Completely Natural, Incredibly Beautiful: “The America Plays”

Amanda J Collins and Robert Najarian; photo by Corinne Elicone.

Presented by Mount Auburn Cemetery
By Patrick Gabridge, Mount Auburn Cemetary Artist-in-Residence 
Directed by Courtney O’Connor
Music in All the Broken Pieces written, performed and recorded by Arshan Gailus

September 12, 2019 – September 22, 2019
Mount Auburn Cemetery
Cambridge, MA
MAC on Facebook 

Critique by Kitty Drexel

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The America Plays is a pleasant introduction to a select few of the curious residents interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery through theatre. These short plays in place preserve the lives of eight artists, politicians, and scientists while asking their audience to hike the cemetery grounds. It’s a charming way to meet some New England spirits and watch the grounds transition to their fall colors. 

Gabridge’s compilation of plays is reminiscent of Peter S. Beagle’s 1996 novel, A Fine and Private Place. It is a fantasy about two couples, one living and one dead, communing in a cemetery.  It is loosely based on Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress. Beagle’s novel is comparable to The America Plays for its treatment of the dead as entities capable of retaining their humanity. Some of Gabridge’s specters are aware of their undead state; others are not. Death hasn’t made them better or worse for their passing (or than their attentive audience). They are still fallible, flawed people making the best of their afterlives. One doesn’t need to have read A Fine and Private Place to appreciate The America Plays (or vice versa). But having read it or any other gothic romance will give attendees a perspective into the otherworldly nature of Gabridge’s work. 

The America Plays does require a level of mobility from its attendees as each play is in a different location in the cemetery. A note in the Eventbrite website says that “the total walking distance includes some uneven terrain, unpaved paths, and steep inclines.” In addition, there are stairs that one must climb to certain locations. Patrons with mobility issues should please contact the cemetery about options available to them. 

The actors (Ken Baltin, Sarah Newhouse, Matthew C. Ryan, Karen McDonald, Robert Najarian, Cheryl D. Singleton, and Amanda Collins) are local and well-known in Massachusetts for the high quality of their performances. They are not miked but they project well. Seats are not assigned and audience members may sit as close to the front row as they need. 

In Consecration, Najarian delivers Joseph Story’s consecration address over a pea-green pond blooming with algae the consistency of a banana smoothie. Director Courtney O’Connor’s staging and Najarian’s training make good use to the natural acoustics. If one’s need is beyond that of a trained actor, attendees should also please contact the cemetery about their options.  

I was lucky to attend the 5 p.m. performance on Sept. 12. During the first of the two-hours that we traversed the gardens, the sun poked its head out from behind the clouds. Around 6 p.m. the sun scooted farther down the horizon and created soft shadows around the gravestones. The sun began to set just as the play ended at 7 p.m. It was some of the finest lighting design I’ve experienced all season. It was completely natural, completely intentional, and incredibly beautiful.  

Karen MacDonald and Cheryl Singleton; photo by Corinne Elicone.

The America Plays run the gamut from overly sentimental (Man of Vision”) to the gravely serious (All the Broken Pieces). Rage Against the Storm is unapologetically feminist. Variations on an Apology is silly and Shakespearean. There is a little something for everyone and poetry inspired by the cemetery in between.     

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