Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends A Landscape of Remembrance and Reflection - Page 22

AMERICA PLAYS By Robin Hazard Ray Docent ollowing on the success of The Nature F Plays in the spring, Mount Auburn’s artistin-residence, playwright Patrick Gabridge, brought history to life in the autumn with The America Plays. As with the earlier play cycle, the five short America Plays were performed at a series of locations within the Cemetery. Gabridge and his director, Courtney O’Connor, chose the sites for their beauty, their historical significance, and their proximity to the graves of famous or little-known residents featured in the plays. The audience followed guides from one site to the next through the early autumn foliage. As Gabridge wrote in his program note, “One of the immense challenges of creating plays for this Cemetery is that there is an overflowing trove of compelling stories and interesting characters, some well-known, others mostly invisible.” His challenge was to choose from among this wealth a handful of stories that would explore the depth and breadth of American identity shown through stories of those buried at Mount Auburn. The first of the short plays, Man of Vision (1872), positioned the audience between two icons of the Cemetery: Bigelow Chapel and the Sphinx. Here we met Cemetery founder Jacob Bigelow (played by Ken Baltin) in the last stretch of his long life, inspecting the work of Martin Milmore (Mathew C. Ryan), the Irish-immigrant sculptor from whom Bigelow commissioned the Sphinx as a memorial to the fallen of the Civil War. The play touched not only on Bigelow and his career in medicine and civic leadership, but also on the tragic story of Milmore, who died of complications from alcoholism not long after completing the Sphinx. With the actors posted along Cypress Avenue, reciting poetry of Emily Dickinson and others about Mount Auburn, the audience then processed toward the Dell. Gabridge had excerpted a slice of the very lengthy Consecration address, delivered to over a thousand people in October 1831 by Cemetery co-founder Joseph Story (Robert Najarian). The audience sat rapt as Najarian circled the Dell Pond, speaking the while, demonstrating the extraordinary acoustic and theatrical qualities of the space, as Story had done before him, proclaiming, “Mount Auburn, in the noblest sense, belongs no longer to the living, but to the dead.” This dedication situated the Cemetery and its Dead in the American context, as a new kind of space in which to remember our history, both personal and national. The remaining plays brought life to women who embodied the vitality of America. Some—like physician Harriot Kezia Hunt (Karen MacDonald) and sculptor Edmonia Lewis (Cheryl D. Singleton) in Variations on an Unissued Apology—were native born, agitating for recognition in a society hostile to their gender, race, or both. Some—like actress Charlotte Cushman (Sarah Newhouse), sculptor Harriet Hosmer (Amanda Collins), and Edmonia Lewis (once again) in Rage Against the Storm—left American shores to find personal and professional liberty in Europe and in the arms of other women. And some—members of the refugee Armenian family in All the Broken Pieces—endured unspeakable hardships before finding in America the refuge they had long sought. Audiences of all ages expressed their appreciation, in applause, comments, and letters. Renata Del Vecchio, a Medford High School student, whose class attended the America Plays thanks to a Mass Humanities grant, wrote: “Thank you so much for including stories of so many minority people. I’ve never seen a conversation between 3 Queer women in history class.” 20