John O'Keefe: Whitman's Song of Myself

Event has passed (Thu Sep 20, 2007 - Sat Oct 20, 2007)
The Marsh Theatre - Berkeley
8:00 PM
$15.00 - $35.00
Theater, Performance Arts


“Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly fleshy and sensual....”

“Mr. O'Keefe can snare his audience with his imagistic audacity and demonic narrative momentum with a gut-grabbing pull.” -Ben Brantley, New York Times.

"John O’Keefe contains multitudes…His performance contains more than enough variety in tone, thought and humanity to fill the theater and make the words sing."
-Rob Hurwitt, SF Chronicle

"His performance of an abridged version of the seminal
American poem contains more than enough variety in
tone, thought and humanity to fill the theater and make the words sing. It isn't just O'Keefe's wondrously musical voice- an instrument that captures the thrilling electricity, penetrates the heights and plumbs the resonant depth to make the words written in 1855 seem startlingly fresh. It's also the deceptively untheatrical approach O'Keefe has honed in three decades as one of the Bay Area's leading
playwright-performers." -Rob Hurwitt, SF Chronicle

“Simply put, "Song of Myself" is a poetic and dramatic tour de force. ..a rare joy to witness.” -Todd Carlstro,
Television shows depict Whitman. Musicians allude to him. Schools and bridges are named after him. Truck stops, apartment complexes, parks, think tanks, summer camps, corporate centers and shopping malls bear his name. Yet he is a poet hidden in plain sight. Most of us read him in high school and placed him as the “good grey poet,” not realizing the depth of his contribution, the profoundness of his message or the startling and erotic nature of his imagery. In this time of division, red states and blue states, Whitman stands out as the voice of unity.

He wrote the first version of “Song Of Myself” in 1855, when the United States was a mere seventy eight years old and five years from civil war. In spite of the horrendous division, corruption and the incipient collapse of his nation he found a way of celebrating the great experiment that was America. “Song Of Myself” has been called the Second Constitution of the United States. He celebrated the non-celebrated, life itself, this place, this moment, what you do, how you help or hurt. He embraced the world, the grandness of everyday life, of breathing, of living, of ordinary things, and of work and of pride in it, and the gift of each child, woman, man.

Whitman, father of the beats, inspiration to Rimbaud, Nietzsche and Bob Dylan, was poetry slamming when Victorians were making prissy couplets and playing hymns on the organ. He was the “Original Gangster,” self-published, heavily censored, homo-erotic, feminist, abolitionist, one of this country’s greatest activists yet all embracing, all loving, and damn, he sounded good. Most of us have gotten Whitman from the page but the only way to know him is to hear him. He loved the human voice and he wrote for it.

John O’Keefe is an internationally acclaimed playwright, director, and solo performer. His solo piece “Shimmer” won the Bessie Award and was made into a motion picture by American Playhouse. His most recent work includes his Occupation Trilogy: “Glamour” (winner of a National Critic’s Citation), “Spook,” and “Times Like These” (winner of the LA Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly Awards for Best Play). O‚Keefe was the recipient of the 2005 NEA/TCG Residency grant with the
Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles that produced his new
play, "Reapers." In 2006 he wrote the libretto for "Chrysalis," a new opera written with Clark Suprynowicz for the Berkeley Opera.


  1. The Marsh Theatre - Berkeley
    2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA