‘Spoon River’ delivers tales from the grave

June 23rd, 2015 8:55 pm

First Posted: 10/22/2013

A man named Willard speaks regretfully of the time “a Cleopatra” came to town and “we married ones all broke our vows, myself among the rest.”

A woman named Daisy reveals a respected judge was taking bribes.

And, a wife named Pauline mourns the mysterious surgery that has left her “just a shell of a woman” and explains how she “did it looking there in the mirror.”

“Dear, have you ever understood?” she asks, referring to her apparent suicide in a haunting voice.

Step into a rehearsal of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” at Misericordia University and you’ll see the entire atmosphere of the theatrical production is eerily poignant— with one secret after another revealed, one relationship after another explained.

“The show begins in a graveyard, and we have people returning from the dead,” director Don Hopkins said, “and we’re showing it on Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day (Thursday through Saturday). These days are very appropriate for this.”

Now that all these folks from fictional Spoon River, Iowa, are dead, they’re free to speak the truth, to gossip at will, to confess their misdeeds. Now there are no holds barred.

“It’s a character-driven play,” Hopkins, the director, said with approval. “It’s an actor’s play.”

For Hopkins, there’s a bittersweet aspect to all this. He’s retiring at the end of this semester after 23 years and 30 theatrical productions at Misericordia.

“What I’ve enjoyed the most is the dedication and enthusiasm of the students,” he said. “We don’t have a theater major. Most of these kids are studying O.C. (occupational therapy), P.T. (physical therapy) or nursing. Those are difficult, time-consuming majors, and they still do this. It’s exciting to be around them.”

Returning the compliment, cast member Meghan DiGerolamo, 19, of Budd Lake, N.J., said she’s learned a lot from Hopkins. “He wants you to know and become the character rather than just recite lines,” she said.

“He puts you into hypothetical situations,” Melvin Jay Busi, 20, of Saylorsburg, agreed. “He’ll ask, ‘How would you feel if your parents died …? ’ “

Over the years, Hopkins said, he has enjoyed directing productions as diverse as Shakespeare’s classic “The Tempest” and Ken Ludwig’s contemporary “Moon Over Buffalo.”

“That’s what I’m most proud of,” he said. “That we’ve developed a program with so much diversity.”