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Paulanne Simmons

"Treason" Mixes Treachery with Infidelity

Directed by Martin Platt
The Perry Street Theatre Co.
31 Perry St., between 7th Ave. S. and W. 4th St.
Opened June 8, 2006
Mon.-Thurs. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m.
$45 (212) 868-4444
Closes July 29, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 17, 2006
David B. Heuvelman as Allen Ginsberg and Pleasants in "Treason. Photo by Monique Carboni.

Ezra Pound is arguably America's most controversial poet. For many he is a genius, a guiding light to other poets, a pivotal figure in the evolution of modern verse. To others he is a fascist sympathizer, an anti-Semite, and a self-involved womanizer.

Sallie Bingham, in her new play "Treason," The Perry Street Theatre Company's final show at 31 Perry Street (the building has been sold), tries to find some answers to those questions that surrounded Pound throughout much of his life and came to a climax with his infamous pro-fascist broadcasts from Rome during World War II.

With the incalculable help of Martin Platt's fluid direction and Lindsay Jones's excellent scenic design, "Treason" offers a sweeping panorama of Pound's later years, from his Rome apartment; to his room at St. Elizabeth's in Washington, D.C., the mental institution where he was confined after being declared unfit for trial; to his last home "The Hidden Nest" in Venice. Binham explores his relationship with his wife, his mistress, the various women who became enamored of him, and his illegitimate daughter, as well as his political and paranoiac beliefs.

In fact, there is so much information that by the end of the play (which is over two and a half hours long) one feels more overwhelmed than enlightened. The most pressing question is not why did Pound live his life the way he did but when is he going to drop dead so he can stop abusing other people and the audience can go home.

Most of the burden of making this show work falls on Philip Pleasants, who is onstage for the greater part of the play. Pleasants is certainly compelling and believable as Pound, but he never creates any sympathy for this tortured soul. And because he plays Pound during the poet's later years, one has to imagine the good-looking young man who was able to woo and win so many women.

Pound's various women are all played by capable actresses: Jennifer Sternberg is Dorothy Shakespeare, Pound's wife; Nicole Orth Pallavicini portrays his mistress, Olga Ridge; Kathleen Early takes the role of Pound's student Sheri Martinelli; and Mary C. Bacon is Marcella Spann, Pound's secretary after he was released from St. Elizabeth's. None of these women manages to make it clear what attracts them to Pound, other than admiration of his poetry. And it's hard to imagine how anyone's poetry could be seductive enough to make these women endure Pound's sadism.

One cannot find fault with Bingham because Pound is despicable and the women he became involved with pathetic. But surely she can be criticized for what she chose to depict onstage. The inane scene in which Allen Ginsberg pays homage to Pound in Italy is a good example.

If Bingham had chosen to examine one aspect of Pound's life, for instance his Rome broadcasts and subsequent incarceration in a U.S. Disciplinary Training Center, she might have been able to make some of the poet's actions more understandable, and thus the poet himself more sympathetic. As it is, the audience never really understands why Pound is the awful person presented onstage. Without understanding there is little sympathy and without sympathy there is even less engagement.

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