Feb. 17, 2011
College student writes playBy Tim Simard
During his freshman year at Middlebury College, Noah Mease stumbled upon a forgotten Vermont figure that would play a significant role in the rest of Mease’s college career. While in a first-year seminar, Mease learned about Vermonter Philip Cummings, a world-traveling writer who met one of the globe’s most famous poets.
But next to nothing was known about the man.
Mease, a Williston resident and Middlebury theater major, hopes that will change when a new play he’s written debuts at the college this Thursday, Feb. 17. Called “Green Eden,” the story revolves around the true story of Cummings’ time spent with Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca along the shores of Lake Eden in northern Vermont.
According to Mease, now a Middlebury senior, the two writers spent 10 days in Eden in 1929 hiking the Green Mountains and translating some of Lorca’s poetry into English. Lorca’s status as one of the 20th century’s preeminent poets has grown since his death during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, but Cummings’ life has almost completely disappeared into history. The writer, who earned a master’s degree at Middlebury College, grew up in Hardwick and died in near anonymity in 1991.
And despite Lorca’s popularity, next to nothing is known about his extended vacation in Vermont, Mease explained.
“It was interesting to me to think of this famous literary figure staying in an area that I knew,” said Mease, speaking to the Observer Tuesday from Middlebury.
In between classes, exams and college vacations, Mease studied the two poets for three years, discovering their Vermont connection and learning about Cummings’ varied life. For Mease, writing a play about Cummings and Lorca took a natural course.
“Green Eden” is the first play Mease has written for Middlebury’s stage. He also wrote the play as part of his senior thesis, with an early reading taking place last December. But debuting a play, including designing its set, brings a whole new set of nerves, he said.
“I’ve been running around campus the past few days, getting about three hours of sleep a night and going over and over and over again all the details,” Mease said on the phone from Middlebury.
Directed by Middlebury junior Sasha Rivera, “Green Eden” is not your typical linear play, Mease said. It begins in the 1980s, when a young Spanish writer, named simply the Poet, meets an elderly Cummings one evening to ask him about his summer with Lorca. The story then flashes back and forth between 1929 and the ‘80s, featuring many discussions between Cummings and Lorca, and Cummings and the Poet.
The challenge in the writing came with creating a non-linear story and bringing to life two characters based on real people, Mease said. The actors also face an interesting challenge. Freshman Matt Ball plays both an elderly and younger Cummings, and senior Willy McKay plays the Poet and Lorca, sometimes in the same scene utilizing acting techniques to distinguish each character. At times, Mease wanted to blur the lines during the conversations between Cummings and the Spanish poets.
“As the night goes on, you sort of find out what Philip Cummings and the Poet want from each other,” Mease said.
Mease’s Middlebury play brings him full circle with his theater days at Champlain Valley Union High School. His graduation challenge involved Mease writing a play based on works by author A.A. Milne.
“There is a nice symmetry between my two senior years, definitely,” Mease added.
After this weekend, Mease hopes to get other theater groups across the country interested in “Green Eden.” Once his senior year ends this spring, he plans to continue writing plays on unique and unknown subjects.
“Green Eden” debuts Thursday, Feb. 17 at Middlebury College’s Hepburn Zoo Theatre. Show times are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with an additional 10:30 p.m. show on Friday. Tickets are $4 and are available at http://boxoffice.middlebury.edu/index.php.