There is something about WRJ that belies a simple description. Part of it wants a certain level of sophistication, the other part wants nothing to do with anything mainstream and prefers a funky, off kilter vibe. WRJ is home to such treasures as the Mainstreet Museum, Center for Cartoon Studies, Revolution, Tuckerbox, and Vermont Salvage. Yet it is also a welcoming home to cultural norms like Northern Stage and the Barrett Center for the Performing Arts. And the two vibes coexist and support one another. No judgement passed. All are welcome to worship in the House of White River Junction.
To wit, there is a new performing arts endeavor in town at the Briggs Opera House, the space that was occupied by Northern Stage before it grew up and became a neighborhood star. The Gatherwool was established by Upper Valley local, Jonathan Verge who obtained a degree in musical theater from Syracuse University and has traveled all over the world performing in various venues with many talented theater groups. His latest venture is set to produce off-beat, gritty musical theater in a smaller, more intimate setting than its neighbor, Northern Stage.
And what does “gatherwool” mean exactly? Well, a quick Google search defined it as having “lost your wits about you” or “in a state of constant daydreaming”. Sounds like a good name for a quirky musical theater company trying to find its audience in a funky railroad town.
Now, on to the performance itself-Songs from an Unmade Bed. My husband and I attended as our Valentine’s night out. True to Jonathan’s mission to produce alternative theater, Songs includes four characters: two single gay men and a heterosexual couple. The production is composed entirely of song- 18 to be exact- with titles like “The Other, Other Woman” and, “Oh, to Be Stupid Again”, all directed at the complications involved in relationships, most with clever, rather than somber lyrics. There were no set changes, and no intermission. As a result, the performance lasted about an hour and the pacing was perfect. Costume changes were made in plain sight with minimal alterations to the scene. No curtain necessary. Clint Carter as Man Two was a standout, but all the actors delivered solid musical performances.
If you are looking for a new experience, I recommend grabbing a friend, or even risking a date, and heading over to reacquaint yourself with the Briggs Opera House- and, discover its new BFF, The Gatherwool.
In a recent article appearing in Vermont’s Seven Days, Northern Stage’s Assistant Artistic Director, Eric Love said, “I hope it will help White River Junction become identified as a theater town. It might even define it a little bit.” I hope not. I say let WRJ remain an enigma- unable to be corralled by a single descriptor. I like the funk. I say keep the town gathering wool-especially with a new, very unique and talented musical theater in the Briggs. Let’s keep the funk.