THEATER REVIEW: “There Is a Happiness That Morning Is” @ Bridge Street Theatre [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Photograph by John Sowle
Imagine a play about the poetry of William Blake, one of the most complex writers ever known, written in rhymed couplets (like Blake’s poems), featuring a pair of actors portraying university professors who have been lecturing on this poet for the past 15 years. Catskill’s Bridge Street Theatre, developing a reputation for presenting highly inventive plays with unusual subjects, has taken on this challenge with their production of There is a Happiness That Morning Is by Mickle Maher — and succeeded beyond all expectations.
Poet, painter and illustrator, Blake (1757-1827) developed a system of illuminations—intricate pieces of artwork that he printed along with his poems. Ignored by his peers, he is now considered to be one of the greatest contributors to English literature and art. In 1789 Blake published (and illustrated) his Songs of Innocence, written about children or in their voices, followed in 1794 by Songs of Experience, companion poems that showed the “Two Contrary States of the Human Soul.” In the latter collection, the speaker becomes a prophet, warning his readers of the dangers of religion, monarchy, corruption and repression.
The set of There Is a Happiness That Morning Is features a classroom where Bernard Barrow (Brian Petti) lectures on Blake’s Songs of Innocence, while Professor Ellen Parker (Molly Parker Myers) lectures on Songs of Experience. (Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Barrow and Parker happen to have been the last names of the notorious outlaws Bonnie and Clyde). As the play begins, both teachers, having engaged in a secret 20-year love affair, are called upon to apologize for their behavior of the previous evening, when, in the midst of reading Blake’s poetry en plein air, they removed their clothing and made passionate love as their students watched. Though Blake would have cheered them on, they have been told by the president of the school (Steven Patterson) that if they don’t make things right, both their jobs and the future of the school are in jeopardy.