Review: The Wildly Inappropriate Poetry of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes
This evening of iambs off-off-Broadway gives a new meaning to poetic license.
Arthur Greenleaf Holmes greets us like he's about to DM a game of Dungeons & Dragons: Speaking in present tense, he transports us to 16th-century London where he describes us stepping past inebriates and perverts on a seedy street just off the center of town. This is somewhat redundant as we've all had to walk down West 36th Street to get to the Tank — but Holmes paints an evocative image with his words, nonetheless.
Evoking powerful (read: indelibly revolting) imagery seems to be Holmes's goal in his aptly titled solo show The Wildly Inappropriate Poetry of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes. Holmes (the alter ego of Gordon Boudreau) is a regular at Renaissance Festivals, where he apparently lures innocent passersby down shady alleyways and assaults them with his putrid verse. He has now brought his act to the Tank. But is this paint-blackened cube great enough to contain the magnitude of his poetical depravity?
For the most part, yes. Holmes treats us to beautifully recited reading of famous poems by John Keats, W.B. Yeats, and William Carlos Williams (the historical anachronism of having a man in Tudor dress perform the work of 19th and 20th century writers is part of the off-the-wall charm of this show). He then offers his own decidedly ugly riffs on the theme.
Vulgar as they are (he refers to the theater as his "vulgarium"), Holmes exhibits a real talent for punchy rhymes and snort-inducing turns-of-phrase in poems like "The Tewkesbury Pudding" and "I Built My Love a Menstrual Hut." Between these, he muses on the universal appeal of poetry, the literal-mindedness of street-naming conventions in pre-Enlightenment Britain, and the "increasingly dehydrated language of comedy" in our present time. It all feels like 75 minutes with the strangest literature professor at a small liberal arts college — the one whose classes always have huge waitlists.
As you might have surmised, this is the kind of show that will appeal to guys who have committed entire Monty Python sketches to memory and will gladly prove it to you (here's a video of John Cleese reciting the Holmes poem "I Bought a Cheese and Thought of You"). It should also attract those who might chase an afternoon at the Ren Faire with an evening of light BDSM. And, most surprisingly, it offers a little thrill for the high school English teacher with a secret taste for the bawdy. If you belong in any of these categories, you shan't be disappointed.
If I have any quibble with Holmes's delivery, it is his habit of constantly gauging the level of outrage in the audience. Mid-verse, he barges into his own recitation like a Carmelite nun at the Eagle to ask, "Are we alright?" At the top of the show, he gives all of us permission to get up and leave if we're ever offended, and seems somewhat disappointed when none of us take that liberty. I suppose such self-consciousness should be expected from a show that brands itself "wildly inappropriate" (as a professional adjective peddler, I bristle at this attempt to cut in on my business). But it saps the show of its delicious transgression to be constantly hand-held in this way.
Performing at the scandalous hour of 9:30pm on Wednesday and Thursdays, The Wildly Inappropriate Poetry of Arthur Greenleaf Holmes is certainly funnier than anything on late-night television these days. And while Holmes conjures fantastically perverse scenes with his words, surely many of those same images can be found in the vasty collection of the adjacent 24-hour DVD store — so you can take home a souvenir of your trip to New York's answer to London's Old Pye Street.