Whitman | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Inspiration powers this 80-minute labor of love. A "performance concert" by Eric Rosen, who adapted and directed, Whitman is a rich showcase for the good gay poet's all-embracing writings and life. Beautifully designed and executed, Rosen's collage hews to a single vision: Whitman is re-created through his sprawling verse and intimate prose, which in turn are rooted in his life. Individually the show's 12 actors, all Northwestern University students, may not be equal to the urgency of the works they recite, but they excel at group pieces, in anthems, movement, and unison chants. Rosen combines rapid-fire chronology with sensual, sometimes homoerotic stage pictures; effects include billowing fabric, torrents of rain, a huge and symbolically rent American flag, and an enactment of Lincoln's funeral procession. Two actors turn "We Two Boys Together Clinging" into a word game that slows to create a deeper, more romantic meaning. A candle-bearing watcher in the balcony gently intones "The Sleepers" while, below, the slumbering ensemble discover more poems in their dreams. Along with the obligatory "Calamus" poems from Leaves of Grass, Rosen includes a curiosity, Whitman's new lyrics for "The Star-Spangled Banner." Jennifer Kiefer's impressive arcades and trapdoor stage are ingeniously lit by Darin Keesing to produce images as electric as Whitman's descriptions. This is life and art in arresting combination and contrast, a moving evocation of Whitman's healthy love affair with everything alive and much that was dead. Northwestern University Theatre and Interpretation Center, Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 1979 South Campus Dr., Evanston, 847-491-7282. Through November 8: Thursday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $12.

--Lawrence Bommer

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Mary Hanlon.

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