According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Anyone who decides to write a play about or take on the role of the Modernist poet Ezra Pound, a clandestine homosexual who openly made anti-Semitic and anti-American comments, certainly has his work cut out for him. William Roetzheim’s one-man show Pound and lead actor Jeff Berg takes on this complicated literary figure at one of the most complicated times of his life. With the help of his audience, they even create a new ending to it.

Jeff Berg as Ezra Pound / Photo by Kate Gibson

Reviewed by Amanda Halkiotis

Ezra Pound, the Modernist poet, became a controversial expatriate when he fled during World War II to regularly dispatch ludicrous left-wing commentary on American economics and politics from Rome. When he returned, he was accused of treason, but was deemed too mentally unstable to stand trial and so never faced charges. Until now: at Theater Row, William Roetzheim is giving him the trial he never had, and each night the audience acts as the jury and provides the final verdict. (Inside every program is a double-sided card: guilty/innocent.) It’s up to Jeff Berg, who plays Pound and six of Pound’s testifying peers, to keep the proceedings evenly balanced. He succeeds, running the gamut from vulnerable and condoning to unapologetic and obstinate. Roetzheim’s script is an invaluable resource—thorough, well-researched, and bias-less—but it’s Berg’s performance that makes it more than just another drama rooted in historical fiction; it truly paints a portrait of a poet’s life.

Pound’s signature stream-of-consciousness lends itself to Roetzheim’s vignette-style monologues as the play (and spotlight) revolves around the different witnesses brought into the courtroom to be interrogated. Berg takes on a total of seven different characters, from the Department of Justice’s prosecutor (his deep Southern drawl and Bible-Belt morals) to members of Pound’s literary circle (Berg embodies both Allen Ginsberg and Ernest Hemingway in this play, and as Pound he reminisces of Lost Generation comrades during his time in Paris such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein) to the irrational and impossible Pound himself. By dividing the stage into zones, Roetzheim makes it easy for the audience to identify scene transitions without harsh fadeouts or the untimely use of music, and also gives Berg space to transform. This clear staging showcases Berg’s range of tones, limitless energy, and his fun-loving, engaging approach to his role: at times he flirts directly with the audience, and even takes one onstage with him as a dance partner while talking of the parties he attended in Europe.

As an effeminate Italian socialite who knew Pound in Rome, Berg sits center stage, legs crossed at the knees and his hands folded over them, leaning forward. His one signature accessory is a black scarf, which he drapes around his neck for added flair. Then, crossing downstage, he leans against a wall, close to the front row. His voice lowers, his eyes narrow, and his shoulders widen, giving him a sense of height and burliness. He adds to this brute masculinity by wrapping and unwrapping that scarf with the methodically slow confidence of someone who enjoys fighting: suddenly, he is Ernest Hemingway. Berg strings his sentences along with a smooth confidence, believably reciting the emphasized, powerhouse lines Roetzheim scripts, which he obviously based on Hemingway’s prose. As the play progresses so does Pound’s madness, and Berg’s ascension into these depths is just as believable and jarring: his monologues become impassioned rants where he raises his voice uncontrollably and takes shorter breaths.

While audiences may need to brush up on their American literature to follow all the namedropping, Pound is no dusty regurgitation of literary criticism. True, it has enough high-brow appeal to indulge poetry buffs but it’s also fun-loving and stimulating thanks to the intelligent but never patronizing script and the brilliant lead actor. Jeff Berg performs with so much assurance, it’s obvious he’s done his homework, bringing honor and homage to the challenging topical landscape Roetzheim has laid out. Together they fuse the two genres of poetry and theater without watering down either, making for an incredibly well-researched script about a man who has reached his breaking point and the special opportunity for audiences to directly react to all of it.

Pound (1 hour, 15 minutes; no intermission)
The Studio Theater at Theater Row (410 West 42nd Street)
Tickets ( or 212.714.2442): $18
Performances (through 6/19): Tues. @7pm, Weds.-Sats.@8pm

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