Finding a kindred spirit in Robert Frost

Jim Lowe / Staff file photo

By JANELLE FAIGNANT
THE ARTS

Actor Gordon Clapp had been waiting 40 years to portray poet Robert Frost.

When the Emmy-winning and Tony-nominated actor (“NYPD Blue,” “Chicago Fire,” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are among his credits) read the three-volume biography by Lawrance Thompson after college, he became obsessed with the idea of doing something with Frost on stage.

Nine years ago he decided it was time, and it seemed that life agreed with him when “ a couple weeks (later) this script just fell into my lap,” Clapp said.

He is portraying Frost in Northern Stage’s production of “Robert Frost: This Verse Business” by A.M. Dolan, at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, in repertory with Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”

A mutual friend connected Clapp with the playwright “Andy” Dolan, and together they have “been honing the script for nine years,” Clapp said.

Some of Frost’s fame came from the many entertaining talks he gave in college towns later in his life, and what Dolan had done was transcribe hours of audiotapes to develop a script.

“I thought this was a perfect structure for the play,” Clapp said. “(Frost) spent the last 25 years of his life (doing) what he called barding around, going from occasion to occasion, and never planned what he was going to say.”

But, portraying someone so famous, Clapp found it wasn’t a good idea to try to duplicate Frost’s voice and delivery, or to look like him using facial appliances that brought the role to life.

During a run of the production at another theater, a director suggested Dolan and Clapp were missing the theatricality in the piece by attempting to be loyal to the way Frost read, which was “in a fairly flat way,” Clapp said.

“(The director) encouraged me to cut loose, and it really raised the whole thing to a different level,” Clapp said.

“What has taken me through a lot of performances is identifying what I call and what (Frost) called kindred spirits,” Clapp said. “(Frost) says what do we go around with poetry for? For kindred spirits. Not for criticism, not for appreciation. You do poetry for people who you know are going to relate to it and relate to your experience, and to share that experience with them.”

Clapp can usually identify three or four kindred spirits in the audience almost immediately.

“I know they’re with me,” he said. “A very pleasant surprise was realizing that.”

Surprises and all, he added, “This is exactly the vision I had 40 years ago.”

Northern Stage

Northern Stage presents “Robert Frost: This Verse Business” Oct. 5-28 at the Barrette Center for the Arts, 74 Gates St. in White River Junction, in repertory with Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.” Tickets start at $15 for students and $34 for adults. For tickets, information, and show times call 802-296-7000 or visit www.northernstage.org.

 

Janelle Faignant

Janelle Faignant is a freelance writer living in Rutland.

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