Experiential Theater With a Vermont Sensibility at ‘Marrowbone’ | Theater | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Experiential Theater With a Vermont Sensibility at ‘Marrowbone’

By and

Published October 3, 2022 at 2:13 p.m.
Updated October 5, 2022 at 10:05 a.m.

From left: Amaia Perta and Molly McEachen - COURTESY OF MARROWBONE
  • Courtesy of Marrowbone
  • From left: Amaia Perta and Molly McEachen
Theater is where I go for a transcendent communal experience akin to what some people find in religious services. In other words, I anonymously seek joy.

Anonymity was not an option at Marrowbone in Lincoln last weekend. Marrowbone, whose title comes from William Butler Yeats' poem “A Prayer for Old Age,” is pageant-style theater. Guides lead audience groups through the woods, stopping to observe curated vignettes of poetry, monologue, dance, music, movement, reflection and secular prayer.

This year’s theme, invented by Marrowbone founder and director, Marianne Lust, explored the notion of composting old ideas and toxic paradigms. The show ran on Saturday and Sunday in the afternoon.

The first day was brilliant and sunny, and a field-turned-parking-lot was filled with cars — some with license plates from as far away as South Carolina. (Travelers: This is a quintessential Vermont experience. Plan early. This year’s shows were sold out.) As I waited for the show to start, I observed dragonflies over the heads of audience members of all ages and clouds casting shadows across mountains beginning to show gold and red.

The first two vignettes took place in homey kitchen settings in the woods. In the first, Clarke Jordan, Emily French and Annie Ross appeared with ears of corn spilling out of bowls and fresh-baked bread on a cutting board. In the next, Amaia Perta sat at a scholarly desk while Molly McEachen stripped herbs at a farm table.

Contrasting these visual cues of warmth and domesticity, the actors delivered poetry, monologue and song that invited viewers to consider their own contributions to injustice.

French and McEachen sang without amplification. The intimacy of their performances allowed the listener to hear every tiny crack and waver, underscoring the singers’ humanity.
From left: Colin Gunn, Tom Verner and Amaya Freund - COURTESY OF MARROWBONE
  • Courtesy of Marrowbone
  • From left: Colin Gunn, Tom Verner and Amaya Freund
The next two vignettes rankled me. In one, between stunning acoustic guitar playing by Colin Gunn, an actor (Tom Verner) recited several Antonio Machado poems, rarely acknowledging one of his scene partners, an elementary school-age child (Amaya Freund) planting seeds. I realized one person pontificating while another takes action was the whole point.

In the other vignette, Aaron Marcus played a concertina with no seeming objective or agenda while actor David Ruffin built a wall. This encounter ended in pure joy as Marcus simultaneously tap danced and hula-hooped, inviting Ruffin to relax his preconceived, rigid notions of life.

Bravo to the quiet brilliance of the Marrowbone organizers, particularly director Lust, who lulled me into a state of nonparticipatory viewership before making me uncomfortable in my own complacency.

The final scene featured Tom Obomsawin on guitar, with Annie Nessen and Deborah Lubar trading songs and poems. Both Nessen and Lubar are powerful performers. I couldn’t look away. Their setting was strewn with garbage, making me long for a way to transform literal, emotional and social detritus into something positive.

  • Courtesy of Marrowbone
  • Clarke Jordan
Closing the performance, Lust toasted the earth in a secular prayer and told the story of the Goddess of Compost. She then began separating seeds as she named Indigenous tribes from around the world, accompanied by Heidi Champney playing a Bach violin Adagio.

Marrowbone was an annual event from 1991 through 2011 under Lust’s leadership, but producers Sophie Pickens, Sara Granstrom and Justine Jackson are unsure how often it will run now. I hope they consider using more homegrown material from Vermont writers and songsmiths. The material was great, but I found myself wondering how local authors would expound on themes of composting, injustice and diversity.

Still, I found joy in Marrowbone. I saw goddesses. And I will, to quote the Wendell Berry poem Clarke recited, “be joyful though … [I] have considered all the facts.”