Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Reading

Scientific America — Charles P. Pierce on the march for science.

WASHINGTON—They named this town—Forgive me, This Town—after a man of science, a surveyor and an experimental farmer from down the cowpaths in Virginia. In 1783, while waiting to hear that the fighting part of the American Revolution was over, he took time to team up with another science aficionado, a not-altogether successful engineer named Thomas Paine, to investigate the phenomena caused by swamp gas in Virginia. Four years later, in a closed laboratory of politics in Philadelphia, he presided over the deliberations that produced a Constitution that, in the eighth section of its very first article, promised that the new government would,

“…To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts…”

Talking through a thick mist thickening swiftly into a hard rain, and talking from a stage beneath the obelisk dedicated to that one famous polymath out of an age famous for producing them, Bill Nye took it upon himself to remind the people who had gathered on Saturday to March For Science, that they were descended in every important way from men of science.

The Framers of our Constitution, which has become a model for constitutions of governments everywhere, included Article I, Section 8… Its intent was to motivate innovators and drive the economy by means of just laws. They knew our economy would falter without them, without scientifically literate citizens, the U.S. cannot compete on the world stage.

(Speaking immediately before Nye, Manu Prakash, a Stanford neuroscientist, argued that scientific literacy was a basic human right because, in so many places, it literally is a matter of life and death.)

Yet, today, we have lawmakers, here and around the world, deliberately ignoring or actively suppressing science. Their inclination is misguided and it is in nobody’s best interest.

This, of course, was the central paradox of Saturday’s event, which coincided with the 47th celebration of Earth Day. It was the brainchild of a senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson, who had been on fire for what was then called “ecology” or “conservation” ever since he ran through the woods in and around Clear Lake, the small village in northern Wisconsin where he grew up.

As he came up through politics, Nelson was steeped in the Progressive heritage of his home state. In 1963, in his first year in the Senate after two terms as Wisconsin’s governor, an ascension to which Nelson’s environmental policies were critical, Nelson convinced President John F. Kennedy to embark on a series of speeches across the country concerning the environment, one of the most public demonstrations of White House commitment in that regard since the death of Teddy Roosevelt even though Kennedy was swamped on the tour with questions about a nuclear test-ban treaty that he’d recently concluded with the Soviet Union.

By 1970, Nelson was in his second term in the Senate and the news had become full of environmental catastrophe. In January of 1969, there was a massive oil spill off Santa Barbara in California and, almost exactly six months later, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland famously caught on fire. On April 22, 1970, Nelson helped organize Earth Day, which was a massive outbreak of activism around the country. That kicked off what became known as the Environmental Decade, wherein was passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental regulations, all of them based on a sturdy bipartisan scientific consensus.

That was then. This is now. In 2017, the country needs a series of marches across the landscape to remind itself that scientific progress and American democracy are inextricably bound for their mutual survival. The current president* has leaked a budget that decimates the federal government’s role in all manner of scientific research, from the fight against epidemic disease to the war on climate change. Which was why, walking through the drizzly day on the White House end of the National Mall, you saw epidemiologists sharing umbrellas with geologists, or a group of microbiologists huddling low under a spreading cherry tree alongside a knot of anesthesiologists. People walked around dressed as bees and as lobsters and as Beaker, the lab assistant from the Muppet Show. People walked around in overalls and in lab coats. They wore the now-classic pussy hats repurposed to resemble the configurations of the human brain and they wore stethoscopes around their necks.

“What do we want?” the signs said.

“Science!”

“When do we want it?”

“After peer review!”

(The musical interludes from the main stage were enlivened by the appearance of Thomas Dolby, who performed his hit, “She Blinded Me With Science,” backed by John Batiste and Stay Human, which gave Dolby’s vintage techno-pop tune a bit of New Orleans second-line juice.)

There was a great deal of infighting—”Some very ugly meetings,” said one person familiar with them—about how specifically political the march should be. The older and more conventional scientists—most of them white males, for all that means in every public issue these days—tried to make the march and the events surrounding it as generic as possible.

