Winesburg, Ohio

Four well-told tales from Sherwood Anderson's novel

This collaboration between Word for Word and the Shotgun Players to stage four stories from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio has the slow, suspiring feel of a Midwestern town on the verge of industrialism: a Shaker-simple set, a sense of cool nights and distant trains, occasional singing, and the hissing of disapproving citizens. Director Delia MacDougall does a nice job of working these elements -- and certain passages of Anderson's prose -- into a deliberate musical tread. Not a word of "A Man of Ideas," "Paper Pills," "Surrender," or "Hands" has been edited (supposedly), but MacDougall does let her actors repeat lines for choral effect more often than Word for Word usually does. The effect is not at all bad. Sometimes (as in "Hands") the staging amounts to little more than a charmingly rendered tableau vivant, but the powerful centerpiece here is "Surrender," about a farm girl trying to find her way in town. Beth Donohue plays the coarse and eager Louise Bentley, opposite the prim and snobbish Hardy sisters (JoAnne Winter, Jeri Lynn Cohen), with a deeply felt tone of naive heartbreak and surprise. When watching one of the sisters neck with her boyfriend "[brings] to the country girl a knowledge of men and women," Donohue looks hilariously round-eyed and frightened. Louise's marriage, later, to the shy but abrupt John Hardy (Patrick Dooley) may be the saddest and funniest scene in the show. Dooley works against his own nature to play Hardy, and the stretch is more interesting than his easy, straightforward performance elsewhere as George Willard, the garrulous Anderson stand-in. Clive Worsley, David Cramer, and Adrian Elfenbaum also do excellent work; the project overall has a way of reducing Anderson's preciousness and bringing out his sense of humor.

 
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