Longwood Gardens' vast Meadow Garden provides the set for a site-specific performance presented in partnership with Malvern-based People's Light theater company. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns joined the theatrical team of Lost in the Meadow in the scorching heat. The play's eight performances, created by PearlDamour (Katie Pearl and Lisa D’Amour) and Mimi Lien, run from September 9th through 19th.
David Patrick Stearns: What are these people doing out in the least-manicured section of Longwood Gardens? No doubt the team for the new play Lost in the Meadow has asked itself that question while technicians confer by walkie-talkie to actors out in the meadow under the blazing sun. The meadow itself is an ever-changing landscape, one week the grass is yay high. Next week, it's higher and full of sunflowers.
Katie Pearl: Each day we come in and say, our ideal staging is this but the reality is that we can't trim back those flowers so we'll have to move that to here and then what is the domino effect. So it's a little bit like marionettes have a lot of strings, like if you pull this one, something else shifts. And so, we're just sort of trying to stay in contact with things as it goes.
DPS: That's director Katie Pearl who is staging this post-apocalyptic story of strangers inexplicably meeting in a meadow, including a girl who has strayed from her marching band and is dragging around a massive Sousaphone. Actors will be seen from afar, but heard up close with their pre-recorded dialogue piped through individual headphones worn by the audience. That near-but-far concept was there from the begging, says designer Mimi Lien.
Mimi Lien: We saw some Longwood guests walking on the paths, and that was what gave us our first inspiration once we saw how tiny this figure was. And so then we started imagining "oh, well what if we could hear what they were saying, as if we were right there with them." So that kind of conflation or juxtaposition of scale, of seeing them far away but hearing them up close, was something to mine.
DPS: Most mysterious is an industrial-looking tower in the middle of it all, with an orange megaphone, that will deliver what promises to be the voice of the meadow, a musical one, composed by Brendan Connelly. It may not be pretty, in what playwright Lisa D'Amour admits is an elusive play.
Lisa D'Amour: I envisioned it at first as almost like an earthquake, or like the earth shifting. And Brenden really heard it more like feedback and kind of electronic, almost like a voice was trying to come out of the earth, and I think where we landed is somewhere that has a little bit of elements of both.
DPS: Even composer Connelly isn't entirely sure how that part will come out.
Brendan Connelly: Intentionally, it's supposed to be ambiguous so every character hears it in its own way.
DPS: What revelations might be in store? A new understanding of...distance? Or why men have always had this obsessive need to build towers? Or will it just be a somewhat odd night at Longwood Gardens?