Last night I went to a play about dead people that made me feel
good fabulous about life. If you love theatre, run to this one, on for just a few more weeks in Toronto.
First off-a confession. I’m a sucker for theatre adapted from poetry and I have a little crush on anyone who does it well.
Was that me, whistling from the back row of the theatre last night at the conclusion of Spoon River? You bet. Whistling and stomping my feet and restraining myself from running headlong towards the stage to Mike Ross, star and musical director, and offer very own milk-white bosomy hug (you have to see the show to understand that reference). Ross is the genius behind a wondrous score, one that lifts the show off the stage floor and floats about a delighted audience soaking up every precious minute of the one-act show.
That’s right: one act, beginning at 7:30pm and ending right before 9pm. I looked at my watch in amazement, as if I had just woken from a dreamy nap on the train and discovered we had arrived at our destination. Spoon River immersed me in a fictional town in rural America where the dead speak graveside to the passerby—each and every one of us in the audience.
Spooky? Never. Mystical? Absolutely.
Adapted from an anthology of poetry by Edgar Lee Masters, this magical masterpiece began right as I entered the theatre, through a tunnel of black curtains, past an open coffin with a beautiful woman inside, solemn-faced ushers silently motioning me to my seat. Shivery excitement before a word or note—I’m intrigued, as is my companion, my sis Sarah, blessed with her own keen eye for creative theatrical details. From there, a cast, most trained in the company’s own academy, deliver short life stories and strum instruments, many learned for this show. Some made me laugh, others knocked at the door of my secret room, offering the surest response to the question posed:
Is your soul alive?
At one moment, I found myself leaning so far forward to hear every miraculous note from fiddler Miranda Mulholland that I almost fell off my seat. Albert Schultz, Soulpepper’s artistic director, knows a thing or two about the kind of staging required for a spectacular dramatic moment.
This is a repeat run after last year’s critical success, as Schultz told CBC’s Michael Enright in this interview , worth a listen just to hear more of that terrific music. Right now, it’s on through mid-April in Toronto.
If you think hearing the dead speak and sing about their joys and their sorrows is not life-affirming, you haven’t seen Spoon River. My garden is still brown, but I’ve got spring in my step today as I too try to figure out a daisy’s worth.