The younger scientists, a more diverse groups in every way that a group can be, pushed back hard. The available evidence on Saturday was that their side had carried the day. Given the fact that, for example, Scott Pruitt, who took dictation from oil companies when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma, is now running the EPA, they could hardly have lost. More than a few signs reminded the current president* that, without science, he would be as bald as a billiard ball.

Generally, though, there was more than a little sadness on all sides that it ever had come to this, that a country born out of experimentation had lost its faith in its own true creation story, that a country founded by curious, courageous people would become so timid about trusting the risks and rewards of science.

Beka Economopoulos runs something called the Natural History Museum, a project that takes her around the country not only educating students on the natural world, but also taking expeditions to places in which environmental damage is severe. “We collaborate with scientists, local community organizations, and museums across the country to address pressing community concerns and global challenges,” she said. “Science has never been apolitical. It’s always been situated within a context. All science is dedicated to pursue truth, but there are decisions made on what kind of science gets funded and what doesn’t, what kinds of questions get asked.

“The goal of science is not the popularization of knowledge. It’s the pursuit of truth. Scientists look to obliterate existing knowledge by finding something beyond it. Copernicus, Galileo, Rachel Carson, these are scientists that disrupted the status quo but, we look back at them now, and we see that they advanced humanity and the world we live in.”

When the speeches were done, all those people who’d hung in there through the rain walked up the wide boulevards past all the museums of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in the 1840’s at the bequest of an Englishman named James Smithson. “I then bequeath the whole of my property… to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an Establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men,” Smithson’s will read. As they walked past the buildings founded out of Smithson’s generosity, you wondered in the mist and rain why it all seemed so much like archaeology now.

On-The-Job Training — Jeff Shesol in The New Yorker on learning how to be president.

“There’s just something about this job as President . . .” George W. Bush observed last week, in an interview with NPR. “You think one thing going in and then the pressures of the job or the realities of the world, you know, are different than you thought.” Bush wasn’t reminiscing about his own Presidency; he was “opining,” he said, about the current one. The reality that Bush had in mind—the one that he hopes President Trump will embrace—is that it is in America’s national interest “to be allies with Mexico and not alienate Mexico.”

Trump, of course, has invested a great deal of energy in denying that particular reality—along with many others, from the existence of climate change to the role of Russian meddling in last year’s Presidential election. Yet, in recent weeks, Trump has conceded that he might, in fact, have been wrong about a thing or two, and now stands corrected. “It turns out” and “nobody knew” are two of the signal phrases by which Trump indicates that an epiphany has arrived: that health-care policy is “so complicated,” or that North Korea is not a Chinese client state. “After listening [to President Xi Jinping, of China] for ten minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Never mind the obviousness of these statements, or Trump’s weird guilelessness in presenting them as insights; they are being received, by some, as signs that Trump is growing in office. “I think President Trump is learning the job,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, said last week.

Learning the job, in fairness, is a big task for any new President. “Regardless of his prior training, nothing he has done will have prepared him for all the facets of that job,” Richard Neustadt, the great scholar of the American Presidency, wrote in “Presidential Power,” his influential study, in 1960. All Presidents, he argued, enter office ignorant, innocent, and arrogant—liabilities it can take two, three, or even six years for them to overcome. Some never do. Neustadt saw “a certain rhythm” in the Presidential learning process, and, indeed, in most cases, it follows a well-worn path: the chaotic cram session of the transition; the headiness and disappointments of the first year; the midterm elections in the second (a “shellacking” of the President’s party, as Barack Obama described it in 2010, tends to dispel any lingering arrogance); and, of course, the crises—domestic and foreign—that come without warning. The education of a President is episodic, driven by events. The results, as we know, are uneven. They depend not only on fate but on the answers to three basic questions: what are the “particulars of [a President’s] ignorance,” in Neustadt’s phrase; does he have the humility to acknowledge them; and does he have the capacity—political, moral, intellectual—to address them?

