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Dead Reckonings

Charenten revives a graveyard classic.



Five cemeteries around Cleveland are about to come alive in an unscary way, when the Charenton Theater Company presents a well-known classic among the headstones.

Spoon River Anthology (premiering Friday at Riverside Cemetery) is a collection of free-verse monologues written by Edgar Lee Masters, based on the epitaphs he had observed at local boneyards in Illinois. These remembrances capture both the tender and volatile emotions that the dead have carried with them to their dirt nap. And since the play is intended to take place in a graveyard, the cemetery venues (West Park, Highland Park, Old Erie Street, and Lake View) selected for this piece are elegantly appropriate.

Written some 90 years ago, Spoon River Anthology still speaks eloquently to today's world, especially because society's division between rich and poor -- a gulf that is growing by leaps and bounds -- is well represented in the play's characterizations.

The production follows a Charenton pattern, established in 2001, of making outdoor summer stagings available to the public at no charge. In the past two years, Zoo Story and I'm Not Rappaport -- plays intended to be set on park benches -- were taken to local parks and played on the real thing. However, the current production presents some unusual challenges.

"We're being careful to stage Spoon River Anthology interestingly and excitingly while also showing total respect for the grave sites," explains director Mindy Childress. "And unfortunately, we have one cast member who is afraid of cemeteries, so this rehearsal and performance process is kind of therapy for him."

Uneasiness in cemeteries is a feeling shared by many, and it's another reason for this production. "Cemeteries used to be very active green spaces in a community, where families would go to picnic and celebrate the lives of the departed," says artistic director James Mango. "But that tradition has faded over the years. We'd like to help bring it back."

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