E.E. Cummings: As Is | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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E.E. Cummings: As Is


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E.E. CUMMINGS: AS IS, Roadworks Productions, the American Blues Theatre. Any one-man show that can captivate my attention while two medium-sized cockroaches are tangoing on my program obviously has a lot going for it. E.E. Cummings: As Is, an intriguing and intellectually challenging performance piece fashioned by Roadworks Productions ensemble member Patrick McNulty out of poems, lectures, drawings, and theatrical writings, is both a visual poem and a verbal painting. Perhaps it takes a cue from its subject, who once called himself "an author of pictures, a draughtsman of words."

Originally produced in Chicago as part of a Roadworks workshop piece called Pen Men, McNulty's performance is not an attempt at biography, but rather an enigmatic blend of poetry reading, spoken word, pantomime, and shadow play that attempts to reconstruct the gracefully truncated rhythms of Cummings's writings. McNulty doesn't just speak Cummings's words; he embodies them in a cheerfully balletic vaudeville style that plays up the poet's fascination with burlesque and circus performers.

Although much more fluid and cohesive than the 1992 version, the show occasionally falls victim to McNulty's tendency to gild the proverbial lily. A couple of the poems would read better if he didn't insist on endowing each word with a different, idiosyncratic voice. But overall this is a highly enjoyable and all-too-brief exploration of Cummings's work. If its stunning visual and aural images don't always equal the sublimely lyrical bewilderments of his poetry, they come awfully close to attaining that lofty goal.

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