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Stories in the stone

Like many Irish schoolchildren, Karin Stanley first saw the Bronze Age tomb Newgrange on a grade school trip to its site in County Heath. But unlike her classmates, Stanley would find herself returning time and again to marvel at the ancient stone walls and the mysterious 5,000-year-old carvings they harbored.

Eventually, she would begin seeking out other megaliths, learn to decipher their symbols, and immerse herself in Celtic history as well. Then she began something she calls ``Celtic stealing or borrowing."

``I've always been in arts and design and, about 12 years ago, I decided I wanted to create these sort of large, monoliths myself . . . I wanted to invoke the idea of the ancient elements of stone as a place marker, so I made one," she said.

Stanley said that all she really ``stole" was an age-old idea.

So began Stanley's life as a sculptor. Today, you can often find her in the studio in her South Natick home, where she shapes massive rocks into sculptures inspired by the stonework of the past.

Through Oct. 15, her work can be seen in Framingham as part of ``Rock On! Celebrating Stone in the Garden," featuring 37 stone sculptures by eight New England artists set amid the wildflowers and streams at Garden in the Woods.

``I like the idea of stone as something that people have been working on for thousands of years in a similar way," said Stanley. ``I'm also fascinated by Celtic patterns , and I like the idea of a modern interpretation."

Stanley merges all three of these interests in her work. Neolithic triple spirals (believed by some to stand for the death-life-rebirth cycle) are carved onto stone spheres. Words written in the ogham alphabet used by the Druids are etched onto stone pillars. Celtic symbols cover an ancient-looking sundial pierced by a shiny modern rod. Waves of polished steel play against the rough rock of a monolith, creating what Stanley calls ``vertical water."

``So what looks sort of abstract actually has a lot of meaning to it," she explained 1/8. ``I like the story in the stone. I like the journey in the stone. . . . I spend a lot of time looking for the right stone and then, when I find it, I have a sense of what I'm going to do with it."

Meanwhile, the ``stealing" continues. Stanley returns every summer to her childhood home of County Dublin for inspiration.

``There's this wonderful arch eological guide" to megaliths in Ireland, she said. ``Every year my family and I will go to find a few old places, but you wind up doing things like going through Farmer Flaherty's field and through a gate and through the cows and around the cow pies, and then it's the great hurrah. You find a site , and it's just remarkable. So I spend a lot of time climbing over walls and getting stung by nettles."

``Rock On!" also features work by Chris Curtis, Linda Hoffman, Jerry Kuyper, Michael Mazur, David Phillips, Ron Rudnicki, and Joseph Wheelwright. Classes, tours, concerts, and special weekend programs are being offered throughout the show, including the July 29 (5:30-8:30 p.m.) Stone Soul Picnic featuring UJAMMA world music band, and the Aug. 12 (6:30-10 p.m.) concert with Grammy-nominee vocalist Andrew Alexander with dinner, wine tasting, and moonlight sculpture walk.

``Rock On! Celebrating Stone in the Garden" runs through Oct. 15 at the New England Wild Flower Society's Garden in the Woods, 180 Hemenway Road, Framingham. Hours daily 9-5. Admission $7, or $5 seniors/children 6-18, $3 children 5 and younger. Call 508-877-7630 or visit www.newfs.org.

SUMMER STAGE BITES APPLE: With 43 musical acts, 43 cast members, and the whole book of Genesis to get through (from creation to the new start after the flood), ``Children of Eden" is an ambitious show. But Newton Summer Stage seems up for the challenge of the Stephen Schwartz musical.

It's not just that its cast of teens seems well-suited to perform a piece mainly about the struggle between parents (God) and the children (Adam, Eve, etc.) who are leaving their nest. It's that these kids simply know how to put on a great show.

``Children of Eden" boasts elaborate sets (including a stage-size ark); original choreography (for openers, they dance through the entire story of creation), and a 17-piece orchestra, mostly made up of pros. In other words, Schwartz (best-known for his musicals ``Wicked," ``Godspell," and ``Pippin") would likely approve.

