Kaleidoscope: ‘Spoon River’ and ‘Cell’

New local shows work in divergent ways

SPOON River Anthology cast members rehearse at Hood River Valley High School west lawn in preparation for their outdoor shows at Foxtail Cidery and Stonehedge Gardens the next two weekends. In the foreground are Atari Gauthier and Jameson Cannon. In back, from left, are Eden McGrew, Erik Lundby, Sienna Reynolds, and Sullivan Cannon.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea
SPOON River Anthology cast members rehearse at Hood River Valley High School west lawn in preparation for their outdoor shows at Foxtail Cidery and Stonehedge Gardens the next two weekends. In the foreground are Atari Gauthier and Jameson Cannon. In back, from left, are Eden McGrew, Erik Lundby, Sienna Reynolds, and Sullivan Cannon.

One is a heart-rending historical document, the other a tale of three women in a very current set of events.

Two new shows open in Hood River County this month, with two more right around the corner (see Theater Notes, page B10) in what is a busy summer for the many-layered theater scene of the Mid-Columbia.

“Spoon River Anthology,” a stand-and-deliver production involving a large cast portraying 19th century people, opens July 20; “Cell: An Immigration Story” debuts July 27.


Cell castmates Kathy Williams ...


... Kelly Ryan ...


... and Pam Tindall

“Cell” is a searing three-way conversation between three conflicted women of modern times.

See details below in Tickets and Times.

“Spoon River” is directed by Tay Camille Lynne, a veteran of numerous productions at Hood River Valley High School and Columbia Center for the Arts. Lynne, a 2009 graduate of HRVHS, has assembled a 13-member cast involving veterans as well as first-time performers, almost all portraying two or more people, for five outdoor shows, .

“Cell” is co-directed by Gary Young and Maren Euwer, and is the second production of the new Adult Center Theater company. The cast is comprised of three women: Pam Tindall and Kathy Williams, who have performed and provided support for productions in The Dalles and Hood River, and Rev. Kelly Ryan of White Salmon, in an acting role that is both a debut (her first theater role in the area) and swan song — she is moving to California this summer. See page A1 for an interview with Ryan.

A discussion with cast members, the playwright and local people involved in the issues the play addresses will follow each performance.

“Cell” takes place in a private immigration detention center. “We are decent people …” says Cerise who, along with her older sister, Rene, and daughter, Gwen, are employees of Thurston Immigration and Detention Center when a major catastrophe occurs that lays bare the inner workings of the detention center. Each character must ask what part her complicity plays and why they look the other way.

Playwright Cassandra Medley doesn’t doubt that her characters are decent, nor does she doubt what decent, law-abiding people are capable of doing.

“Cell” is “right on time and right for the times, especially considering those without documentation,” Young said. “You cannot be unmoved by ‘Cell,’ and it will sit with you for a long time.”

“Spoon River Anthology” (1915), by Edgar Lee Masters, is a collection of short free verse poems that collectively narrates the epitaphs of the residents of Spoon River, a fictional small town named after the real Spoon River that ran near Masters’ Illinois home town, according to the Wikipedia entry on the play. Many of the poems contain cross-references that create an “unabashed tapestry of the community.” Many of the characters who make appearances in Spoon River Anthology were based on real people that Masters knew or heard of in the two towns in which he grew up, Petersburg and Lewistown, Ill.

Each following poem is an autobiographical epitaph of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves. They speak about the sorts of things one might expect: Some recite their histories and turning points, others make observations of life from the outside, and petty ones complain of the treatment of their graves, while few tell how they really died. The subject of afterlife receives only the occasional brief mention, and even those seem to be contradictory. Speaking without reason to lie or fear the consequences, they construct a picture of life in their town that is shorn of façades. “The interplay of various villagers — e.g. a bright and successful man crediting his parents for all he’s accomplished, and an old woman weeping because he is secretly her illegitimate child — forms a gripping, if not pretty, whole,” notes Wikipedia.

The poems were originally published in the magazine Reedy’s Mirror from May 29, 1914, until Jan. 5, 1915.

“The aim of the poems is to demystify the rural and small town American life. The collection includes 212 separate characters, all providing 244 accounts of their lives, losses, and manner of death,” notes Wikipedia, though directors pick and choose from among the Spoon River residents, and Lynne has chosen these, followed the actors’ names:

Edith Conant, Rosie Roberts, Emily, Lydia Pucket — Atari Gauthier

Mrs. Charles Bliss, Lucinda Matlock, Mrs. Benjamin Pantier — Desiree Amyx

Searcy Foote, Dippold the Optician — Nathan Daniel

Mickey M’Grew, Willie Pennington, Knowlt Hoheimer — Ryan McEiun

Barry Holden, Benjamin Panier, Tom Merritt — Jason Carpenter

Nige the Dog — Betty

Reuben Pantier, Harry Wilmans — Jameson Cannon

Emily Sparks — Emily Vawter

Trainor the Druggist, Roscoe Purkapile — Erik Lundby

Dora Williams — Sienna Reynolds

Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Merritt, Elsa Wertman — Eden McGrew

William, Hamilton Greene — Sullivan Cannon

Anne Rutledge, Fiddler Jones — Tay Camille Lynne

Duncan Krummel is music director and composer; lighting and sound by Paul Hargrave, Aiden Tappert and Sullivan Cannon; costumes by Lynne, Julia Ortiz, and the Hood River Valley High School theater department.

Here is a portion of “The Hill,” recited by actor Gary McFarlen:

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.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,

The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—

All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One died in shameful child-birth,

One of a thwarted love,

One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,

One of a broken pride, in the search for heart’s desire;

One after life in far-away London and Paris

Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag—

All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Playwright Cassandra Medley

Medley’s recently produced plays include: “American Slavery Project” (New York City), “Cell” (Molelo Theater, California, and Ensemble Studio Theater Marathon 2011, New York), “Daughter” (Ensemble Studio Theatre Marathon 2009, New York City), “Noon Day Sun” (Diverse City Theatre Company, New York), and “Relativity,” a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Ensemble Studio Theatre, New York).

Medley has the received the 2004 “Going to the River Writers” Life Achievement Award, the 2002 Ensemble Studio Theater 25th Anniversary Award for Theater Excellence, the 2001 Theatrefest Regional Playwriting Award for Best Play, the 1995 New Professional Theatre Award, and the 1995 Marilyn Simpson Award. She was a 1989 finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award in Playwriting, and won the 1990 National Endowment for the Arts Playwright Award. She was the 1986 recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Grant and received a New York State Council on the Arts Grant in 1987.

She teaches playwriting at Sarah Lawrence College, has taught at New York University, and has also served as guest artist at Columbia University, the University of Iowa.

Medley worked as a staff writer for ABC Television on One Life to Live from 1995-97. She is a playwright member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre, New River Dramatists, and the Dramatists Guild, Playwrights Workshop and Seattle University.

See her interview at playingonair.com.

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