The Morning After
“Strike”: the word has many meanings, most of them suggesting sudden violent force. If you go down the dictionary’s list, eventually you will come to the labor meaning, cessation of work to exert pressure on an employer (I am very familiar with this experience, and its agonies).
Still further down is “to haul down (as a flag); to dismantle and take away; to strike the tents of (as a camp).” This is the theatrical meaning of the word, and we committed this act of sudden violence yesterday as we struck Ice Glen after the closing performance.
Yes, dismantling a show (or a camp) is part of a routine, and an anticipated part at that. But what happens as the props are cleaned and stored or sorted out and returned to their lenders—as the furniture is stacked to await the truck that will return the various components of the play’s “home” to their own separate households and shops—as the lights that have made eleven cycles of morning and afternoon and sunset and moonlight are unplugged and hauled down—as the characters yield up their costumes to be cleaned and stored—as the stage is swept one last time—as the lovely view of a wooded Berkshires hill becomes just a painted wall—is the end of a world onstage and the breaking of a family backstage, certainly a cataclysm no matter how routine.
The play as it develops is a living thing, and the relationships among those who bring it to life are intense and intimate; but as of today, the “morning after,” the play is a book awaiting another company to give it life, the production is a memory, and the cast and crew return to their more mundane routines and usual relationships. The love and gratitude we have expressed to one another in notes and gifts and toasts are real and will be translated into friendships as opportunity allows, and the production is memorialized on tape. But the experience of the show, the singular evanescent joy that is the essence of the performing arts, is finished now. We will all go on to other shows, because this kind of joy is addictive. But this one is over.
In professional theater the actors and running crew and director don’t strike the set: stagehands do. But although it must be nice to be spared the physical and emotional pains associated with taking a show apart, I think that participating in it is a healthy thing, a way of making a real transition out of the play and a formal farewell not only to one another but also to the world we have inhabited together.
And at last we part, with the inevitable, wonderful question: “What are you doing next?”
Ice Glen continues its critically acclaimed run Fridays and Saturdays February 12, 13, 19 and 20, Valentine’s Day, February 14 at 2:00 PM and February 21 at 2:00 PM. Directed by Ruth Anne Baumgartner, the imaginative staging envelops a lovely play with a cast of rich characters that leave you with a lot to think about. A recent interview with Ms. Baumgartner gives a rare look at a director’s behind-the-scenes thought process:
An obvious first question, but what drew you to direct Ice Glen?
“I became more and more excited by the questions the play raises. Since I have been teaching writing and literature courses for most of my life, I was especially drawn to the central conflict: for whom does a poet write – and to whom does a poem belong? Like the famous tree falling in the forest, does art need an audience in order to exist? And I was excited at the chance to work with actors on a play where more is unsaid than said: that is, a lot of the play happens in the subtext.”
The play presents an interesting ethical debate between the rights of an artist and the “free will” of art; what is your take on this issue at the heart of the play?
“As a desk-drawer poet myself, I sympathize with Sarah’s desire to share her poems only with people she trusts. But a creative work is a complex phenomenon that, when finished, is entitled to a life of its own. I teach English today because many years ago I fell completely, passionately, and permanently in love with literature. A great work of art – poetry, drama, fiction, painting, sculpture, music, dance, theater – embodies a moment of vision, and that vision helps us see more clearly. It helps us understand the world in a new way, helps us remember and celebrate what it means to be human beings, helps us to feel or to give a name to feelings we already have. In poetry, we also celebrate the power and sheer delight of language. Just remember how many people posted poems on the hoardings surrounding the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11. How many of our loved dead are eulogized by means of a favorite poem? How many courtships involve the sharing of sonnets? Think of the times in your life when words from a poem have given you solace, or joy, or delight, and be thankful that all of those poems did not remain locked in the desk drawers of reticent writers.”
The title of the play – Ice Glen – is it a real place, or is it symbolic? Would you discuss a little of the imagery of the play in relation to its plot?
“The play is mostly set in western Massachusetts. I knew Lenox, Mount Greylock, Pleasant Valley, and the Housatonic River were real. Ice Glen is described as a ravine with crevices so deep and dark that the ice in them is never reached by the sun and consequently never melts, not even in the summer, is certainly not impossible; but at the time, its appropriateness as a central image for the play was interesting enough for me. Subsequent investigation led me straight to descriptions of Ice Glen, a real place complete with real ice.”
“In fact, Joan Ackermann originally wrote Ice Glen for Shakespeare and Company, a company based in Lenox and performing on the grounds of four Berkshire “cottages,” including the house Edith Wharton helped design and decorate and lived in for some years. The company rented her home, The Mount, as a performance space for over twenty years; they also performed in another of the cottages, Springlawn Mansion. Ice Glen was written in part as a fond farewell to Springlawn when the property, too costly to maintain, was sold and the company moved into larger, new facilities. The play celebrates this environment. But of all the features of the local landscape, Ice Glen is the best choice for a title and a focal point: part of Shakespeare & Company’s mission statement reads, “The Company believes there is a direct relationship between the development of the human mind and the landscape a human being inhabits.” The main character of the play is a poet who does not want to share her work with the public, and one of the two plotlines follows her struggle with the idea of opening up. And she’s not the only one in the play who has locked something away inside—every character has something frozen deep down, waiting for the right kind of warmth to unlock it. So my short answer to ‘Is Ice Glen a real place, or is it symbolic?’ is ‘Yes.’
