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Monday, August 24, 2009

Review- Leaves of Grass (The Cell)

The Fab Marquee review by David Stallings.

Something quite unique and special is happening in theatre this week—and it is not in the Fringe Festival. If New York is looking for an avant-guarde theatrical experience for the senses, it only has one more week to discover it. Jeremy Bloom’s production of Leaves of Grass is an eloquent, tasteful, work of art on display for a short time only. The play, which is really selections from Walt Whitman’s collection of poetry, has no plot, no characters, and no theatrical structure, and yet tells a beautiful story of the soul.

Ensemble | © Paradise Gonzalez

Whitman’s book of poetry—first published in 1855 as a small book of poems and subsequently published several more times culminating in the 1891 version of over 400 pages—was considered scandalous at the time. Whitman celebrates the body “I sing the body electric”, sexuality, and life in general. His transcendental leanings urge readers not to spend their life searching for God or understanding him, but merely finding him in the beauty of nature and the body. Bloom has marvelously condensed the epic collection into a seventy-five minute theatrical experience well worth embracing.

The audience is positioned runway style, so the action takes place on a thrusted stage between. Above hangs the most beautiful set of translucent leaves falling from the sky. They are not leaves of course, but bags of colored water, reflecting amber and green light onto the performers below. Nine wonderfully connected actors in all races, shapes, sizes, and ages, bring Whitman’s poetry to life, completely in the nude. This production, like a sculpture or portrait, makes one forget about the body and envelope the artists perspective of beauty—one that is all loving and generous. The ensemble truly works as a unit, lifting each other, dancing, and moving—all to the brilliant direction of Jeremy Bloom. The poems are projected on a wall behind the performers—and even the words and letters dance to the provocative rhythms Bloom finds within Whitman’s poetry.

Dillon Porter | © Paradise Gonzalez

LaCrisha Brown truly sets the play off right as she opens with a wonderful recitation of body parts—listing as Whitman often does. She truly relaxes the audience and brings them into this special world. Dillon Porter is another standout for his connection to the material and presence. The outstanding moment of the evening though is when Joyce Miller marvelously tells the poem of "28 Boys Bathing," while flicking water gently to the heavens.

Dan Gallagher and Jeanette Jew’s lighting design is as earthy, shadowed, and glowing as the text. Shawn Hollahan’s art instillation is sublime. And Matmo’s music brilliantly matches the tone of the piece.

One of the most innovative pieces of theatre I have seen since Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses, Bloom’s Leaves of Grass is pitch-perfect. Go. See a truly surreal and poetic piece of theatre -you only have a week left.

The Cell presents
Walt Whitman's
Leaves of Grass
directed and conceived by Jeremy Bloom

Through August 29th (Mon @8PM; Thu @8pm; Fri-Sat @8pm & 10PM). For tickets and more information visit

The Cell | 338 W 23rd St | Manhattan.

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