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The Waste Land

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One of the great disappointments of my brief, disappointing career as a graduate student in English was hearing a recording of the great T.S. Eliot reading his masterpiece "The Waste Land." Speaking in a flaccid, reedy, neurotic, male-menopausal voice, Eliot not only failed to release one watt of the power coiled in his taut, electric poetry, he actually made it hard for me to ever again read great lines like "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" without snickering. Which may be why I was so moved when I caught Bernard Sahlins's dramatization of the poem. Staged with a few props and slides and no other distracting visuals, this show depends entirely on the vocal abilities of its three actors--Nicholas Rudall, Suzanne Petri, and Rengin Altay--to bring Eliot's words to life. And they do so wonderfully, revealing not only the beauty of his language but the drama, the low comedy and the high tragedy, of this notoriously difficult work. Of course Rudall alone, with his rich, cultured, resonant voice, could have carried the show. But adding two trained, beautiful female voices to read lines Eliot clearly meant to be spoken by women is the stroke of genius that sends Sahlins's production into the stratosphere. The next time I read "The Waste Land," the voices I hear in my head will be worthy of the text. Northwestern University School of Law, Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, 312-294-3000. Saturday, November 9, 1 PM. $3.

--Jack Helbig

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/ Jonas Tamulatis.

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