Playwright Reads at Pudding

Merrill Presents Dramatic Version of One of his Poems

James Merrill, the critically acclaimed poet and playwright, appeared in the world premiere reading of his play yesterday at the Hasty Pudding Theater.

The curtain went up on Merrill's "An Evening at Sandover," yesterday at 8:00 p.m. to a sold out Pudding auditorium. The performance was a dramatic reading of Merrill's work, done as part of the recent revival of the Poets' Theatre, an organization designed at Harvard in the 1950s to introduce young playwrights to the public.

"An Evening at Sandover," consisted of selected excerpts from Merrill's book-length poem, "The Changing Light at Sandover." Actress Leah Doyle, Actor Peter Hooten and Merrill each read several different characters.

Andreas Teuber, the artistic director of the Poet's Theater, said that Merrill wrote the play, a greatly condensed version of the poem, at the special request of the Poets' Theater.

"More than 30 years ago in Harvard Square, The Poets' Theater produced [Merrill's] first play, 'The Immortal Husband,'" Teuber said. "Now it seems only fitting that James return."

The play centered on conversations between the recently deceased and their living friends. The voices of Merrill, Doyle, and Hooten combined with dramatic lighting effects, a backdrop of dark colored trees on a silk screen, and the voice of an unseen spirit from backstage.

The audience reacted favorably to the performance and gave Merrill and the cast a chance for an encore bow.

"It's a very skillful reduction of [the poem]," said Helen H. Vendler, Kenan Professor of English and American Literature and Language. "The essence of it is kept and one feels the interplay between one's dead friends and oneself and that is what the poem is about."

"A play is a collaborative effort, but when you write poetry you are responsible for your own efforts," Merrill said in an interview. Merrill said that he felt poetry's greatest challenge was that it required him to utilize a lot of his inner self. "Poetry brings your entire personality into play," Merrill said.