Spoon River Anthology, Spirit Expressing, at Unity in Chicago. Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, and Vachel Lindsay are the major poets of the Chicago Renaissance. But since the genius of Masters’s collection of verse epitaphs, supposedly taken from a small-town graveyard in Illinois, is its panoramic scope–a quality not easily conveyed in textbook excerpts–Spoon River Anthology is somewhat neglected today.

For this production by Spirit Expressing, adapter-director Glenn F. Haines highlights Masters’s inclusiveness, drawing not only on the 1915 original but on its 1924 sequel. In under two hours we’re introduced to 70 characters whose lives reflect the spectrum of human experience, played by eight ensemble members whose intricate interpretations are enhanced by pastoral sound effects and period songs (Karen Vaccaro singing “Bill Bailey” in English and French is alone worth the price of admission).

The play’s characters reflect an astonishing variety–and considerable candor. Husbands and wives discuss their infidelities. Sinners regret their wicked ways–or don’t. A son of privilege basks in his lofty lineage as his housemaid-mother confesses that his father raped her. An advocate of birth control wryly recounts his persecution, a mother recalls the adolescent Abe Lincoln, and the town laundress and telephone operator revel in their omniscience.

–Mary Shen Barnidge