pick a few nits here, it must be said that the occasional creaking floorboards of the stage’s apron made the spirits who trod them a bit more corporeal than intended, and the opening narration, delivered over a rather muffled sound system, at the back of the room, was sometimes hard to understand.
But back to the good stuff.
Interwoven throughout the stories are some lovely period musical tunes produced by the trio of Antonio Blasi, Jim Crotteau and Faith Perkins. The costumes, many hand sewn by Svetlana Malinina, or assembled by the stylish Korty herself, are spectacular. This attention to detail — hats, shawls, waistcoats, walking sticks, etc —help define the characters both for the audience and the actors. Then there’s the excellent Diane Roper McDowell set design depicting a three-dimensional, light-bathed cemetery, and the lighting, by Cliff Vaux and Neil Sands, sets the mood in one hauntingly beautiful tableau after another.
And, oh yes, the intermission snacks are wicked good!
This is the perfect example of what a small town amateur theater can accomplish with dedication, enthusiasm, hard work and excellent leadership.
After the curtain call opening night, it was announced that Korty is stepping down as a full-on director of LCA productions. She reassured me after the show, however, that she will continue to consult and teach anyone interested in learning her craft. Still, her deft and exacting hand at the wheel will be missed.
“Spoon River” has three more performances scheduled for Nov. 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. at the Lamoine-Bayside Grange. To reserve seats, call 667-6564. For more info, visit lamoinearts.org.