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Scattering Poems All Through the Night 

Word for Word tries to turn poetry into a stage play

Wednesday, Dec 19 2001
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Word for Word normally stages short stories. The troupe once tried a novel (well, one chapter) with brilliant success, but so far it has avoided poems. The rules of its game involve mounting a work of literature without changing a single word. This method has worked well with fiction, because fiction, in general, has to tell a story; a poem, on the other hand, can go anywhere at all. As a result, this collection of 45 poems, from Carl Sandburg and e.e. cummings to Robert Hass and Eloise Greenfield, is uneven compared to the other shows. Some of the poems are just boring onstage, and all of them are pitched at children. A young boy (Joey Hauswirth) climbs into bed, and funny-faced adults come out to chant verse at him. The narrative poems work better than the nonnarrative ones, unsurprisingly -- "Pumberly Potts' Unpredictable Niece" by Jack Prelutsky and "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear?" by Michael Flanders are particularly good -- but the best pieces are musical. The cast gives Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells" a stirring, nightmarish choral reading, and Langston Hughes' "Harlem Night Song" is an unexpectedly hip dose of syncopated tooth-brushing. The success of these two pieces is new territory for the group, since neither poem has a plot; it would be nice to see Word for Word do more in the same direction, only aimed at adults.

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