hotographer: Paradise Gonzalez; (l-r) Ali Kahn, Dillon Porter, Kesh Baggan, Tjasa Ferme and LaChrisha Brown My boyfriend and I had recently started reading poems by Walt Whitman each night before falling asleep, so when I noticed the poet's bearded face staring at me outside The Cell, a local incubator theater for emerging artists in New York's Chelsea, my curiosity was piqued. Looking at a flier with his likeness, I soon discovered Walt's words are now the springboard for an innovative one-hour staging called Leaves of Grass Unbound.
The magnum opus has always been known for its overt sexuality, with one critic at the time of its original release calling the work "trashy, profane & obscene." In this dramatization, director Jeremy Bloom has added a visual element that some might consider pornographic: a cast of nine ethnically diverse, naked actors chant selections of Whitman's poetry including "Song of Myself," "I Sing the Body Electric," and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" while his words are projected onto their unclothed and gracefully moving forms.
Despite the presence of beautiful nude bodies, the performance comes across as neither erotic nor lurid. Instead, the program feels quite sacred, in part because the audience sits upon church pews in an intimate white-walled setting. Whitman once wrote, "If I worship one thing more than another, it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it." I'm sure he'd be fully supportive of this effort to celebrate the human physique.
Tickets are $20 per person ($15 Student/Senior discount) and are available for purchase at Brown Paper Tickets or at the door on the evening of each performance.
Leaves of Grass: Written by Walt Whitman, conceived and directed by Jeremy Bloom and produced by The Cell
Playing August 14-29, 2009 at The Cell, 338 West 23rd Street.