The play is set in 1919 – post Gilded Age, post World War I – Are there any references to “real” people and events in the year 1919?
“Astonishingly, there are NO references to the Great War, although surely even the wealthy in the Berkshires were aware that it happened and that, in 1919, it had just ended! Indeed, Edith Wharton, who is prominently mentioned in the play, was actively and passionately engaged during the War in aiding French and Belgian refugees and visiting—and sending reports from—the fighting at the Front. This would have been about the same time that, according to the play, she was dining with the Bainbridges and becoming interested in Sarah Harding’s poems. By 1919, Wharton had taken up permanent residence in France, returning to the United States only once, in 1923, to accept an honorary degree from Yale.”
“Her home in the Berkshires, The Mount, was built and furnished according to principles she developed with, and published with, an architect friend—an American aesthetic to replace the heavy ornamental clutter of the Victorian period, a more spacious grace.”
“The Atlantic Monthly, the magazine that wants to publish Sarah Harding’s poems, is of course a real magazine, founded in 1857 by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Francis H. Underwood, plus a few others, and still going. The Editor of The Atlantic Monthly at the time of the play was Ellery Sedgewick, who was responsible for moving it to national prominence. Under his editorship the magazine published more short stories than poetry. But he is not the Senior Editor in Ice Glen: that is Peter Woodburn (not that far from “sedge-wick,” I suppose!), and the fictional character does not fully share the real man’s preferences.”
Is the play a comedy or a drama? Or both?
“The play is listed as a ‘comedy,’ and I think this categorization does it and the audience a disservice. It is a comedy in that it has a happy ending, with problems worked out; and certainly some lines and events of the play are bound to evoke laughter. But actually calling it a comedy invites the audience to expect a play the point of which is laughter, and that is not the case. This is an engrossing human drama that, like life, has its moments of laughter – and moments of pain. It’s a play that appeals to the mind and the heart: that’s the best I can do.”
Would you elaborate a bit on the poetry of the play – is it a theme, or is it incorporated in the dialogue?
“A student of mine once defined ‘poetry’ as ‘something that says one thing but means something else.’ While I would quarrel with that as a definition, it is—or would be, if the student had actually been expressing something other than mere frustration—an insight. Certainly in this sense the play is poem-like, in that most of what is important in it is implied rather than expressed. Ackermann’s language is consciously mannered and elaborate, giving us the flavor of the play’s period; it is also poetic in a number of ways, from the poignant fragments of Dulce to the elegant and passionate verses of Sarah (verses we never get to hear, by the way), to the colorfully expressive language of Mrs. Roswell, the Irish cook.
“Thanks to Emily Dickinson, we tend to think that “reclusive” is somehow not a surprising adjective for “poet,” and Sarah Harding fits the word. But J.D. Salinger, whose recent death left countless mourners, was a prose writer, and he was reclusive in the ways Sarah is: not antisocial but very private, writing for an audience of one (or a few), satisfied to make the art and unwilling to make it public. So it’s not just poets.”
You mentioned that it was reminiscent of Chekhov – would you elaborate?
“When I first studied Chekhov in college I really couldn’t believe he called his plays “comedies,” especially since half the lines seemed to begin with the direction ‘Weeping.’ There’s not a lot of weeping in Ice Glen, but, as I said before, it’s hardly what we used to call a thigh-slapper. If you let yourself imagine that Sarah and Mr. Woodburn fall in love after the play ends, then you might call the play a romantic comedy, since they begin very much not in love—but the playwright ends the play with a mutual smile, not a passionate kiss or a wedding, so you may be making the play something it’s not if you imagine those things happen later. Chekhov’s characters generally find themselves in a situation threatened by loss of something dear to them. Each character is odd in his or her own way, but they all seem to accept this. The mansion is falling down around them—or the cherry orchard is being sold and cut down—and they struggle to find a way to keep their ideas of themselves intact, their relationships stable, their lives meaningful according to their own definitions. They talk a lot but reveal less than we would like. Most of them finish the play by registering their losses and going on. Ice Glen feels like this kind of play. Once the show is over I will have time to reread some Chekhov and test my impression!”
Ice Glen’s runs Friday and Saturday February 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8:00 PM, and Sundays February 14 and
21 at 2:00 PM. Tickets $14 – $18. Call the box office for reservations at (203) 226-1983, or go to www.westportcommunitytheatre.com for directions.
Director’s Diary (continued)—Ice Glen
Opening Night. Only a few more hours to get everything in place—a few more props to add finishing touches to, embellishments continue on the set, last-minute cue changes…. And on top of that, angst at the hourly check of the weather forecast, wondering if we’ll get the promised “dusting,” “one to three inches,” or more, and when the snow will begin to fall. If it starts before 6, will we lose audience? And the bittersweet official moment of telling the Stage Manager that the show is all hers now and wishing her well.
