BLOOM by Guillermo Verdecchia, directed by Soheil Parsa, with Anita Majumdar, Andrew Scorer, Simon Casanova, Peter Farbridge, Stavroula Logothettis and Beatriz Pizano. Presented by Modern Times at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews February 25-28, opens March 1 and runs to March 19, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday matinee 2:30 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, previews $10. 416-504-7529. Rating: NNNNN
T.S. Eliot looms large in 20th-century poetry, but the nature of his suggestive verse creates problems for anyone who thinks about staging the material. That didn't stop playwright Guillermo Verdecchia and director Soheil Parsa from wanting to give theatrical life to The Waste Land, one of Eliot's most popular and enigmatic works. But the result, Bloom, didn't initially take seed.
"The Waste Land has always moved, troubled and spoken to me," says Verdecchia.
"What's most startling and arresting is its form, the construction of the poem. Eliot takes disparate elements and voices languages, mythologies and creates a new whole.
"I found that so provocative an idea for artistic creation that it's informed everything I've done. He showed me how stars can become an unexpected constellation and have new meanings and unity, however provisionally."
Modern Times' Parsa, who's staged works from Persian culture and taken on such classics as Macbeth and The Chairs, seemed the perfect collaborator for the project. Using light, sound and silence in striking ways, he provides new insights into a text.
The Eliot project was nearly born a few years ago, but various problems including the refusal of the poet's estate to allow an adaptation sent the theatre artists back to rethink their plan. What Verdecchia's come up with in Bloom is a simple narrative inspired by The Waste Land. His two central figures are the elderly Gerontion and a boy who comes upon him in what resembles a post-apocalyptic world, where savagery is common.
The piece takes the form of a memory play in which Gerontion recalls his younger self and a woman from his past. In addition to Eliot and in the fashion of The Waste Land the playwright's drawn on Beckett, Dante, Hamlet, Chaucer and even My Fair Lady to give texture to his script.
"The poem itself speaks to an emptiness and a profound desire in individuals and also in our culture for meaning and regeneration," offers Verdecchia. "I'm not sure that the play ends with regeneration, but there's a hopefulness that something beautiful may emerge.
"That's how I feel about theatre at times," he smiles wryly. "There's something in writers like Eliot and Brecht and also in this play about the dogged persistence that keeps us struggling on, even if no hope seems possible.
"I find something both pathetic and beautiful in continuing despite all the evidence that says forget it."
Does the piece have a political slant as well? After all, Verdecchia's best known for current-events-charged works such as The Adventures Of Ali And Ali And The Axes Of Evil and The Noam Chomsky Lectures.
"Bloom is surprising for me in its form, voice and language," admits the writer. "It's different from other shows I've worked on in that it's interior and personal rather than presentational and argumentative.
"But I can't escape from infusing it with the historical moment we're living in, just as Eliot did in The Waste Land. The central figure in Bloom is in a state of mental war, living with the consequences of his actions.
"His younger self is a valiant flyboy hero, and the old man an aged eagle who, to misquote Eliot, can't stretch his wings any more and has reservations regarding what he was part of.
"And of course, theatre is always political."
Verdecchia's off to Vancouver to work on a new piece with Marcus Youssef and update Ali And Ali.
"We can't help but tweak the material since Dick Cheney's been so busy lately," he laughs, referring to a recent incident in which Cheney shot a hunting partner. "Sometimes I think politicians are doing stuff like this for our benefit."