If you ever wondered what the love child of Bill T. Jones and Peter and the Starcatcher would look like at a fraction of the price, journey to Morningside Heights this weekend (or Boerum Hill next week) for Spoon River Anthology, Jimmy Maize’s adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ from-the-grave recollections of a small town’s citizens (à la Act III of Our Town). Masters’s tome contains no less than 212 characters and 240 poems, and has been repurposed by Maize as a free-form theatrical production with 100 (!) performers—most all fresh-faced, enthusiastic Columbia University students ready to prove their mettle.
Maize, who also directed, uses his massive cast as a delivery service for Masters’s melancholic short tales of war, poverty, religion, and marriage among many other themes. Choreographed by Jon Cooper and Marine Sialelli, the actors fluidly embody everything from trees to crashing waves to tombstones, and like Starcatcher, they do all the literal heavy lifting too—using electrical cord, handheld Klieg lights, and sometimes even musical instruments. As one would expect, casting college students has a drawback—all of the performances live in the same place of full-throated, jut-jawed earnestness—but as a fluid piece of theater, it’s often quite elegant.
Beautifully aided by David Bengali’s gorgeous lighting and Eli Zoller and Ethan Wagner’s appealing, rural-tinged orchestrations, the show occasionally loses focus, especially in a much-protracted final act. But no matter the content, it’s hard to deny the rush of seeing such a volume of performers engulfing you in such an elemental way—it takes the shape of the largest campfire tale ever concocted. And what’s purer theater than that?