John F. Kennedy faced all these questions. He entered the White House well prepared despite his youth: he had served fourteen years on Capitol Hill, had commanded, with distinction, a Navy torpedo boat during the Second World War, and had spent the better part of his life studying and exercising power. Yet, during his first few months as President, his particular ignorance emerged: an excess of trust in the C.I.A. and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who convinced him, despite his doubts, to approve an invasion of Communist Cuba by a brigade of exiles. Kennedy hesitated; he asked tough questions of his briefers, but, in the end, he acceded, taken in by their optimism. The instant and utter failure of the invasion at the Bay of Pigs, in April, 1961, filled Kennedy with self-doubt and self-blame. “It is a hell of a way to learn things,” he said over lunch with James Reston, of the Times, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. But he did learn things, and soon changed things, as well: he not only replaced the leaders of the C.I.A. but also, from that point forward, regarded intelligence estimates and military plans with far greater skepticism. The historian Robert Dallek, in his biography of J.F.K., writes that Kennedy saw his missteps as “object lessons in how to be more effective. His resolve stood him in good stead: he managed coming crises”—most significantly, the Cuban Missile Crisis of the following year—“with greater skill.”

Bill Clinton, too, stumbled out of the gate. “Clinton terrified me,” one of his policy advisers, Bill Galston, later confessed, “because he almost always knew a good deal more about the subject, or at least some aspect of the subject, than you did.” Yet the disorder of the White House during Clinton’s first year—the famously long meetings that circled an issue but never really resolved it—raised the question of whether his intellect was always an asset. Clinton had a lot to learn in a hurry: about managing (and allowing himself to be managed by) the White House staff; about the hostility of the press corps and the snobbery of the Washington establishment; about the ideological stalemate in Congress; and, not least, about U.S. leadership in a shifting, often perplexing, post-Cold War world. Anthony Lake, his national-security adviser, and Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, urged Clinton to get more engaged in the foreign-policy process and to conduct himself as Commander-in-Chief. “It took a while for Clinton to do the commander bit, which is to say issuing orders crisply,” Lake recalled in an oral-history interview. “It’s in the little things.” It was also in the big things: in August, 1995, after two years of discussion and delay, the Clinton Administration decided to act against Serbian aggression in Bosnia, and led a successful NATO bombing campaign. By 1996, Clinton was more sure of his footing on the global stage. The Times—which had been quite critical of Clinton’s conduct of foreign policy—endorsed his bid for reëlection, noting that he was now “regarded internationally as a leader with a sophisticated grasp of a superpower’s obligation to help the world manage its conflicts and economic contests.”

What is Trump’s particular ignorance? It is not a stretch to say that Trump knows less about policy, history, the workings of government, and world affairs than any of the men who preceded him as President. Trump’s ignorance sends historians and commentators scrambling for sufficient adverbs: to Daniel Bell of Princeton, Trump is “abysmally” ignorant; to Josh Marshall, of Talking Points Memo, he is “militant[ly]” so. “Proudly” is another popular one. Last summer, Trump told the Washington Post that he doesn’t need to read much because he makes great decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense.” The problem is not just what Trump doesn’t know; there is an expanding, alternative universe of things he imagines or insists to be true, from his claim that “millions” of illegal immigrants gave Hillary Clinton her victory in the popular vote to his charge that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. “He has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy,” the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote earlier this month. Trump is somehow both credulous and cynical; if he were “mugged by reality,” in the old, conservative cliché, he would pin it on Obama, or perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This is not to say that Trump is incapable of learning in office. His recent changes of tone, opinion, and direction—on the importance of NATO, for example, or U.S.-China relations—might be signs that his thinking is evolving. They could also be tactical moves, or head-fakes, or further evidence that—unmoored from any core convictions—he is easily swayed by certain advisers. Whatever the case, it is one thing for Trump to acquaint himself with reality; it is another thing to know what to do about it. The singular burden of the Presidency is not merely to acknowledge obvious facts; it is, as Neustadt wrote, to determine a course of action “when conventional wisdom fails, the experts disagree and confusion dominates.” It turns out this job is not so easy.

So Nice To Have You Back Where You Belong — Ben Brantley reviews the revival of “Hello, Dolly!” with Bette Midler.

The pinnacle of fine dining in New York these days can’t be found in a Michelin-starred restaurant, though it will probably cost you just as much. No, you’ll have to get yourself and your wide-open wallet to the Shubert Theater, where the savory spectacle of Bette Midler eating turns out to be the culinary event of the year.

