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Reviewed by Ethan Silver

The Women of Spoon River poster artThis production is an adaptation of Spoon River Anthology, a book of short poems written by Edgar Lee Masters in 1916 and a staple in high school and collegiate English departments across America.  In this newly adapted version, Women of Spoon River: Their Voices From The Hill, the famed Lee Meriwether portrays the women of Spoon River, a fictional town in the mid-western United States that is inspired by an actual body of water of the same name.  This is not however, Ms Meriwether’s first time in Spoon River.  She was part of the original Theatre West workshop in 1962 and understudied three leading ladies in the subsequent Broadway production.  This new take on Spoon River is an obvious labor of love as evidenced by the commitment to the work and intention of touring colleges and universities across the United States.   

Ms. Meriwether portrays twenty-six characters young and old with an approach that alleviates any confusion as to who is who.  Each character has her own specific demeanor and physicality as they are skillfully brought back from the dead and onto the stage in a series of moving vignettes.  At first the vignettes stand alone but as they progress, the relationships between characters becomes apparent and the play becomes whole.  The variation among the characters is astounding and it includes socialites, widowers, and many differing personality types, each narrating their own interesting story.  The audience is allowed into the mind of each character as they recount their lives from beyond the grave, sometimes even reflecting on their own demise.  While some appear innocent, others have tasted suicide, murder, conspiracy and scandal as the women of Spoon River paint a picture of the sometimes harsh realities of life, and eventually death, in their small town.  A single-hander such as this is a tough feat for any actor to handle, but with an experienced and well seasoned performer such as Lee Meriwether at the helm, both the quality and integrity of the work are well maintained.  The acting is superb and the pacing just right to keep the audience interested.

The set suggests a graveyard setting with several dead trees placed around the space.  Props for the piece are cleverly hidden among the branches and utilized at the appropriate times in order to accentuate the characters.  The trees are situated around and behind a series of chairs that also double as gravestones.  The lighting is mood-reflective, adapting to each personality type and effectively mirroring the sentiment and weight of each character.  At times it is a little dim, but this does not detract from the experience.  It is recommend that you sit in the front half of the theater to ensure that everything can be seen and heard, as there are no microphones in use.

The Women of Spoon River: Their Voices From The Hill is highly recommended for students of American English, especially those studying Spoon River Anthology.  Adults of all ages will appreciate the production but children will most likely not understand the complexities of the characters and the underlying messages of the piece so it is best to get a babysitter for this one. 

The production runs roughly 55 minutes and is followed by a Q & A with Lee Meriwether.  Show dates run through February 13th every Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Theatre West is in Hollywood, CA and offers free parking in a lot across the street.