Theatre Preview: Nude, poetic theatre

A difficult artist to define, Pablo Neruda’s poetry conjures up emotional and tangible images of human feeling and longing. Never shy to graphically describe physical or emotional intimacy, Neruda became known for verses like, “My savage peasant body ploughs through you and makes the son surge from the depths of the earth” and “My life grows tired, hungry to no purpose. I love what I do not have.” Although Neruda has been no stranger to lusty rhymes, one of the most beloved poets of the 20th century is about to be unveiled in a whole new way. Described by Artistic Director Javier Vilata as incredibly liberating, Maple Salsa Theatre’s production of Neruda Nude will feature a naked-as-a-jaybird cast reciting the Spanish poet’s work.

“I know that most people who hear about it are a bit curious,” Vilata says. “They don’t know what to expect,” Vilata says. “I think a lot of them will find the beautiful journey that is a relationship in its most natural and intimate state.”

Due to its erotic themes, Neruda’s best known work, Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, excited controversy when first released in 1924. Never one lacking for female company, the virile poet’s notable romances no doubt served as his artistic inspiration, a vision of passion and intensity Vilata hopes to transfer to the stage.

“The show consists of hundreds of poems that somehow take us through the stages of a relationship–a first encounter, romance, spending years together, leading to loss and heartbreak–similar to Neruda’s relationships,” he says of the show.

Although the steamy poetry certainly has the ability to spark the imagination, one may wonder about the decision to prominently feature full-frontal nudity in the presentation. Vilata explains that it is not intended to sensationalize the production, instead he views it as a means of enhancing the audiences’ connection to the poetry.

“Most of Neruda’s early love poems are not narrative but descriptive,” Vilata explains. “They talk and somehow glorify the naked body. Delivering these poems and doing them justice at the same time could only be achieved with liberating ourselves from clothing and presenting us just as the poems describe. [Neruda] would describe bodies of all shapes and sizes, I think he would be a good promoter of a healthy self image if he lived in our times.”

Neruda’s exciting life and whirlwind romances are a fit addition to many of the theatre company’s unconventional endeavours.

“There are many aspects that identify the company,” Vilata notes. “One is to take different artistic expressions from different cultures and experiment with applying that for the stage.”

Though best known for his ability to titillate, Neruda lived a multi-faceted life with a particular focus on social activism. However, few would agree a story highlighting his exploits as a staunch communist would be as sexy as the material covered in Neruda Nude.

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