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Poet in New York

The endlessly surprising Pig Iron Theater Company continues its residency at Drexel U. with Dito van Reigersberg's dance-theater piece "Poet in New York," about the nine months Federico Garcia Lorca spent in Gotham. Like Lorca's surreal poetry, the play is sometimes hermetic in its symbolism, but emotionally rich and evocative.

The endlessly surprising Pig Iron Theater Company continues its residency at Drexel U. with Dito van Reigersberg’s dance-theater piece “Poet in New York,” described as “a one-man biographical fantasia,” about the nine months Federico Garcia Lorca spent in Gotham. Like Lorca’s surreal poetry, the play is sometimes hermetic in its symbolism, but emotionally rich and evocative; flamenco segues into prayer that segues into bullfighting — images that fly out of the poems, making a poem on the stage.

Trained as a dancer as well as an actor, van Reigersberg plays all the characters — male and female, old and young, Spanish and American. (Of the 11 scheduled perfs, three are in Spanish.) Each is defined by a voice, a posture, a walk, an accent.

We meet Lorca in a tidy suit with bowtie and bare feet — perhaps the better to find the duende of the piece. That Spanish spirit of creativity, linked to the earth, to the blood, to death, haunts Lorca, and for a man raised on a farm in Andalusia, New York’s skyscrapers and crowds were overwhelming, especially in the desperate days of the stock market crash.

Van Reigersberg enacts a Wall Street dance with frantic bidding and suicidal jumping, inching his way around the set’s platform as if it were a rooftop.

Lorca goes, wide-eyed and expectant, to a Harlem nightclub to hear Victoria Spivey sing. Her voice brings him to his knees, and when she asks why he’s kneeling, he asks to confess to her. The priestess of the blues tells him to get up and dance, tossing over her shoulder, “That’s your penance.”

He goes to a party in Brooklyn and meets Hart Crane, who initiates Lorca into sex; van Reigersberg uses modest props, such as a vase of flowers and a small table, as sexual partners with bizarre erotic believability.

A flashback provides us with a hilarious glimpse of Salvador Dali, and Lorca’s bewildered, unrequited love for him. Bragging that he is a “phenomenally retarded polymorphic perverse” (Dali has been reading that new German), he recommends a whorehouse for Lorca: “How will you know if you don’t try?”

Most moving is the ghost of Walt Whitman — van Reigersberg literally whirls between sitting and standing behind himself as the young, worshipful Lorca feels Whitman’s hand on his shoulder. They discuss the superiority of animals: “Not one is respectable or unhappy.”

The simple set suggests both the New York skyline and a jumbled series of wooden doors. A program note tells us the dented metal bucket of water, used in a variety of scenes, also represents the Andalusian tradition of washing doors to find the person you will marry.

Even without knowing this, Lorca’s final gesture of emptying the bucket is inexplicably sad. He walks through the door, alone, back to Spain and to the death we know is waiting (he would be murdered by the fascists in 1936). The exit is shockingly moving.

Poet in New York

Mandell Theater, Philadelphia; 425 seats; $25 top

  • Production: A Pig Iron Theater Company presentation of a play in one act by Dito van Reigersberg and Dan Rothenberg, in a translation by Guillermo Baserva and Fernando van Reigersberg. Directed by Rothenberg.
  • Crew: Sets and lighting, Jeffrey Sugg; costumes, Corey Lippiello; sound, James Sugg; production stage manager, Barney Baggett. Opened, reviewed March 24, 2006. Runs through April 1. Running time: 1 HOUR, 5 MIN.
  • Cast: <b>With:</b> Dito van Reigersberg.
  • Music By: