Oct 07 10 by Published in: Interviews No comments yet

No matter how “acquainted with the night” Robert Frost may have been, readers tend to equate his poetry with pleasing pastoral scenes rather than with disarming darkness.

Chris Longenecker aims to change that perception.

The Lancaster actress (and prolific poet in her own right) will perform “Haunting Tales” on Oct. 9 at the Jonal Gallery, 653 Locust St., Columbia, as part of a month-long series of events called “The Haunting.”

Blending poetry, storytelling, and play-like scenes, Longenecker and her husband Rick Shoup have created an event that delves deeply into Frost’s life, revealing the devastating losses that helped shape his art.

“I want to talk about Frost’s philosophy,” she said. “He really did have a dark side, a sensitive, easily offended, lazy, fearful, often melancholy side; but he also seemed to have the capacity to learn from others and to acknowledge his indebtedness to them and to benefit from the lessons they could teach him.”

Wrapping fear, grief, anger, and even murder in the seemingly safe mantle of rural life and landscapes, Frost’s storytelling gets at these contradictions. “By sharing his fears he found comfort in having people understand your darkest stuff,” she said.

His poem, “The Fear,” about a couple terrified by a stranger, will be the most dramatic performed. Others include “The Death of the Hired Man,” “A Hundred Collars,” “Out, Out,” and “The Witch of Coos,” which Longenecker describes as a humorous take on a murder.

Others, like “The Discovery of the Madeiras,” may be difficult to hear.

“It’s so dark I could hardly stand to memorize it,” said Longenecker. “It’s an awful, awful story about a slave ship where a man and his fiancée are thrown overboard, and then the second layer of a man who repeats this story to a woman who tortures him with her silence.”

After the staged event, Longenecker will take audience requests, as well as encourage others to share their favorites.

“I think there are a lot of people who have Frost poems memorized,” she said.

As for how she’s managed to memorize more than 100 of his poems, Longenecker credits an hour each morning in a coffee shop.

“It’s my treat to myself,” she said. “I love the way he uses vernacular, celebrates the way people really talk, and turns it into iambic pentameter.”

“I really do think that there’s something very special about Robert Frost,” she said. “I think many of his poems are ways of honoring people he felt indebted to for teaching him healthier ways to approach life.”

Chris and her husband first created the show as a fundraiser for the Theater of the Seventh Sister in its aim to create the Stahr Performing Arts Center.


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