Figures of Speech Theater - Perform

Touring Productions: Four Quartets

Photo © Barry Dodd

An unquestioned masterpiece of 20th-century literature, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets is a complex, deeply moving meditation on time, memory, and human striving toward the divine.

Eliot completed Four Quartets in 1941, as Britain slid into the abyss of World War II, and he feared that civilization itself might perish in the coming years. Writing at the height of his artistic powers, Eliot packed into the four long poems a summation of his views on poetry and art, on mystical experience, and on humankind's relationship to history and time.

In 2011, with rarely granted permission of the Eliot Estate, John Farrell committed to memory the one-thousand lines of Eliot's masterpiece and prepared them for performance. John's recitation of Four Quartets affords audiences an opportunity to immerse themselves in these gorgeous lines of poetry, spoken from memory, and renew their understanding of one the 20th century's most exceptional poets.

Touring Productions: Four Quartets

Four Quartets
Farrell's delivery of Four Quartets is as natural, deep, and illuminating as Kenneth Branagh doing Shakespeare. His presentation here was utterly magical. It's really extraordinary how, instead of parading the poem, Farrell inhabits it from the inside out, creating a rich, subtle, meditative experience, in which Eliot's words hover & resonate, provoke & delight.

- Ellen Doré Watson, Director, The Poetry Center at Smith College, Northampton, MA

An evening of poetry is the performer's ultimate challenge. An evening of T.S. Eliot's poetry is the ultimate challenge's ultimate challenge. John Farrell not only meets the challenges, he opens the text to the hearers' minds in ways beyond the ability of the solitary reader. He does not act. He does not impersonate. He presents the words seriously, intelligently, and respectfully. He gives the words space to work.

- Paul Kuritz, Professor of Theater, Bates College, Lewiston, ME

I write with very high praise for John Farrell's brilliant, sensitive, and evocative recitation of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, which he performed to a full house at Queen's University in March of this year. The event was, quite simply, the highlight of the term for me and for my undergraduate and graduate students.

- Gabrielle McIntire, Professor of English, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

It's difficult to imagine that anyone could walk away unmoved or unchanged by this performance. We come to understand that we're watching someone who's been on an amazing journey through the landscape of Eliot's text and then returned to invite us to venture forth with him. That's an unbelievably generous gesture — a rare one — and I think the audience understands this and responds accordingly.

- Norman Frisch, Film and Performance Specialist, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA

A poem becomes itself when it's spoken through a body moving in space and unfolding in time. What John Farrell does is to give the Four Quartets a hearing that is itself a listening out loud to its gestures toward transcendence. With humility and respect for the language, within the awe and ache of the poetry's desire, his hushed and incandescent voice turns listening inside out into speaking.

- Kristin M. Langellier, Professor of Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

John Farrell's performance of Four Quartets is not only technically flawless, but also deeply moving, as he transforms himself into an instrument through which Eliot's poetry can pour and embody itself, a cry from one human life to another.

- Annie Finch, Poet and Director of Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing

You remind me of the rhapsodes of Homer's time, men who committed vast expanses of poetry to memory so that they could share their spoken heritage with their audience. This is what you did by committing the poems to memory and reciting them to us. In this way you brought T.S. Eliot to breathing, spoken life. This is how it should be: poetry taken into the mind – memorized – and spoken.

- Valerie Lester, Author of Phiz, the Man Who Drew Dickens

Normally I would not anticipate that a blended performance of two distinctly iconic and substantial works of poetry and music would be able to convey the power and structure of each. However, the compelling performances that John Farrell and the DaPonte String Quartet gave us of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets interspersed with the movements of Beethoven's late quartet Opus 132 made the case for a collective power that only exceptional live performance could possibly deliver.

- Seth Warner, Olin Arts Center

Touring Productions: Four Quartets

T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets

Four Quartets was first presented at Heartwood Regional Theater Company's Page to Stage Festival in 2011, under the direction of Heartwood's Artistic Director, Griff Braley. Development of the production was funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Performance Venues:

  • Heartwood Regional Theater Company, Damariscotta, Maine
  • Stonington Opera House, Stonington, Maine
  • Private residence in Rockland, Maine
  • Quintessence Theatre Group, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • St. Luke's Cathedral, Portland, Maine
  • Maine Jewish Museum, Portland, Maine
  • Nichols College-Fischer Institute, Dudley, Massachusetts
  • Bates College-Olin Arts Center, Lewiston, Maine
  • Maine International Conference on the Arts, Orono, Maine
  • Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario
  • The Poetry Center at Smith College, Northampton, MA
  • The Rogue Theatre, Tucson, Arizona

Touring Productions: Four Quartets

Four Quartets

Four Quartets is as simple technically as the poems are complex poetically. The performance tours with one performer and has been presented in venues ranging from private homes to the 1,400-seat Hutchins Concert Hall. All that is required is a bare stage with reasonable sight lines. Performance spaces of a certain size will require professional sound reinforcement, to be supplied by the presenter. Lighting need only provide general illumination; the line in the poem which reads, "So, while the light fades on a winter's afternoon in a secluded chapel…" may provide inspiration. The performance runs one hour and twenty minutes without intermission.