Ms. Midler — who opened in the title role of “Hello, Bette!,” I mean “Hello, Dolly!,” on Thursday night — not only knows how to make a meal out of a juicy part; she knows how to make a meal out of a meal. In the second act of this exceedingly bright and brassy revival, Ms. Midler can be found sitting alone at a table, slowly and deliberately polishing off the remnants of an expensive dinner, from a turkey bone dipped in gravy to a multitude of dumplings, while the rest of the cast freezes in open-mouthed amazement.

Ms. Midler brings such comic brio — both barn-side broad and needlepoint precise — to the task of playing with her food that I promise you it stops the show. Then again, pretty much everything Ms. Midler does stops the show. As for that much anticipated moment when she puts on fire-engine red plumes and sequins to lead a cakewalk of singing waiters, well, let’s just hope that this show’s producers have earthquake insurance.

Back on a Broadway stage in a book musical for the first time (can it be?) since “Fiddler on the Roof” half a century ago, Ms. Midler is generating a succession of seismic responses that make Trump election rallies look like Quaker prayer meetings. Her audiences, of course, are primed for Ms. Midler to give them their money’s worth in Jerry Zaks’s revival of this 1964 portrait of a human steamroller out to land a rich husband in 19th-century New York. The show was a scalper’s delight from the moment tickets went on sale.

But Ms. Midler isn’t coasting on the good will of theatergoers who remember her as the queen of 1980s movie comedies or as the bawdy earth goddess of self-satirizing revues from the ’70s onward. As the center and raison d’être of this show, which also features David Hyde Pierce in a springtime-fresh cartoon of the archetypal grumpy old man, Ms. Midler works hard for her ovations, while making you feel that the pleasure is all hers. In the process she deftly shoves the clamorous memories of Carol Channing (who created the role on Broadway) and Barbra Streisand (in the 1969 film) at least temporarily into the wings.

The show as a whole — which has been designed by Santo Loquasto to resemble a bank of Knickerbocker-themed, department store Christmas windows — could benefit from studying how its star earns her laughs and our love. Playing the pushiest of roles, the endlessly enterprising matchmaker Dolly Levi, Ms. Midler never pushes for effect. Her every bit of shtick has been precisely chosen and honed, and rather than forcing it down our throats, she makes us come to her to admire it.

Much of the rest of Mr. Zaks’s production charges at us like a prancing elephant, festooned in shades of pink. This is true of the hot pastels of Mr. Loquasto’s sets and costumes, and of Warren Carlyle’s athletic golden-age-of-musicals choreography, which is both expert and exhausting.

When an onstage laugh is called for, it comes out as a deafening cackle or a guffaw, which is then stretched and repeated. Double takes, grins and grimaces are magnified into crushing largeness, while the chase sequences bring to mind slap-happy Blake Edwards comedies. Even reliably charming performers like Gavin Creel and Kate Baldwin, who play the plot’s supporting lovers (with Taylor Trensch and Beanie Feldstein as their second bananas), seem under the impression they’re in a Mack Sennett farce.

My audience couldn’t have been more tickled by these hard-sell tactics, which hew closely to Gower Champion’s original staging. A tone of sunny desperation isn’t out of keeping with what seems to be this production’s escapist mission, which is to deliver nostalgia with an exclamation point.

Featuring a book by Michael Stewart and a tenaciously wriggling earworm of a score by Jerry Herman (given gleaming orchestral life here), “Hello, Dolly!” is a natural vehicle for rose-colored remembrance. It was adapted from Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker,” which grew out of his “The Merchant of Yonkers,” itself adapted from an 1842 Austrian reworking of an 1835 American one-acter.

With its folksy wisdom and air of life-affirming wonder, Wilder’s script translated fluently into the hyperbole of a big song-and-dance show, which spoke (loudly) not only of a more innocent age of American history but also of a time when musicals were upbeat spectacles, with outsize stars to match. (Ms. Channing was succeeded by a cavalcade of divas, from Ethel Merman to Pearl Bailey.) Don’t forget that “Hello, Dolly!” opened just two months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when the United States felt anything but united.

