Emmy-winning actor Gordon Clapp will portray the late Robert Frost in “Robert Frost: This Verse Business,” a one-man play about the poet’s life, Thursday night at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts.
In the play, Frost takes audiences from scene to scene, speaking through both poetry and his thoughts on current topics. As the show progresses, Frost moves into his cabin to ruminate on family and relationships.
Written by playwright Andrew Dolan, “This Verse Business” sets out to emulate the manner in which Frost himself took to the stage. Clapp, known for his performance in the TV show “NYPD Blue,” attempts to accurately portray Frost’s own unique presence.
“Robert Frost was a great performer who perfected a sort of cracker-barrel, down-home persona which was very attractive to audiences,” said Ann Fisher-Wirth, a poetry and 20th century literature professor.
Fisher-Wirth said she considers Frost one of the 20th century poets who popularized public readings.
“(Frost) read his poems beautifully and had developed good, conversational chat as part of the performances,” Fisher-Wirth said.
This will be the third poetry reading of this nature held in the Ford Center’s history; the former two were portrayals of Mark Twain and William Faulkner. All these events share the goal of fleshing out historical figures whose characters might not be captured in a classroom setting. Thursday night’s performance comes as part of the University of Mississippi Artist Series.
“I think it’s a good way for modern audiences to experience Frost’s work, off the page,” said English master’s student and teaching assistant Tatiana Tomley. “It can bring more life, excitement and, possibly, even meaning to the poem by speaking it aloud.”
“This Verse Business” came to director of the Ford Center Julia Aubrey’s attention after professor of theatre Joe Turner Cantu sought out Dolan, a longtime friend, about the play. A combination of their friendship and the series’ budget brought the Broadway show to the Ford Center stage.
“It was basically, you know, ‘I know this person,’ and that’s how it came in,” Aubrey said. “It’s a small world when you’re in music and theatre.”
In Aubrey’s view, it was an opportune time for the play to be brought to her attention because playwrights and spoken performances are, in her words, growing scarce.
“The play — the spoken word — is kind of getting fewer and fewer people doing it,” Aubrey said. “So I’m always grateful for somebody to bring this to me and say, ‘Hey, let’s see what you think.’ I thought it fit really well with what we’re doing here.”
Aubrey expects a smaller turnout for the play than large-scale musicals attract, since the target demographic of students and literature fans is generally smaller. She said she hopes students will come see Clapp perform, given that the performance rarely leaves Broadway.
“Really and truly, I just hope more students come, because I really think it’s not something they’re going to see anywhere else,” Aubrey said. “If you try to see this in New York, it can cost you 10 times as much … here, it’s in your backyard, and you can get a $10 ticket.”