Touring Productions: the little match girl passion

Bunraku puppet of Little Match Girl

Video Still by Derek Kimball

When Artistic Director John Farrell first heard contemporary American composer David Lang's the little match girl passion, he immediately sensed a rapport with FST's visionary weave of puppet and actor theater. "Beyond the staggering beauty of the music itself," he says, "Lang's inspired merging of the Hans Christian Andersen story of The Little Match Girl with the libretto of Bach's St. Matthew Passion makes for a profound and profoundly simple proposition, and draws, in Lang's words, 'a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus.'"

Lang won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008 for the score, which Pulitzer-juror and Washington Post columnist Tim Page described in this way: "I don't think I've ever been so moved by a new, and largely unheralded, composition as I was by David Lang's the little match girl passion, which is unlike any music I know."

With Mr. Lang's enthusiastic support, Figures of Speech adapted the little match girl passion to the stage, in an intricate and moving performance featuring four vocalists, haunting shadow projections, masked dance and exquisite puppetry. Rather than illustrating Andersen's story or the Gospel story in a literal sense, the setting we created extends Lang's work with imagery examining the spiritual and psychological worlds of the little match girl and her dead Grandmother.

"The production literally took my breath," wrote Portland Phoenix reviewer Megan Grumbling. "So precise, delicate and loving are Figures of Speech's evocations of this small girl, her cold fate and her deliverance, that one might well leave the theater, as I did, with senses honed for noticing the slightest tremor of creature or world."

Noh mask of Grandmother

Photo © John Farrell

This production would not have been possible without the generous collaboration and support of Bates College, and especially the Department of Theater and Dance. Thanks to Hire Miura, Allan Carr, and Gina Fatone in the Music Department for rehearsal support and the loan of instruments. Thanks to Jill Wade for the dollhouse furniture. Thanks to all the performers and artists and technical wizards for contributing monumental talent and time to this production. We are grateful for all those who took the time to share their thoughts on the show during the workshop phase of creation. Thank you, Norman Frisch, for urging us to give David Lang's composition a listen, and for dramaturgical advice. Finally, many thanks to David Lang for his early and ongoing support of this production.

This production of the little match girl passion is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Davis Family Foundation, and by scores of individual contributors to Figures of Speech Theatre.

Grandmother and Little Match Girl

Video Still by Derek Kimball

Support for this program also came from the Maine Humanities Council as part of the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires Initiative, a joint venture of the Pulitzer Prizes Board and the Federation of State Humanities Councils, in celebration of the 2016 Centennial of the Prizes. The initiative seeks to illuminate the impact of journalism and the humanities on American life today, to imagine their future, and to inspire new generations to consider the values represented by the body of Pulitzer Prize-winning work.

For their generous support for the Campfires Initiative, we thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pulitzer Prizes Board, and Columbia University.

National Endowment for the ArtsMaine Arts Commission

The Pulitzer Prizes, Maine Humanities Council & Davis Family Foundation

Touring Productions: the little match girl passion

Touring Productions: the little match girl passion

Little Match Girl puppet by John Farrell
Little Match Girl puppet by John Farrell (© Derek Kimball)
A "haunting, almost sacred tribute, (in which) a magical sense comes from the whole performance."

- Amy Lifson, Assistant Editor, HUMANITIES

"The production literally took my breath....So precise, delicate and loving are Figures of Speech's evocations of this small girl, her cold fate and her deliverance, that one might well leave the theater, as I did, with senses honed for noticing the slightest tremor of creature or world."

- Megan Grumbling, Theater Critic, Portland Phoenix

Touring Productions: the little match girl passion

Nick MacDonald, David Myers, Anna Dembska & Andrea Goodman in rehearsal
Nick MacDonald, David Myers, Anna Dembska & Andrea Goodman in rehearsal (© Ian Bannon)

World Premiere at Bates College

The World Premiere of the little match girl passion took place at Schaeffer Theatre on the Bates College campus in Lewiston on January 9, 10, and 11, 2016.

For the world premiere at Bates College, four singers, under the musical direction of longtime FST collaborator Andrea Goodman, delivered Lang’s intricate vocal score with percussion.

We invite you to view the rehearsal footage below.

