BWW Review: THE NATURE PLAYS: World Premiere at Mount Auburn Cemetery
The Nature Plays
A series of site-specific plays created by Playwright Patrick Gabridge, Mount Auburn Cemetery Artist-in-Residence; Directed by Courtney O'Connor; Produced by Plays in Place; Stage Manager, Adele Nadine Traub; Costume Design, Kimberly Berry; Sound Design, Arshan Gailus; Assistant Stage Manager, Betsy Pierce; Mushroom Design, Aliza Kenney; Associate Producer, Lindsay Eagle; Publicity, Rachel Lucas
CAST (in alphabetical order): Jacob Oommen Athyal, Ed Hoopman, Theresa Hoa Nguyen, Lisa Tucker
Performances through June 9, presented by Friends of Mount Auburn, at Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA; Tickets (limited) 617-607-1980 or www.mountauburn.org/the-nature-plays
And now for something completely different, playwright Patrick Gabridge, the 2018-2019 Mount Auburn Cemetery Artist-in-Residence, builds on his initiative as producing artistic director of Plays in Place by creating a series of site-specific plays which focus on the natural world of the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. The 175-acre landscaped jewel in the heart of the city is best known as the final resting place of approximately 100,000 souls, with important historical and contemporary figures among them, and now lends its glorious environs as a performance venue for the world premiere of Gabridge's The Nature Plays.
The first series (a second series, The America Plays, will premiere in September) consists of five short plays inspired by and staged at various locales throughout the cemetery. A mix of comedy and drama, the plays cover topics such as the mating ritual of spotted salamanders ("Hot Love in the Moonlight"), the underground world of mushroom hunting ("Sworn to Secrecy"), and the effects of climate change on the habitat for birds ("Cerulean Blue"). Courtney O'Connor directs a quartet of fine actors - Jacob Oommen Athyal, Ed Hoopman, Theresa Hoa Nguyen, and Lisa Tucker - who all play multiple roles, ranging from the aforementioned salamanders, to deceased naturalists, to fungi fiends, to passionate birders, to strong and sturdy trees.
With Mother Nature's impressive scenic design, augmented bird call recordings from sound designer Arshan Gailus, and whimsical costumes by Kimberly Berry, O'Connor coordinates cast, crew, and audience, seamlessly moving everyone along the paved walkways and pine-strewn paths to the next venue in the traveling production. Each play is connected to its surroundings, giving the audience an opportunity to experience the rich, natural environment appropriate for the scene. Moving en masse from site to site allows for a wonderful overview of the landscaped gardens, ponds, architecture, and fauna of Mount Auburn. The 75-minute performance requires walking approximately a mile and a half, but it truly is a splendid walk in the park and seating is provided at each location.
The Nature Plays are well-written, self-contained stories that pack a lot into five tiny packages. The actors display versatility and get into their diverse characters in surprising depth. The cemetery is surely a leading player and, as it states on the website:"Mount Auburn has and always will be a sacred place of remembrance, a place to mourn those we have loved, a place to seek inspiration and solace, and a place to celebrate life." Add to that a theater en plein air.
Photo credit: Corinne Elicone (Lisa Tucker, Ed Hoopman)