Shakespeare had an answer for that, of course: Poetry. Remember the âsummerâs dayâ sonnet? âSo long as men can breathe or eyes can see,/ So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.â For these men and their families, Shakespeareâs words themselves are the answer, long outliving and yet immortalizing anyone who acted them. âPublish or vanish,â is how Henry puts it.
But if these words â or, if youâre Hamlet, âwords, words, wordsâ â are the inspiration for Ms. Gundersonâs play, they are also its problem. Though she uses a largely contemporary vocabulary, she often tries to give her language a Jacobean touch thatâs not exactly credible, as when Richard Burbage (the spirited Stephen Paul Johnson) remarks, âwhat cold wind blows when mice attempt to play lions,â a mixed metaphor that clangs on the ear.
Thereâs more and worse, and nothing that approaches the way that Shakespeareâs lines compel emotion and command action. But twitting a playwright for not being Shakespeare is blatantly unfair, so itâs best to leave the rest unquoted. Besides, if Ms. Gunderson isnât a poet, she is a persuasive, feeling writer with an assertive command of structure and a punchy way with individual scenes.
She is lucky in Mr. McCallum (âThe Harvestâ), who gives her a lively, humane production that trots briskly through the text. Helped by Eric Southernâs lighting design, Mr. McCallum knows how to use the tented stageâs backdrop â a lush lawn plunging down toward the river â to best effect, and also how to make whatâs happening onstage exciting enough that you forget the view. Ms. Gunderson is also well served by much of the cast, particularly Mr. McNall, an…