Many Tracks Presents:
(With Theater Resources Unlimited)
The Man in the Newspaper Hat
By Hayley Heaton
Inspired by “Visits to St. Elizabeths” by Elizabeth Bishop
Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Angus Hepburn and Anne Fizzard
45th Street Theatre
354 West 45th Street
New York, NY
Set Design: Elisha Schaefer
Costume Design: Meredith Neal
Lighting Design: Joan Racho-Jansen
Sound Design: Andy Cohen
Stage Manager/Assoc. Producer: Arienne Pelletier
Press: Kampfire PR
Web Marketing: Small Pond Enterprises
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 7, 2009
(Read about Elizabeth Bishop)
(Read about Ezra Pound)
St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC, 1949-1950
The scene is a small stark room with a small stark bed, walls of white fabric taped to metal scaffolding, and a backdrop décor of news clippings, Chinese characters, white typewriter paper with handwritten and typed notes, all amidst a small table with a black typewriter and torn, squashed paper. This looks like the workshop of a genius or madman. Or both? Ezra Pound (Angus Hepburn), dressed like a natty professor, when the one-hour, one-act play opens, writes, dipping his pen in ink, taking assiduous notes. Elizabeth Bishop (Anne Fizzard), even more stylish, knocks on the door, and the first of several encounters unfolds. If you knew to read the notes in advance, Ms. Bishop has been appointed “Consultant in Poetry” at the Library of Congress, and, after her final visit with Pound, she will write “Visits to St. Elizabeths”, which we hear at the end of the play. That was the high point.
Ezra Pound (1885-1972) is considered a leader in the modernism movement of the arts and is known for landmark aesthetic contributions, as well as support for fellow poets. His concept of Imagism, drew from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. He focused on clarity of language in the sequence of the musical phrase. His epic poem is entitled The Cantos. Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was considered a "poet's poet," and her last book, Geography III, in 1976, established her reputation in contemporary literature. She was awarded the Fellowship of The Academy of American Poets in 1964 and served as a Chancellor from 1966 to 1979. (Assisted by Academy of American Poets, Poets.org).
Hayley Heaton, writer, and Katrin Hilbe, producer and director, have created a confusing, incoherent, grating play, that left this viewer thankful it lasted but the hour. It is based on a fantasy of what these visits were like, the fodder for Ms. Bishop’s poem on Mr. Pound. As Ms. Bishop comes and goes, we hear the sounds of the asylum, the screaming and footsteps, muffled voices and banging doors. I had hoped the conversations on poetry would be illuminating and inspiring. Yet, as each encounter passed to the next, Pound eventually yanks Bishop’s arm and frightfully abuses her. His diatribes become louder and emotionally violent, as he morphs from natty to sleazy, tearing down the fabric of the walls and smashing his belongings. Pound has been institutionalized for treason in World War II, and so many historical details are missing in the dialogue that the play seems more like a dysfunctional reality show than a depiction of a poetic relationship. In fact, the only sense of poetry contained in the hour is a brief diatribe about the essence of a watch and the simplicity of Chinese characters. And a moment on the elements of music.
However, what was most disturbing was the endless stream of anti-Semitic epithets, crude language with no barriers, no compensation in subsequent dialogue. Pound is known for his hatred for and blaming of Jews for his perceived societal ills. But, to have a character scream about the beauty of Jews being gassed and the gas rising through the air, in some twisted aesthetic, was beyond the pale. Suffice it to be noted that Pound screams the K… word, and its derivatives, ad nauseam, and Bishop does not serve as a counter-attack. In fact, Bishop serves as a listening device, who later dashes off a poem about her encounters with this xenophobe. There is no balance, to say the least. There is no limit or restraint in the filter of this play’s ethnic insult. I would not for a moment diminish the reputations of Ezra Pound or Elizabeth Bishop by their depiction in this play. Rather, if Many Tracks Productions is to develop a following, I recommend producing better plays. Presenting drama about poetry, artists, and history is commendable. Portraying poetry, artists, and history in sordid dramatization is deplorable. Angus Hepburn and Anne Fizzard could find better theatrical opportunities.
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