This Verse Business by A.M. Dolan, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 10/20/11-11/13/11, http://www.merrimackrep.org/season/show.aspx?sid=101.
Reviewed by Anthony Geehan
(Lowell, MA) There is an inherent problem in the study of classic poetry. Most of what is deemed worthwhile to scholars are works that tend to be genre defying and broke the conventions of the times they were written in. However, when a poet’s collection becomes so widely revered, scholars tend to set them as the new template for the system that the writer had originally broken through. This leads to the poems losing much of their edge and therefore becoming mundane to modern audiences. There is possibly no bigger victim of this “catch-22” than west coast born, New England based poet Robert Frost, and there is possibly no better cure for this academic sickness than a play like This Verse Business.
A one act, one man, minimalist presentation, This Verse Business is played off as a free form speech by Robert Frost himself (played by Emmy Award winning actor Gordon Clapp) talking to the audience about his life and reading samples of his work where appropriate. Throughout the play, Clapp poses several rhetorical, deeply philosophical questions to the audience and goes on to explain them in a sparingly simple and light hearted manner. “What is poetry?” Clapp asks early on in the play. “It is a use of metaphors, much like Einstein used to explain science, to explain our humanity.”
At several points in the act, Clapp will pause his musings in order to read a selection of Frost’s works. Such classics as “Road Not Taken”, “Into My Own”, and “The Death of a Hired Man” are read clearly and with great feeling by Clapp, and often have some of the more analytical looks at them parodied by Clapp. “Beyond anything else” he explains, while talking about how to write poetry “poetry needs to be catchy. That’s what Shakespeare is, a lot of lines that you can’t get out of you head after you hear them.”
On a technical level, the play’s layout remains very simple. Most of the play Clapp is set in front of a plain red curtain, with a podium to hold his books and a table holding his water. The latter half of the play however reveals a single and very impressive set piece. A recreation of a Frost’s Vermont home is presented from behind the curtain as both the play and Clapp change tone (and attire) from a slightly stuffy, academic setting, to a relaxed and truer backdrop for the naturalist tone for most of Frost’s works.
What the play accomplishes, through the act of recreation instead of preservation, is to give the works of Robert Frost a bit of a refreshing informal tone. To see Clapp on stage, speaking as arguably the greatest American poet in this country’s history, shrugging his shoulders at some of the more detailed and academic analysis of his works, gives a glimpse of what a man like Robert Frost wanted to be remembered for. The play is highly recommended to anyone who is a fan of Frost’s works and also should be looked into by anyone looking to be introduced to Frost without the hardnosed baggage that comes with most poetic studying.