Town Players and Berkshire Athenaeum to stage readings from “Spoon RIver Anthology”


Town Players of Pittsfield in collaboration with The Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum presents a selection of readings from “Spoon River Anthology” by Edgar Lee Masters, directed by John Trainor. The reading is scheduled for 7pm on Wednesday, May 11, 2016 at the Berkshire Athenaeum , 1 Wendell Avenue in Pittsfield. This is a free event.

John Trainor

John Trainor

“Spoon River Anthology”, a collection of 244 poems and the only work for which Edgar Lee Masters is remembered, consists of over two hundred free verse poems, composed as epitaphs for the deceased inhabitants now resting in the Oak Hill Cemetary in the fictional town of Spoon River which is actually Lewiston in central Illinois. Published in 1915, the work is an often haunting depiction of life in the 19th century and the first decade of the twentieth in what might be called middle America. The poems focus on the frustrations, difficulties, cruelties and some successes of the wide variety of characters who rest in the cemetery on “The Hill.”

When first published a century ago, it was met with both praise and hostility because its characters – who speak from the grave – not only talk about their lives but more critically, about the lives of others. Nationwide, it was an immediate hit, acclaimed by literary fans and critics. But at home, it was just as quickly condemned.

The local residents were taken aback by how clearly they could see themselves and their families in it, even though the characters were supposedly fictional. Family secrets were now in print, people were embarrassed, and the book was quickly banned in the local library and high school. Hard feelings remained for years.

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?
All, all are sleeping on the hill.
One passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine,
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in a jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife—
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.”

Jenn Smith

Jenn Smith

The selections to be included in this staged reading (fewer than half of the total) have been made to give as complete a picture as possible of the wide variety of residents, young and old, rich and poor, lucky and unfortunate, who had some influence on the town, from town drunk to wealthy banker, deserted lover to aspiring politician. Masters presents a serious look at what life might have been like and might make us think about what life still might be.

The cast includes: Jenn Smith, Wendy Power Spielmann, Kristin O’Connor, Derek Ormond, Kevin Wixsom and James Harris.

Director John Trainor has directed or acted in dozens of plays at The Theater Barn in New Lebanon, NY. In addition he has worked with the Ghent Playhouse in Columbia County as well as the Town Players, and is a regular at many more of the region’s theatres.

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