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September 20, 2013

This Verse Business: Lost Nation Theater Brings Robert Frost to the Stage

Freelance theater critic Alex Brown contributed this review of Lost Nation Theater's production of This Verse Business. 'Robert Frost- This Verse Business' _ Courtesy of Lost Nation Theater

Television and stage actor Gordon Clapp is now appearing at Montpelier City Hall Auditorium as Robert Frost in a one-man show by A. M. Dolan.

In a brisk, funny hour and a quarter, Clapp performs the very neat trick of making you forget there’s a script and making you believe you’re spending an evening with the sharp, fiercely independent poet.

The play is an intimate construction, allowing us to feel we’re truly getting to know Frost and what makes him tick. While the deeper and darker sides of his personal life aren’t on view, we get to see his humor, self-deprecation and keen ability to observe.

Thanks to a fine performance by Clapp, a strong script, and smart direction by Gus Kaikkonen, this production solves the primary problem of one-man shows. Many monologues are plagued by unrelenting artifice when a subject recounts a life story sans any of its other characters, but this show feels natural and alive.

This Verse Business begins with Frost, onstage to give a poetry reading, apparently ad-libbing about the brightness of a stage light. Clapp gives us a character with a little problem to solve and a relationship to the audience, his only ally against the tech crew. Frost’s wit and bluntness shine through immediately. He has a reason to be onstage, and a way to connect with us.

The play is well paced, and carves a perfect set of ski turns as it moves from readings of the key poems to rich, first-person commentary on the poet’s life. Frost is reading and talking to us, much in the spirit of one of his poem’s lines, “You come, too.” Clapp does an outstanding job of delivering the poems.

I’m taking the biographical research on faith, since the production is bold enough to offer some gem-like specifics about Frost. He mentions a conversation with T.S. Eliot in which they discuss what profession they put down on their income tax forms — Frost never calls himself a poet to the IRS, but settles for farmer, teacher or lecturer. Other anecdotes, along with Clapp’s distinctive vocal and physical choices, make Frost a tangible presence.

The best moments of the show come when Frost dissects his own poems and discusses how art and poetry work. It’s like being in the room with an artist you’ve long admired and having him hop down from his pedestal to hand you the insight you’ve wanted to draw from his work.

This Verse Business, Friday and Saturday, September 20 and 21, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, September 22, at 2 p.m. at Montpelier City Hall Auditorium. Info, 229-0492. lostnationtheater.org

The show also travels to the Dorset Playhouse, September 26 through 28, and Fuller Hall at St. Johnsbury Academy on Friday, October 4; and then to a New York City debut in November.

Photo courtesy of Lost Nation Theater.

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