A Dark, Thrilling American Masterpiece
By Maria Karin Walczuk, Arts & Community Editor and Brian Wild, News Writer
Spoon River Anthology, written by American poet Edgar Lee Masters in 1915, is set to come to life through a theatrical adaptation on the UH Hilo stage. New York playwright Tom Andolora adapted Masters’ poems into a one-act production, originally intended to be performed at night in a cemetery. All of the characters portrayed are deceased, talking from beyond the grave. Each actor takes on multiple roles, telling their stories directly to the audience with no dialogue between the cast members themselves.
In light of the Hilo Community Players celebrating their 75th anniversary, this play is being co-directed by not only Performing Arts Department Chair Jacquelyn Pualani Johnson, but also by Jake McPherson (a former President of the Players and a veteran of the renowned local theatre organization). Musical direction is led by Christopher Tomich, a UH Hilo Performing Arts major, whose work with this play fulfills the requirements for his senior project.
It is also significant to note that these performances involve both UH Hilo students and members of the Big Island community. Co-Director Johnson explains her enthusiasm for having a mix of student and community participants, saying, “It’s a gem for actors!” Along with the actors’ monologues, there are eight musical numbers: hymns and songs performed as a chorus, with a few solos interspersed throughout the play. The goal of the music is to capture the audience’s imagination of life amongst the townspeople of Spoon River. For example, cast member Pedro Ka‘awaloa sings a solo entitled “Just Before the Battle, Mother” that portrays the harsh realities and effects the Civil War, or any war for that matter, can have on an individual called to fight for their country.
Cast member Randal McEndree describes his connection to “Spoon River” as that of “American Zen Buddhism” in which “the characters have suffered in their lives and many of them have learned something valuable through that suffering.” McEndree continued on, saying “the three characters I get to play… all gain some insight through their experiences.”
Masters wrote his poems to be set in Illinois, in the fictional town of Spoon River, harking back to what small-town American life may have been like during the late nineteenth century. Though it may be difficult to process what a bunch of dead people from long ago were like, in many ways the stories that they tell are surprisingly authentic and relevant.
Cast member, Erin Gallagher spoke of her experience onstage, “I have been longing to delve into something serious, meaningful, and soulful. The haunting old hymns and simple traditional songs… are achingly beautiful and pure.” Gallagher’s characters however, provide much of the comic relief throughout the play.
Though “Spoon River” may sound like a quaint, fading memory of a bygone era to some, the actors involved with this project would dispute such a notion. Of the many conversations these actors have had with each other so far, one belief among them seems to resonate: that places like Spoon River still exist all around us.
Shows commence on Thursday Nov. 7 and run until Sunday, Nov. 10. Student tickets are $5 with a valid-ID, and are $12 for general seating. Performances are Nov. 7-9 at 7:30 p.m. & a Sunday matinee Nov. 10 at 2:00 p.m. Box Office hours are Tuesday – Friday, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. (808) 974-7310 email: firstname.lastname@example.org.