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A CurtainUp Review
Voices From the Hill

by Les Gutman
And we--we, the memories, stand here for ourselves alone,
For no eye marks us, or would know why we are here.

---Edgar Lee Masters ("Edith Conant")

Members of the Cast
Members of the Cast
with Noel Velez in foreground
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Over the last several years, Moonwork Theater has established itself as a vigorous, imaginative reïnterpreter of Shakespeare. (Our reviews, which bear this out, are linked below.) Although press materials tell us the company intended to continue down the same path this year, circumstances prevented it from doing so and it instead is presenting a musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters' now-classic Spoon River Anthology. My first reaction on hearing this news, I should confess, was that it was a risky proposition: how would Moonwork handle a piece that deprived it of the firm structural field on which it is used to playing?

I am pleased to report that it has done astonishingly well. Choosing keenly from the poem's myriad characters, it has fashioned an elegant, interesting portrait, part staged poetry reading, part song cycle. It is visually quite stunning, as staged by Gregory Wolfe, choreographed by Jena Necrason and lit by David Sherman. I should also note quickly that this is no casually slapped together substitute; it reflects all of the well-thought-out, inventive attention to detail that has marked Moonwork's previous efforts.

First introducing "The Hill," from which the dead speak from their graves, the eight actors read and sing as over 60 of the Spoon River characters. (There are also well-placed selections from a handful of Walt Whitman poems.) The performances by the ensemble (Mason Pettit, Aloysius Gigl, Jena Necrason, Elizabeth Zins, Noel Velez, Jeannie Goodman, Victoria Adams and Christopher Yates) are, without exception, excellent, their readings and singing splendid. Some pieces have been set into dance, and a good deal more of them are interwoven quite artfully and theatrically. As the local laundress, Edith Conant, tells her story ("And I, who went to all the funerals/Held in Spoon River, swear I never/Saw a dead face without thinking it looked/Like something washed and ironed."), for instance, she picks the others off the ground and hangs them on the clothes line, where they remain until Mr. Wolfe manages to morph them into the flames of the fire set by Nancy Knapp.

There is no set, save for an upstage scrim onto which David Sherman projects various colorations and abstract images. Everyone had the good sense to know nothing more was needed. The costumes by Oana Botez-Ban and June Wolfe are more specific, and perfectly evocative of 19th Century small town America. The music, mostly by Rusty Magee and Andrew Sherman, who have effectively become Moonwork's resident composers, is well-suited and highly melodic if a bit too anthemic for my taste. It shows off the fine voices of cast members particularly well. The company recorded a CD of its musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream a few seasons ago; I wouldn't be at all surprised if this one is preserved in like form.

I'm not sure Voices From the Hill captures Spoon River quite as fully as a reading of Masters' masterwork would, but it is a most enjoyable and successful endeavor.

What You Will
Romeo and Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Richard III

Voices From the Hill
adapted by Gregory Wolfe and Gregory J. Sherman from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology and selected poems of Walt Whitman
Directed by Gregory Wolfe
with Mason Pettit, Aloysius Gigl, Jena Necrason, Elizabeth Zins, Noel Velez, Jeannie Goodman, Victoria Adams and Christopher Yates
Choreographer: Jena Necrason
Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban and June Wolfe
Lighting and Set Design: David Sherman
Original music by Andrew Sherman and Rusty Magee, with additional music by Joseph Charles Reina
Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes with no intermission
A production of Moonwork Theater Company
Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th Street (Avs. A/B)
Telephone (212) 206-1515
Opening March 28, 2002, closing April 14, 2002
WED - SUN @8, SUN @3; $19
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 3/31/02 performance

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