Songs of Ourselves | Letters | Chicago Reader

Songs of Ourselves 

To the editors:

I'm writing in response to Kelly Kleiman's review of the About Face Theatre's production of Whitman [October 27]. I need to preface what I want to say by admitting that I haven't seen the production, and hadn't planned to until reading Ms. Kleiman's review. But I found her assessment to be unnecessarily vicious and insulting.

I resent the notion that a production by an unabashedly gay theater company which focuses on the unabashedly gay life of Walt Whitman is impoverishing. Whitman has been the poet of American letters for decades. But for how many of those decades was his homosexuality underplayed in academic study, marginalized with a wink and a shrug, out of embarrassment or misunderstanding or fear? So About Face has decided to view him through a different lens. So it's homocentric. So what? Part of coming out of the closet for any gay man or lesbian involves recognizing--sometimes while banging a drum and parading down the street--the gays and lesbians who came out before her or him.

Ms. Kleiman claims that Eric Rosen's adaptation fails to choose the "most interesting" stories which could be fashioned from Leaves of Grass. I do not claim to be a Whitman scholar, do not claim to know precisely what stories Mr. Rosen did fashion for this production, but methinks Ms. Kleiman doth protest too much. Why, Ms. Kleiman, is it so crucial for this adaptation to capture the full range of Whitman's work and imagery? How can any staging short of the scope of a Robert Wilson day-long opera even hope to do such a thing?

In the end, I think, Ms. Kleiman is merely expressing a personal opinion, and perhaps it is understandable if she failed to relate to what it sounds to me like this production has attempted to address: male homosexual imagery in Whitman's work.

But Ms. Kleiman doesn't stop at expressing her disappointment in finding that the Whitman she knows doesn't match precisely the one depicted in Whitman at About Face. She also finds it necessary to insult Mr. Rosen, asserting that the production "needs an adapter who knows a little history and has some interests above his waist." This kind of personal attack is neither helpful to readers nor to Ms. Kleiman's credibility. It merely serves to divide. Good criticism, I believe, has the responsibility to assess the ambitions of the work it addresses, rather than the (not necessarily shared) standards of the critic.

Andrew Steadham


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