What if, when you went to a cemetery, you could actually hear the dead? What if they could tell you their life stories, their biggest triumphs, their greatest regrets? On Friday night, Sept. 4, students heard those voices.
The Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts held the play ‘Voices’ at the George and Sharon Mabry Concert Hall in the Music Mass Communications building.
The seating was as convenient as similar performances in the Trahern Theatre and the crowd was excited. Multiple chairs were arranged on platforms at different heights. As the lights dimmed, the actors took their seats onstage to shadow the audience.
Director and former APSU professor George Mabry discussed the performance.
“‘Voices’ is a musical drama written for seven solo voices, two actors, two pianos, one clarinet, one cello and one percussionist,” Mabry wrote in the performance’s informational brochure.
“Voices” is based on the published poetry of Stark Hunter entitled “Voices from Clark Cemetery.”
“‘Voices’ incorporates 15 of the epitaphs from Hunter’s book along with freely adapted text to produce an one hour and 15 minute musical drama,” Mabry wrote.
The performance lived up to its description. The actors became the tombstones as they sang their solos.
Meanwhile, narrator Marcus Settle, played by John Ignacio, tied the individual narratives together to form the tapestry of a story. All the characters originally resided in the conservative town of Whittier, Calif., 16 miles east of Los Angeles.
Their tales, however, were far from conservative. In perhaps one of the most powerful moments of the night, Settle said, “In life, you find out who you want to be. In death, you find out who you are.”
Perhaps ironically, the darkness of death was bright enough to expose the various truths about the residents of this town. Stories focused on various aspects and walks of life: The faithful husband who loved his wife; the young and curious lad who drove himself to suicide; a sexual scandal; a woman’s complete denial of Christianity because “God didn’t believe in [her].”
While each character played a completely unique role, all the stories came together in a spectacular fashion.
“These great souls who founded, lived and thrived in the small town of Whittier were connected by a common religion and shared beliefs,” Mabry wrote. “They shared the gossip central to human nature and knew the intimate details of their neighbor’s existence, and they relied on one another for their daily sustenance, their social contacts and endearing, lasting friendships. In other words, the folks in Whittier formed a microcosm of the late 19th century small town America.”
The display of this interconnectedness was passionate and executed brilliantly. The audience laughed, cried and sat in wonder as the voices of the dead entertained us with their songs.
In the end, we grew to love those who had been lost, and were forced to abandon the stage when it ended, like a cold, winter’s day at the cemetery, with nothing but our minds to replay their words.