Pontine Theatre Premieres THE COMMON HEART, 4/27
26 April - 12 May, 2013, Pontine Theatre premieres The Common Heart: A Transcendental Revue, at their West End Studio Theatre, 959 Islington St, Portsmouth NH. This work explores the legacy of the New England Transcendental Movement. Drawing on works by Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and other denizens of Concord MA during the 1830's and 40's. Performances are Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm, and Sundays at 2pm. There is an additional 8pm performance scheduled for Saturday 27 April. Tickets are $24 and may be purchased online: www.pontine.org.
The 1836 publication of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, Nature, brought national attention to a singularly American school of philosophy centered in Boston and Concord MA. Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, along with other intellectuals, became known as leaders of "The Newness." The members of that movement, now known as "Transcendentalism," refuted New England's Puritan roots and looked to nature as the foundation of a more personal connection with spirituality.
The Common Heart tells the story of the rich literary history of Concord, MA. Its most famous resident, Ralph Waldo Emerson was at the center of a group of like-minded Transcendentalists including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott), and Henry David Thoreau. This collection of literary talent in one small town led Henry James to dub Concord "the biggest little place in America."
The Common Heart also tells the touching stories of the two utopian communities which were founded upon the ideals of the Transcendentalists: Brook Farm and Fruitlands.
In 1841 George Ripley, a former Unitarian minister established Brook Farm, in West Roxbury, MA. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the founding members. Brook Farm was an object of interest throughout its existence. It was visited by a host of fellow transcendentalists and general curiosity-seekers. Despite its popularity, Brook Farm was unable to sustain itself financially. In 1846, they launched a building expansion and when a fire destroyed their new building, the association ended. As the members dispersed, they recalled how happy their lives had been at Brook Farm and they ached for those halcyon days:
In some of our hearts awoke a yearning for one more meeting at the old place; and so we gathered the people from far and near for one more good time, for one more communion. With what pleasure I recall those few hours. How happy we were!
Fruitlands, located in Harvard, MA, was established by Bronson Alcott, father of the famous author. Louisa May Alcott was eleven years of age when her family moved to the newly created association. Here were gathered men and women who based their hopes of reforming the world on dress and on diet. They revived the monkish notions of asceticism.
The Fruitland farmers lacked practical experience, however, and their efforts were sorely lacking. They failed to fill their stores and were totally unprepared to face a New England winter. When cold weather arrived the Fruitlanders were forced to abandon their dream.
Despite these failures in practical application, the ideas of the Transcendentalists continue to inspire readers and thinkers. They speak to many concerns that are at the forefront of current social debate: environmentalism, industrialization, and capitalism, to name but a few.
The transcendentalists celebrated the American experiment of individualism and self-reliance. They took progressive stands on women's rights, abolition, reform, and education. They criticized government, organized religion, social institutions, and industrialization. They honored the American "state of mind" through their faith that all would be well because humans could transcend limits and reach astonishing heights.
The Common Heart: A Transcendental Revue includes storytelling, projected images, toy theatre figures, lyrical movement and music to tell the story of the Transcendentalists. The text is drawn entirely from primary historical sources including the writings of Alcott, Emerson, Hawthorne, Ripley, and Thoreau. Co-Director, Greg Gathers, created the sets and props for this original two-person production which also features Pontine Co-Director, M Marguerite Mathews.
Serving audiences since 1977, Pontine Theatre has developed a sterling reputation for high-quality performances and educational programs. With an impressive repertoire of innovative, original productions, the company serves audiences both in its home town, Portsmouth, NH and throughout New England. Pontine has become well known for a group of critically acclaimed productions which reflect the history and culture of New England.
Pontine Co-Directors, Marguerite Mathews & Greg Gathers perform in The Common Heart: A Transcendental Revue.
Photo by Andrew Edgar