``We get people often telling us we're just as good as a community theater troupe," said director David Bloom, of Newton . ``We strive to put on a professional quality production."

Key, though, is that starting in 2004, the program opened auditions to students beyond Newton. Among those answering the call was Nik Walker of Brookline, son of Channel 4's Liz Walker.

As Colehouse Walker in Newton Summer Stage's 2004 production of ``Ragtime," Nik Walker was riveting.

This year, the 18-year-old is back in no less of a challenging role -- he plays Father, as in God.

``Nik is the kid where you know that if he wants to he's going to make it," said Bloom. ``He has an amazing voice, but he also has a vivaciousness on stage too that you really can't quantify. He can play the highs of creation and the lows of the flood with such passion and compassion that it's really remarkable."

Over the past couple of years, the full-time staff has expanded from five to 18. Many of the new positions are for stage and tech crew, the behind-the-scenes types who can make or break a production.

``This is the first time I'm not nervous at all. Things are really running smoothly," said Bloom.

``Children of Eden" runs July 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29 at 7:30 p.m., and July 23 at 2 p.m. at Newton North High School, 360 Lowell Ave., Newton. Tickets $10-$15. Call 617-559-6443 or visit www.newtonsummerstage.com.

MILLER TIME AT VOKES: No gimmicks, no time shifts, and no over-the-top props will mark the Vokes Players' production of ``The Crucible," opening tonight for a three-weekend run in Wayland. Rather, the show aims to deliver Arthur Miller's tour de force about the Salem witch trials (and Senator Joseph McCarthy's 1950's communist hunt) in a form as true to the playwright's intent as possible.

``You would do it a disservice if you think you've got some brilliant inspiration that nobody in the last fifty years has figured out," said director John Barrett of Boxborough. ``I cringe when I see things like `Melvin Nerschwitz's As You Like It by William Shakespeare.' "

There will, however, be no shortage of drama. ``These people have been accused of witchcraft , and they're going to burn at the stake , and there's nothing more dramatic than life and death," said Barrett.

``I've directed this play twice before, and each time I go back to it I become more aware of how strong the story is that it tells."

So, the intellectual fervor at Vokes may be heated, but the air-conditioned theater itself will be cool. ``We did a now -legendary summer production of `Romeo and Juliet' about 20 years ago in which the costumer put everybody in woolens," said Barrett.

``After that, we said we'd get air-conditioning no matter the cost, and we did."

``The Crucible" runs tonight through Aug. 5 at Vokes Theatre, 97 Boston Post Road (Route 20), Wayland. Show times 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, plus 2 p.m. July 29 and Aug. 5. Tickets $13-$16. Call 508-358-4034 or visit www.vokesplayers.org.

THE BIG PICK: No less than five guitars form the ``horn" section of a rather unusual big band called the Be-Bop Guitars. You can hear them with their rhythm section for free in Milford on Tuesday when they play the Commerce Bank Family Night at the Bandstand summer concert series organized by Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra.

``The original concept is that we were all guitar faculty at Berklee College of Music, " said band leader John Baboian of Belmont. ``And the band was an opportunity for us to get to play together.

``Now, in a sense, we're a guitar big band," said Baboian. ``I write out single note lines for all five guitars in the same way that a saxophone section of a big band would have individual notes that they play."

Tunes on the set list cover jazz standards from Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus, as well as originals, all with a new string sound.

``Everybody plays an old big jazz guitar. We call them `big boxes,' or `big fat jazz guitars,' or in the vernacular , `jazz axes,' " he said. ``It's quite a sound."

Also on guitar will be John Wilkins of Framingham, Larry Baione and John Damion, both of Cambridge, and John Marasco of Saugus. Milford's own Jerry Seeco heads up the rhythm section.

The Be-Bop Guitars perform 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Milford Town Park (at Congress and Walnut streets). Rain date is July 27, same place and time. It's free. For schedule, call 508-478-5924 or visit www.claflinhill.org.

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