Freelance theatercritic Alex Brown contributed this review of Lost Nation Theater's production of This Verse Business.
Television and stage actor Gordon Clapp is now appearing atMontpelier City Hall Auditorium as Robert Frost in a one-man show by A. M.Dolan.
In a brisk, funny hour and a quarter, Clapp performs thevery neat trick of making you forget there’s a script and making you believeyou’re spending an evening with the sharp, fiercely independent poet.
The play isan intimate construction, allowing us to feel we’re truly getting to know Frostand what makes him tick. While the deeper and darker sides of his personal lifearen’t on view, we get to see his humor, self-deprecation and keen ability toobserve.
Thanks to afine performance by Clapp, a strong script, and smart direction by GusKaikkonen, this production solves the primary problem of one-man shows. Manymonologues are plagued by unrelenting artifice when a subject recounts a lifestory sans any of its other characters, but this show feels natural and alive.
This Verse Business begins with Frost,onstage to give a poetry reading, apparently ad-libbing about the brightnessof a stage light. Clapp gives us a character with a little problem to solve anda relationship to the audience, his only ally against the tech crew. Frost’swit and bluntness shine through immediately. He has a reason to be onstage,and a way to connect with us.
The play iswell paced, and carves a perfect set of ski turns as it moves from readings ofthe key poems to rich, first-person commentary on the poet’s life. Frost isreading and talking to us, much in the spirit of one of his poem’s lines, “Youcome, too.” Clapp does an outstanding job of delivering the poems.
I’m takingthe biographical research on faith, since the production is bold enough to offersome gem-like specifics about Frost. He mentions a conversation with T.S. Eliotin which they discuss what profession they put down on their income taxforms — Frost never calls himself a poet to the IRS, but settles for farmer,teacher or lecturer. Other anecdotes, along with Clapp’s distinctive vocal andphysical choices, make Frost a tangible presence.
The bestmoments of the show come when Frost dissects his own poems and discusses howart and poetry work. It’s like being in the room with an artist you’ve longadmired and having him hop down from his pedestal to hand you the insightyou’ve wanted to draw from his work.
This Verse Business,Friday and Saturday, September 20 and 21, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, September 22, at 2p.m. at Montpelier City Hall Auditorium. Info, 229-0492. lostnationtheater.org
The show also travels to the Dorset Playhouse, September 26 through 28, and Fuller Hall at St. Johnsbury Academy on Friday, October 4; and then to a NewYork City debut in November.
Photo courtesy of Lost Nation Theater.