Spotlight: Ode to Walt Whitman


Federico García Lorca's stay in New York was not, by most accounts, a resoundingly happy time for the Spanish playwright and poet. He arrived just in time to experience the fallout from the 1929 stock market crash, and he witnessed oppression and crassness that tarnished his view of the American ideal. Hence "Ode to Walt Whitman," a poem in which Lorca both praised the great American visionary and chastised him for his lofty digressions in the face of hard reality. It was also a work written specifically from one gay man to another. Hence this puppet show by In the Heart of the Beast veteran Bart Buch, which places Lorca's poem and responses from Whitman's writing onto an oversized projected screen from an ostensible gay chat room. Whitman claims to be in an "open relationship with the cosmos" in his screen profile; Lorca identifies himself as a "queer Spanish martyr poet." It's a deft staging choice, because much of the actual "dialogue" is heavy and harsh, at least on Lorca's part, though Buch's spliced-up technique makes for evocative segments. Even more effective is the puppetry itself, ranging from small handheld figures to large masks, in which a variety of abstract tableaus emerge, including Lorca at a disco, Whitman sending Lorca over the moon by handing him flower petals, and a bull holding the two at gunpoint. Buch communicates considerable affection for, and kinship between, the two artists, evoking Lorca's vision of "Walt Whitman, lovely old man." Enhancing the dreamy flow of this hour-long show is music by Martin Dosh, who piles on keyboard and percussion loops that enhance the bittersweet and almost eerily playful mood. (D.J. Adam Booka takes over the music this weekend, performing and improvising upon Dosh's compositions.) By the time it's over, a fully realized vision has emerged that combines poetic sadness with a cosmic smile that old corduroy-clad Walt surely would have endorsed.