Mount St. Joseph’s Theatre Returns with Spoon River Requiem

Review by Sherri Ogden Wellington

If you  looked back on your life,  would you make the same choices?  

This is the theme of “Spoon River Requiem” playing this weekend at Mount St. Joseph University Theatre Arts.   Director Richard Buchanan wanted to pair an adaptation of  “Spoon River Anthology” (originally written by Edgar Lee Masters and adapted by Narration Writer, Rae Buchanan) with music.  He collaborated with the Department of Music Chair, Mark McCafferty, who arranged the music to go along with this powerful play.  

The play opens up in a cemetery (set design was the final project for the 2019 Stagecraft and Theatre Design course)  whereupon “The Keeper” played by Sara Slack mysteriously shares with the audience the reckoning of the church bells in finding one’s place before morning.  If one doesn’t then one will disappear.  One by one, spirits come out to briefly share their lives.  Love, hate, pain, humor, insight, sadness, faith and joy are found in the various souls’ stories. Intermittent songs are sung by Chamber Singers, who are in the pit with the musicians (Music Director is Danielle Cozart Steele).

Unfortunately,  it is extremely difficult to understand much of what is being said.  Often the actors appear to talk too fast.  At times The Keeper was clear as well as some of the other actors.  When you can understand what is being said though, it is thought provoking.  For instance, Search Foote (Nate Sweeney) who was unhappy with his life, killed the person who kept him from being happy. He ended up marrying the wife of his dreams or Mabel Melvenay (Hailey Mullins). She spent her life accumulating things that she never used and ended up seeing herself as “a good machine that never worked”. Also, who can disparage Margaret Fuller Slack’s (Abby Simon) synopsis of her years on Earth with “Sex is the curse of life!”

Although, also difficult to understand what the Chamber Singers are singing, their voices are soothing. The solo performances are very impressive and the ethos of the 1910s style of  music is well-captured.  The music gives the audience time to relax.

The playbill is filled with a great deal of  information about the background of the anthology and the production. Also, it can be noted that out of the ten actors, this was the first play ever performed beyond high school for six of them and only their second play for three of them. It was the first production for Sound Designer and Operation, Abby Nickell, as well. Nevertheless, Richard Buchanan challenged these young actors to be a part of an extremely thoughtful play.

The highlight of the play is at the end where The Keeper is yelling at the audience to “find your place” and “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life “ is sung beautifully. 

There are still tickets for “Spoon River Requiem.”  Click here:  MSJ Theatre Arts Presents: Spoon River Requiem. It starts at 7:00 on Saturday and 3:00 on Sunday.  The play runs 75 minutes and masks are required.

Mount Saint Joseph’s Theatre Arts program will be presenting “The Thanksgiving Play”  in November.

Sherri Ogden Wellington holds a M.Ed. She is a retired high school teacher, a veteran and a lifelong theater enthusiast.