The Quaker House (V40)
August 7th to 11th
His is a dramatic presentation of the life of Walt Whitman, one of the greatest of 19th century American poets and who was as openly gay as it was possible to be at the time without condemnation – which was not that far. But he was brave in many ways, and was keen to express his belief in the whole of humanity as his brothers and sisters.
The play was written by Kim and Valerie Nuzzo. After an introductory piece by Valerie, Kim becomes Whitman. He has flowing white hair and beard, and very much looks the part. He strides between the audience who flank him on either side, and looks us in the eye from time to time, and we are fully caught up in his story.
Kim as Walt tells us about his early life, and about his male loves. He mentions Peter Doyle, whom he describes as the man he would have spent his life with, but Peter’s mother persuaded him his life was disgusting, and he left Walt and got married. The many men who followed are described as shadows in comparison.
The American Civil War begins, Walt’s brother is wounded, and Walt goes to visit him in hospital; sees piles of amputated limbs outside the hospital (no anaesthetic), and begins to make regular visits to different hospitals, talking to the men, holding the hands of many dying soldiers, supporting them in various ways. This experience becomes a big influence on his writing. He talks of helping men from the north and the south, of black as well as white.
He gets to know Lincoln, and describes him, his distinctive ugliness and his origins amongst the ordinary people of America. Kim breaks into some relevant poems, including the famous valedictory one beginning, “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed.” Mention is made of Peter Doyle being in the theatre when Lincoln is killed.
Towards the end Kim talks of Whitman’s famous “yawp” – his exclamation of presence and vital energy. He gets us all to join in – not often that I yawp!
Kim and Valerie are over from America where this play was first performed at Zephyr Stage at Cavalcade Fruita, then on tour and now in Edinburgh. This is a very memorable performance which brings to vivid life one of the great figures of American, poetic and gay history.