Sex on the Brain | Letters | Chicago Reader

Sex on the Brain 

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Ladies and gentlemen:

Having seen About Face Theatre's Whitman on the day that Kelly Kleiman's review appeared ("Below the Belt," 10/27), I am stunned by her apparent misapprehension of this production. Throughout her review, Kleiman reveals her distaste for the prominence the play gives to Whitman's homosexuality, opining that the fact that Whitman was gay is not "the most interesting thing he was about--because most grown-ups, gay or straight, have figured out that sex isn't the only activity worth conducting or discussing." Beneath the patronizing tone of this comment lies the tiresome reduction of homosexuality to sex that informs--or rather, misinforms--Kleiman's reading of this play.

Kleiman evidently little understands that one's homosexuality inevitably alters the way one sees the world and that in the case of a major poet, such an altered perspective is not only interesting but arguably central to our understanding of his work. Ignoring the play's sympathetic and restrained exploration of Whitman's sexuality and its effect on his art and life, she relentlessly focuses her review instead on what she--and perhaps she alone--sees as the play's "preoccupation with sex." Yet paradoxically, she dismisses the same-sex embraces and kisses in the play as "not erotic" and seems almost disappointed that it contains no nudity. "One braces for the obligatory flash," she writes in a revealing comment about a scene in which the stage is transformed into a billowing purple sea with Whitman at its center. "Obligatory?" Kleiman seems unable to imagine a play about a gay person that doesn't include genitals on display. Tellingly, she concludes by wishing for a dramatic adaptation of Whitman's poetry that "has some interests above his waist." That's precisely what this lyrical and moving dramatization of Whitman's life and verse presents--if only Kleiman could have seen it.

Kleiman's review reveals again that people experience a play in different ways. Fine--in fact, wonderful. But when, as in this case, the observer's preconceptions so obviously impair her ability to comprehend what is happening onstage, one wonders whether she ought to be writing theater criticism.

Sincerely,

Gerald P. Mulderig

W. Farragut

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