Orange County Theatre Reviews

Written by Patrick Chavis 

There are often fatal flaws in one-man shows.  They expect too much from the audience.  They take on way too many characters.  The acting might be great, but you’re never entirely immersed in the story because your watching the same person. Also sometimes, I swear it’s just an excuse for an actor to show off.  The popular ones will have someone well-known starring in them.  Thus, giving people a reason to shell out their hard-earned cash.  John Slade’s performance of Walt Whitman smartly combats this pretension through the use of his surroundings.  He transforms the venue right outside the strawberry bowl into something more like a revolutionary spiritual/social economic/philosophical meeting than a show. Deep themes and soulful moments keep a rather sedentary, one-man show alive long after the show is over.


Walt Whitman was many things, but he’s remembered mostly for his great poems, especially his brilliant book of poems Leaves of Grass.  If this show had a theme, it would probably be Whitman’s discontent with the status quo of his time and his belief in evolution, not only in the physical but also in the spiritual sense.  Speaking deeply from the heart (at least that is how it seemed to me), Slade relentlessly talks about the need to re-examine everything we know and believe.  Being a strong believer in science, actually being called the Poet of Science during his time, Whitman’s poetry, as he saw it, was a way of filling a gap science left empty –that gap being the unanswered question of “what does it all mean?”  Science can describe and analyze, but it cannot tell you how to feel about something.


“A new religion was coming and science would ‘open the way.’  Certainly, science was not to be all. It was to be the work of the poet to show the religious significance of the findings of science.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


The show  is engaging and slightly goofy at moments, but it’s fun and never over done.  The abrupt transitions are really something that cannot be helped.  You’re dealing with very serious material, and then out of nowhere a type of rhythmic hip-hop style beat comes on, which leads to him rapping about the wonders and beauty of nature. It’s actually quite refreshing.  His performances of Rap and Soul music strangely complimented everything he was talking about: this concept of freeness, of accepting the here and now and letting people express their voice through verse. I found myself thinking, man Walt can actually rap.


The venue chosen right outside the Strawberry bowl adds so much to the town hall format of this show.  Using only his voice and a few pictures to describe people and concepts, Slade does an exceptional job keeping the audience interested and engaged as he sing, raps and jokes around with the audience –throwing out references like “google it” –while still in character.


Walt Whitman Sings, a show that could easily be boring and self-important flies to exceptional heights because of the passion from a very enthusiastic performer.

Only one more show left September 20 at 7 p.m. 


Side note: Not really a family show. 


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