Literature, for Mary-Averett Seelye, has a refreshingly wide range. At the Marvin Theater this weekend she staged 11 choreographed recitations that included not just poetry in the strick sense, but philosophy and choice items from the daily press.
Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell, T.S. Eliot and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are known as poets who dissect subject matter and language. They were well served by Seelye's clear contralto enunciation and sensitivity to rhythm and meaning.
Fleet-footed, full-bodied, soaring dance wasn't the sort of stage movement that accompanied the texts. Seelye used her long frame to emphatically stalk the stage or slide on the floor when wit was needed. The performer seemed to set herself task that punctuated the ends of phrases, underlined the melody of the sequence of words, or set the mood.
Actions on stage helped one to concentrate on the meanings of the words. Even a passage translated from the German theosophist Jacob Boeheme was made lucid by the interplay of Seelye's voice and gestures.
The comic conclusion of the program was the performance of a past four inch review of Seelye printed in this newspaper. This listener sensed that the critic was frustrated. Seelye had been puzzling, and the critic tried to resolve legitimate questions but was hampered by the necessity of using only the allotted space. As the stage set of circular curtains resembling terra-cotta columns collapsed into what looked like gnarled stumps, Seelye's demeanor and tone seemed somewhere between a shrug of her own shoulder and a slap of the critic's wrist.
Mary-Averett Seelye is a polished performer. Yet with her Katharine Hepburn slouch and cultured voice, her considerable stagecraft can't quite eradicate an impression, she gives of performing for a ladies' literary club, circa 1940.