VPR goes backstage with Lost Nation Theater

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(Host) Montpelier’s Lost Nation Theater opens its 26th season with two one-act plays celebrating the marriage of music and poetry. The first is a revival of the company’s signature piece, “Gunslinger” by Ed Dorn. The second is the world premier of Gary Moore’s “Beaver Falls”.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us “Backstage”.

(Charnoff) Gunslinger began life as an epic poem by the late Ed Dorn. Using the images and icons of the mythic Old West, Dorn created a surreal spoof of the American way of life.

Lost Nation Theater’s adaptation of Gunslinger began the partnership of company founder Kim Bent and co-artistic director Kathleen Keenan. They’ve performed the piece a number of times, including a half-hour version broadcast on VPR in 1987.

Complete with a barroom brawl and a talking horse, Gunslinger is a tour-de-force for Bent, who portrays all six characters:

(Bent) “The curtain might rise anywhere on a single speaker. I met in Masilla the cautious Gunslinger, of impeccable personal smoothness and slender leather encased hands, folded casually to make his knock, he would show you his map.”

(Charnoff) The text is a stream of puns, plot-twists and philosophy. Director Keenan provides the original instrumentation and sound effects.

Gunslinger is paired with “Beaver Falls,” by Gary Moore of Woodbury. Once again, actor Kim Bent performs solo, but we are now in a 1960’s Pennsylvania steel town. The play tells the story of the Sherry, who marries her high school sweetheart after she becomes pregnant. Lanny, formerly a football star, begins drinking heavily, and eventually becomes a physically abusive husband. Sherry and Lanny both must struggle to turn their lives around.

Playwright Gary Moore based his characters on people he knew growing up in Beaver Falls. As in “Gunslinger,” language and music are combined to enhance an evening of storytelling.

(Moore) “It’s a story about small people’s big struggles, and the heroism of those struggles. I started out as a poet, and so a lot of the feel that I have when I write has to do with the language and the pleasure of the language.”

(Charnoff) While Gunslinger might be considered the “acoustic” portion of the evening, “Beaver Falls” adds electronic music and sound effects to a highly stylized set, with moody lighting and slide projections. The original music is by Fred Wilbur of Marshfield.

(Wilbur) “There are three principal characters that the narrator talks about, and I’ve tried to develop a theme for each of the three. The music supports Kim’s delivery of the lines. It’s a delicate balance between spontaneous improvisation and spontaneous combustion.”

(Sound of Bent performing a scene) “And in the fury of a football game, Lanny could hear his name the way Sherry said it, when he was in her arms. And he’d feel all the peace he’d never known in his tenement home, or his boozed up dad hit him till he bled, and his frightened mother drinking in the kitchen sucked down more smoke from her burning dreams, and hungry children and tv voices screamed.”

(Charnoff) Gary Moore says “Beaver Falls” could be compared to Thorton Wilder’s “Our Town,” which also sets the problems of a young couple against a larger philosophical background.

(Moore) “The kinds of struggles in Beaver Falls are the kinds of struggles that people have had from time immemorial, and are always going to have. They’re about personal choices, and then living with the challenges that your choices cause. It’s about making mistakes and redeeming your life and help others redeem theirs.”

(Charnoff) Kim Bent says that “Gunslinger” and “Beaver Falls” complement each other well.

(Bent) “They’re both mythic evocations of some kind of American, so to speak, spirit. They both have a highly rhythmic nature, and they’re both epic. They go together really beautifully.”

(Charnoff) Lost Nation Theater is donating a portion of the proceeds to a consortium of organizations that provide support to women in need.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

(Host) “Gunslinger” and “Beaver Falls” run at Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier’s City Hall through February 9.

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