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January 21, 2014 12:08 p.m.

Kirk Players resurrect voices from Spoon River

By: Lilli Kuzma | For Sun-Times Media

Spoon River Anthology’

Most would find it difficult to summarize their life’s experiences and lessons in one minute. Articulating this information when deceased would prove yet more difficult.

But this is exactly the premise of Edgar Lee Masters’ enduring collection of free verse, Spoon River Anthology. Presented as series of epitaphs about and by the residents of the fictional town of Spoon River (standing in for the real downstate Lewiston where Masters grew up), the work continues to be discovered and staged by one generation after another since its publication in 1915.

“Edgar Lee Masters was amazing in his ability to create these characters in such short monologues, each character expressing their life in a minute or two, the trials and tribulations of who they were and how life treated them,” said Paddy Lynn, an actress, storyteller, and artistic director of the Kirk Players. “The poetry is beautiful, and the messages are timeless. No matter if you’re talking about the turn of the century or about today, there are universal truths, and things that happen to all of us.”

Along with her husband, Jon Leslie Lynn, and musician Patti Ecker, Paddy Lynn and the Kirk Players will stage a sampling of Spoon River epitaphs Feb. 1-2 at the Cuneo Museum and Gardens in Vernon Hills.

“This is primarily acted by Jon and myself, and the producer is our board president, Sheila Bourque,” said Paddy Lynn. “We’re doing snippets from the anthology, about 45 of the characters. It was hard to choose which characters to do, as there is a huge variety of material to select from.”

She and Jon will portray the characters with a minimal set and props, and using different hats and other accessories in switching personas.

Patti Ecker of Des Plaines, a versatile musician, storyteller and educator, will perform folk music on parlor guitar, banjo, and harmonica during the program. Traditional songs will be carefully matched to the verse, to introduce the monologues or to create a mood for the story.

“The songs will enhance the stories,” said Ecker. “Some of the titles I’ll do (are) “The Water Is Wide,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” and Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More.”

Jon, a veteran actor with Kirk Players, also taught high school drama at Mundelein High School from 1982 to 1994, then at Barrington High School, 1994 to 2013.

Over the years, productions of “Spoon River Anthology” have been highlights of his career.

Jon drew on his long history with “Spoon River” shows for this production. “My experience helped, because I know a lot of the underlying meaning,” he said. “For some people it’s like reading Shakespeare, words that are suggesting something but don’t come right out and tell you. The monologues are short and sweet. Some are very funny, some are very tragic, some very thoughtful, and they all have important lessons.”

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