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SD Fringe: T.S. Eliot: A New Musical and The Feathered Serpent

Ideas ignited

The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of T.S. Eliot's poetry.
The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of T.S. Eliot's poetry.

T.S. Eliot: A New Musical American National Theater’s musical is a bold, provocative assessment of one of the 20th Century’s greatest poets. The subject of T.S. Eliot’s gay sexuality, in light of his poems, is not commonly raised — or raised in hushed literary circles. This show openly defies that.

The characters that people Eliot’s poems come alive. J. Alfred Prufrock, Madame Sosostris (“with a wicked pack of cards”), King and Queen Bolo, Christopher Columbus, and Sweeney Agonistes represent the “slices of a pie”: the aspects of the poet’s personality.

As the show unfolds, we see a conflicted, tortured life: Eliot struggles with his religious morals and latent homosexuality. Bradley Beamon in the title role has just the right amount of poise and hesitancy inherent in Eliot’s push-pull of trapped indecisions.

The star of the show is Liz Marsden. Her Prufrock narrates and ushers us to follow her/him, as he weaves snippets of Eliot’s famous 1915 “Love Song” with Eliot and the rest of the cast.

In “Two Love Birds,” we meet Vivienne, Eliot’s first wife. She’s decked in roaring '20s flapper dress, excited and ready to please Eliot. She expresses her love, to which the poet replies awkwardly, “I like you.”

Tap, balletic pas de deux, and modern routines sprinkle the production.

This is theater that is engaged and richly enlarges the conversation surrounding T. S. Eliot, the poet and the man. The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of one of America's — and the world’s — great poets, whose suffering gave the world some of its best poetry.


The Feathered Serpent As we settle into our seats, a tall woman presents each audience member with an origami butterfly. Lights dim.

To piano accompaniment and a woman’s voice singing the words “Every day fly away,” a male dancer picks up his female partner at the waist and lightly tosses her. She lands as three other dancers join in the circular formation on the floor. With outstretched arms and lowered heads, they enclose the circle with arms on shoulders. In little hiccups, the group rises into a triangular formation.

Alternating between percussive, tribalistic rising and falling with soft — so soft! — pounding of feet, the cast of nine youthful dancers from Rochester, NY’s Borinquen Dance Theater and those from National City’s Hollywood Music and Dance present a moving portrait of what it means to be young and Latin.

One dance finishes and the woman who was passing out the origami butterflies enters the stage, barefoot. She recites poems from memory with a line that goes “One tree becomes a forest of names and ash./ From Emmett to Sandra.” I opened up the origami later and on it the words: “justice isn’t blind./ she’s seeing stars, limp on/ viral video.”

The “feathered serpents,” as one of the dancers explained to me after the concert, stand for the beings existing between heaven and Earth.

These tangible bodily movements incite and ignite ideas in the viewers — here at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center to well beyond these theater walls.

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“So many girls out there are being molested by their own fathers, by their own cousins... It’s out of control.”
The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of T.S. Eliot's poetry.
The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of T.S. Eliot's poetry.

T.S. Eliot: A New Musical American National Theater’s musical is a bold, provocative assessment of one of the 20th Century’s greatest poets. The subject of T.S. Eliot’s gay sexuality, in light of his poems, is not commonly raised — or raised in hushed literary circles. This show openly defies that.

The characters that people Eliot’s poems come alive. J. Alfred Prufrock, Madame Sosostris (“with a wicked pack of cards”), King and Queen Bolo, Christopher Columbus, and Sweeney Agonistes represent the “slices of a pie”: the aspects of the poet’s personality.

As the show unfolds, we see a conflicted, tortured life: Eliot struggles with his religious morals and latent homosexuality. Bradley Beamon in the title role has just the right amount of poise and hesitancy inherent in Eliot’s push-pull of trapped indecisions.

The star of the show is Liz Marsden. Her Prufrock narrates and ushers us to follow her/him, as he weaves snippets of Eliot’s famous 1915 “Love Song” with Eliot and the rest of the cast.

In “Two Love Birds,” we meet Vivienne, Eliot’s first wife. She’s decked in roaring '20s flapper dress, excited and ready to please Eliot. She expresses her love, to which the poet replies awkwardly, “I like you.”

Tap, balletic pas de deux, and modern routines sprinkle the production.

This is theater that is engaged and richly enlarges the conversation surrounding T. S. Eliot, the poet and the man. The musical’s addition of a sexual angle will no doubt color our rereadings of one of America's — and the world’s — great poets, whose suffering gave the world some of its best poetry.


The Feathered Serpent As we settle into our seats, a tall woman presents each audience member with an origami butterfly. Lights dim.

To piano accompaniment and a woman’s voice singing the words “Every day fly away,” a male dancer picks up his female partner at the waist and lightly tosses her. She lands as three other dancers join in the circular formation on the floor. With outstretched arms and lowered heads, they enclose the circle with arms on shoulders. In little hiccups, the group rises into a triangular formation.

Alternating between percussive, tribalistic rising and falling with soft — so soft! — pounding of feet, the cast of nine youthful dancers from Rochester, NY’s Borinquen Dance Theater and those from National City’s Hollywood Music and Dance present a moving portrait of what it means to be young and Latin.

One dance finishes and the woman who was passing out the origami butterflies enters the stage, barefoot. She recites poems from memory with a line that goes “One tree becomes a forest of names and ash./ From Emmett to Sandra.” I opened up the origami later and on it the words: “justice isn’t blind./ she’s seeing stars, limp on/ viral video.”

The “feathered serpents,” as one of the dancers explained to me after the concert, stand for the beings existing between heaven and Earth.

These tangible bodily movements incite and ignite ideas in the viewers — here at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center to well beyond these theater walls.

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