Bringing poetry to life: Fruita couple bring play about Walt Whitman to Cavalcade
Fruita couple bring play about Walt Whitman to Cavalcade
Kim Nuzzo is a child of the ‘60s, but the beard he’s sporting these days harks to days more than 160 years past another man both vilified and beloved.
“After a while, it becomes part of you,” Nuzzo said. “You start feeling like you’re both.”
He’s Nuzzo and he’s Walt Whitman, and the words come.
“I celebrate myself,
“And what I assume you shall assume,
“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Published in July 1855, Whitman’s original poetry in “Leaves of Grass” seemingly came out of nowhere.
To better understand Whitman, Kim and his wife, Valerie Haugen Nuzzo, have spent the past two years studying the American poet’s life and writings.
The result is a one-man show titled “Multitudes,” which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 28–29, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Cavalcade, 201 E. Aspen Ave., in Fruita.
“Multitudes” is directed by Valerie, with Kim performing in the role of Whitman, and will be presented by The Zephyr Stage, a theater company started in April by the Nuzzos.
The couple moved to Fruita in March of 2016 from the Roaring Fork Valley, where Valerie was a founding member of the Thunder River Theatre Company in Carbondale. She performed in more than 50 of Thunder River’s productions and was the director or dramaturg for many others while serving as the associate artistic director for the theater company for 15 years.
Kim, who currently is a therapist with The Art of Recovery in Fruita, met Valerie through a shared love of theater and poetry — both the Nuzzos are poets. While living in Aspen, Kim performed in a number of productions with the Hudson Reed Ensemble.
The couple was drawn to Fruita as a place where they could relax and ride their bikes, connect with other poets at the Lithic Bookstore & Gallery and enjoy the community at Cavalcade.
“I thought I was done with theater,” Valerie said.
As the months went by, however, Valerie found she still had stories to tell through theater. So the couple formed The Zephyr Stage. “It is a way for us to do original work,” she said.
The Nuzzos wrote “Multitudes” using Whitman’s words from his journals and poetry and some historical fiction to connect the facts of Whitman’s life.
The play, which runs a little over an hour with no intermission, addresses Whitman’s politics, his thoughts about slavery and women’s rights, his admiration for President Abraham Lincoln and his sorrow and turmoil as a nurse during the Civil War.
“Our Walt has PTSD,” Valerie said.
Considering his writings, Whitman had the symptoms of a post-traumatic stress disorder, she said. During the play, memories trigger a breakdown for Whitman.
In addition, “Multitudes” addresses Whitman’s sexuality. “He was gay… We brought him out,” Valerie said.
Drawing from Whitman’s journals, “He talks to us about the loneliness of his one-night stands,” she said.
And one of the few “props” for “Multitudes” is a “picture of his beloved in his pocket,” Valerie said. It’s a copy of a photo taken in 1869 of Whitman and Peter Doyle, a streetcar conductor Whitman met in Washington, D.C.
In another pocket is a copy of a letter from poet Ralph Waldo Emerson sent to Whitman shortly after the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” was published — “I greet you at the beginning of a great career,” Emerson wrote.
The play will be presented using an “alley stage,” where the audience sits on either side of the performance, and the only furniture to be used by Kim as Whitman is a bench on one end.
The Nuzzos are excited for the performances of “Multitudes” and to introduce the Grand Valley to the Whitman they have discovered.
Whitman wrote about love and tolerance, and that a democracy only works if you care about your neighbors, Valerie said.
Whitman wanted his readers to know that “we have more in common than anything that separates us,” she said.
“If America has anything we call an American saint, to me, it would be Walt Whitman,” Kim said.