Act I

Act II

Touring Productions: the little match girl passion

Technical Rider (PDF) for the little match girl passion



"In Eskimo, the word 'to make poetry' is the word 'to breathe', both are derivatives of anerca - the soul, that which is eternal, the breath of life." From Eskimo Realities by Edmund Carpenter

Poised between poetry and drama, Anerca takes its inspiration from the artwork and spirit world of the Inuit and the extraordinary environment that shapes their lives. Interwoven in Anerca are three stories: of Knud Rasmussen, and early Arctic explorer; of a solitary barmaid named Beulah Borealis, and of a young Inuit man under the tutelage of an older shaman woman. As their journeys intersect outside of time and space, we arrive at the threshold of another reality in the stillness of the Arctic night.

Anerca is a 1986 recipient of the UNIMA Citation of Excellence.

This theater work is poetic: a beautiful mournful chant poem of the emotions and sorrows of two Inuit characters, both represented by life-sized puppets. Behind them, gently and lovingly moving them and soul-speaking and singing for them - in rhythmic syllables that convey meaning without being understood in the literal sense - are John and Carol Farrell.

In seeking to know those not like ourselves, we begin to understand ourselves and our culture from a fresh perspective. You'll be chilled and mystified and enriched by your effort to enter into the story and comprehend its meaning.

- Baltimore Chronicle, Baltimore, MD

Most vividly, it is our own imaginations which draw us into Anerca's wonder filled, kind and melancholy vortex. Layers of reality vs. abstraction, of reality vs. performance, of perception itself are gently explored...a quietly spellbinding presentation of one culture surely gobbling another...a visionary weave of puppet and actor theater.

- The Daily Record, Baltimore, MD

Anerca is a technically sophisticated theater piece, and yet totally accessible and enjoyable. Our audiences were moved, drawn in by its other-worldliness. Anerca has an uplifting and totally real mystical life that is rare in our marketplace of sensationalism. It has a spirit that bewitched me.

- Bill George, Producing Director, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem, PA

She Who Loves

Photo © Miranda Ring

Sacrifice. Redemption. The love between parent and child. A girl is orphaned by a devastating drought and is left with nothing but the buckskin doll her parents made for her before they died. The Great Spirits have called for the people to make a burnt offering of their most treasured possession. The girl knows what she must do.

She Who Loves reflects FST's continuing interest in transcultural exploration: structured and performed with strong influence from the Japanese Noh drama, adapted from a Comanche Indian story and bound dramatically to the real lives of its principal performers, the piece bridges space, time and cultural differences with a commanding grace. Hailed by Puppetry International magazine as a work of "surpassing beauty," "at the intersection of Art and Nature, of Earth and Spirit," She Who Loves is an exquisitely drawn parable of selflessness, mortality and miracle.

The enacted notion of selfless sacrifice has dropped like a pebble into a dark pool. The ripples move outward from the tiny theater into the real lives of the actors, and further still into the hearts of the audience. This is the purpose of such rituals: to transform and enlighten us before we, too, sink back into the unsentimental sands.

- Puppetry International Magazine

The emphasis is on conveying theme and emotion through precise movements, and the results are a vindication of the ancient ways. No words could add to the emotion when the fragile ghost mother pulls away her sleeping daughter's blanket in order to lay her head against the child's feet, nor when the wind finally rips the clinging spirit away.

- The Portland Phoenix, Portland, ME

Light on the Water

Photo © John Kramer

A woman's journey through the archetypal landscape of childhood memories into the light of her own future. The juxtaposition of actors, puppets and shadows creates a psychological layering, reaching into the audience's psyche through a secret side door. Light on the Water rides a roller coaster of imagery: ribald Vaudeville songs, a child who knows things too soon, a woman who dares to take the monsters out of the closet — and dances with them on the waves.

Figures of Speech has always been pushing at the edges of theater. They eschew the ready gimmick for multilayered content. I found the work moving and intriguing, forcing me to quiet my mind and understand non-linearly through the psyche. It's a brave and personally healing act.

- Portland Press Herald, Portland, ME

Figures of Speech employs contrapuntal techniques most effectively: the quick transitions and ribald cartooning of vaudeville are juxtaposed with the abstract ambiguity of avant garde. Visual images and ironies are what fascinate us about the work of Figures of Speech Theatre. In our minds, pictures linger: the cozy warm innocence of the child's sanctuary surrounded by Cutty Sark ships, shocking words spoken which can never be unspoken, the set of 3 white sails and a bed.

- The Daily Record, Baltimore, MD

Light on the Water escapes all preexisting categories. The puppets act as alter-egos, or as mirrors. Expressionless, they can look eerily stoic, as though about to break into a grimace of pain. Smaller than life, they can be an emerging personality or a glimpse into a soul. The dramatic ideas and staging are riveting.

- The Morning Call, Bethlehem, PA