The History of Green-Wood, in 90 Minutes of Theater

09/27/2011 9:50 AM |


Brooklyn Underground, a theater project developed by The Artful Conspirators, is a broad, many-voiced portrait of Green-Wood Cemetery made up of official and historic texts, of the stories of its residents, of newspaper accounts, and of the points of view of people in the surrounding communities. A line from the piece that describes the cemetery grounds—”every turn affords you a new vista”—becomes the work’s guiding philosophy, as six actors under the direction of David A. Miller turn through the cemetery’s past and present for new perspectives on their meaning.

The troupe debuted the work last year at the Old Stone House on Third Street but have now brought it to the cemetery itself for performances this weekend and last. The actors recite Green-Wood’s original rules from 1853 with professional authority, Shakespearean musicality and mock outrage; never, I’m sure, has the reading of regulations been so funny. The actors engage in livid arguments about the cemetery’s merits: statuary vs. landscape vs. prominent residents; they read a first-hand account of 1876’s Brooklyn Theater fire and Times items recounting the surprisingly many suicides that have been committed on the grounds since they opened. They use charts to follow trends in the numbers of vermin and other wild creatures captured and killed.

Like In the Footprint, the piece also incorporates the voices of the community into the work—both pro and con (“I hate cemeteries!”), nostalgic and reflective, based on conversations with real locals and often spoken in the heavy accents of the borough’s working class. Through these disparate angles and more, the Artful Conspirators animate the history of Green-Wood, illustrate its continued relevance, and make you want to start poking around its corners more often. “Be sure to visit,” one actor says, “while you can still leave.”

Brooklyn Underground will be performed September 30 to October 2. More info here.