After all, NO snow falls, cues go well, everything looks great, and the audience is not only plentiful but also enthusiastic, including “bravo”s during the curtain call that don’t sound like the voices of anybody’s mother. The Stage Manager is more than up to the task, and she knows that when I say the show is “all hers” I reserve authority over the actors’ performances…. We drink champagne and bask in the afterglow.
This has been a wonderful process. The rehearsals have been a pleasure, with intellligent and gifted actors (Samantha Burgan, Will Cohn, Mark Frattaroli, Linda Gilmore, Ann Kinner, Jim Perakis, and Susan Vanech) engaged in focused collaboration. The play itself is full of moments that cry out for discussion, interpretation, experimentation.
I have a wonderful lighting designer, Jeff Klein, who has a good feel for the kind of show Ice Glen is; my set designer/builder, Al Kulcsar, is a man of many talents and has shown them here; Dick Hollyday set the sound cues with his usual competence and sensitivity; the costume team of Mary Kulcsar and Judi Heath did the resourceful and effective job we have learned to expect from them. My stage manager, Samantha Burgan, has been calm and capable through the whole thing, even this past week as several people we had counted on as “running crew” suddenly became unavailable and we scrambled for replacements. Amy Louise Carter is a stalwart at the light board; my concern that the show had no Producer has changed to gratitude for the “production team” that developed as a result: Joan Lasprogato, Bob Lasprogato (WCT’s Executive Producer), Janet Adams (always indispensable), and Amy. Bob Gilmore, Paul Lenhart, Kevin Moore, David Victor, and Marc Hartog will be the necessary additions to the running crew, filling in backstage and at the sound board, and I know I can trust their conscientiousness as well as their competence. The whole production is a genuine community.
Of course I will continue to want to tweak things, and will continue to fret and worry as the opportunity arises. But my principal concern now will be that the show gets the audience it deserves. If last night’s audience members tell their friends the same things they told us, then I’d advise everyone to get reservations in early!
From time to time, non-theater friends ask me if I really think it’s worth investing so much time, energy, thought, and emotion in work that pays no money and a product that exists for only a few weeks. Sometimes during a rehearsal period I ask myself the same question. And this morning I give the answer that I always rediscover. Is it worth it? Hell, yes!
Opening Friday, February 5 at 8:00 PM
directed by Ruth Anne Baumgartner
Fridays February 5, 12, 19 at 8:00 PM
Saturdays February 6, 13, 20 at 8:00 PM
Sundays February 7, 14, 21 at 2:00 PM
Thursday, February 11 at 8:00 PM
A reclusive poet. An editor. And a bear… Westport Community Theatre invites you to an evening of theatre that you’ll long remember after the closing act – beautifully written, wonderfully performed, Ice Glen is extraordinarily funny, warm, witty, moving and thought-provoking. The imaginative staging envelops a lovely play with a cast of rich characters that leave you with a lot to think about.
Set in the autumn of 1919 in the Berkshires, close to the Ice Glen, a Berkshire “cottage” estate is home to an eclectic household – Sarah, an earthy, fiery woman who is a gardener and poet living on a Berkshire “cottage” estate, the widowed lady of the house, an Irish cook, a chauffeur/butler/handyman, and a childlike young man. Into their circle comes the editor of Atlantic Magazine, who wants to publish Sarah’s poems, and a. The nature of beauty, the purpose of art, the privacy of personal expression, the artist’s responsibility to the world, and other mysteries of the human heart unfold in a story that is suspenseful, poignant, and highly satisfying. The cast features the talents of Samantha Burgan, Will Cohn, Mark Frattaroli, Linda Gilmore, Ann Kinner, Jim Perakis and Susan Vanech.
Critics have called this 2003 play “Beautifully written…a story of nature and change” Talkin’ Broadway” … A theatrical triumph.” The Rogovoy Report … “Ice Glen melts hearts and warms the audience from start to finish… a lovely Gilded Age love story that reveals shades as exquisite as a Massachusetts fall.” The Mercury News.
Produced by Joan Lasprogato, the production’s inventive set was designed by Alexander Kulcsar, with a complex, fanciful lighting design by Jeff Klein, executed by Amy Louise Carter with Janet Adams on sound
We look forward to seeing you!
Tickets range from $14 to $18. Groups of 10 or more enjoy a $2 per ticket discount, and there is a special “Student Rush” discount 15 minutes prior to performances for students of all ages with a valid student identification card.
For reservations, contact the Box Office at (203) 226-1983.
Go to www.westportcommunitytheatre.com for directions to the theatre.
Tickets: $12 – $18
Friday Feb 05 – 8PM
Saturday Feb 07 – 8PM
Sunday Feb 08 – 2PM
Thursday Feb 11 – 8PM
Friday Feb 12 – 8PM
Saturday Feb 13 – 8PM
Sunday Feb 14 – 2PM
Friday Feb 19 – 8PM
Saturday Feb 20 – 8PM
Sunday Feb 21 – 2PM