The genius of casting Ms. Midler as Dolly, a widow who decides to rejoin life by marrying the rich and curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder (Mr. Pierce), is that she built her career on making nostalgia hip. Even when she was sassing and strutting for the gay boys at the Continental Baths in her youth (when the original “Hello, Dolly!” was still on the boards), she was channeling entertainers from the days of burlesque.

With Ms. Midler, such hommages were never merely camp. She exuded bone-deep affection and respect for vaudeville stylings, in which impeccably controlled artifice became a conduit for sentimentality as well as rowdy humor. That affinity pervades every aspect of her Dolly, which is less a fluid performance than a series of calculated gestures that somehow coalesce into a seamless personality.

Consider, for starters, her hydraulic walk, made up of short, chugging steps. (A real train materializes for the big “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” number, but Ms. Midler is the real locomotive wonder.) Or her take-charge New Yawk accent, spiced with the insinuating inflections of Sophie Tucker. Or her stylized collapse into exhaustion in the middle of the title song.

Without stripping gears, she makes fast switches from explosive comedy to a sober emotionalism that never cloys. (Her pop hits, you may remember, include the weepy “Wind Beneath My Wings.”) And her final scenes with Mr. Pierce, who delivers a beautifully drawn caricature (and is rewarded with a solo that was cut from the original), may leave you with tears in your eyes without your quite understanding why.

Ms. Midler’s talents have never included a conventionally pretty voice. Yet when she rasps out the anthem “Before the Parade Passes By,” you hear her voice as that of a nightingale. And when she hikes up her period skirts to shuffle her feet, she gives the impression she’s dancing up a storm.

She’s not, of course. (Her kicks in her big numbers are only from the knees.) But a great star performance is at least 50 percent illusion, conjured by irresistible will power and cunning. Ms. Midler arranges her component parts with the seductive insistence with which Dolly Levi arranges other people’s lives.

After two acts of fending off Dolly’s charms, Horace finds himself proclaiming, in happy defeat, “Wonderful woman!” Nobody is about to argue with him. [Photo by Sarah Krulwich/New York Times]

Doonesbury — Action Figure.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Welcome to Independence

Welcome to Independence, Kansas, and the Apple Tree Inn, the Algonquin Hotel of the prairie. In the last twenty-five years I’ve met and chatted and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning singing songs in the lobby with some legendary theatre people, ranging from Edward Albee to Shirley Knight to Jane Alexander to Pat Hingle to August Wilson to Robert Anderson to Christopher Durang and many others. This is my theatre family reunion.

The New Play Lab is already underway, but I need to get a few things done — like get something to eat — and then tonight we have a welcoming barbecue at the college and meeting my fellow playwrights and making some new friends.  Tomorrow is my play’s reading and a lot of other things, so … I’ll post when I can and share what I have.

On The Road

I’m heading off to Independence, Kansas, for the 36th William Inge Theatre Festival.  I’ll be having a short play read in the New Play Lab, then presenting a paper at the scholars conference, and doing a workshop on dramatic criticism.  It will be a full week, and as I have in the past, I’ll post some stories and pictures.

Independence Historical Museum

So this is it until I get settled in to my hotel room.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This Date In Theatre History

April 12, 1977 — forty years ago today — my first full-length play “The Hunter” was produced at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Rarig Center Experimental Theatre. It was in partial fulfillment of my MFA.

The one thing I’ve learned in the last four decades is that I learn something new with everything I write and that at the ripe old age of 64, I am still an “emerging” playwright.

The original cast of “The Hunter” – April 1977

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sunday Reading

Taking Back Kansas — Benjamin Wallace-Wells in The New Yorker on how moderate Republicans are bring sanity back.

This week, the Kansas Senate voted by a wide margin to expand the state’s Medicaid coverage. A majority of Democrats supported the bill, as might be expected, but so did a majority of Republicans. That the vote was both bipartisan and decisive is a modest but promising sign for the future of public health insurance. But the vote had an added significance because it took place in Kansas. For the six years that Sam Brownback has been Governor, the state has been the scene of what may be the nation’s most extreme experiment in conservatism. The Medicaid vote capped an extraordinary year-long turn against Brownback, in which many of his allies in the legislature were defeated in primary and general elections, and, in the legislative session now coming to a close, his budget and priorities were rejected. The political history of the past quarter century has been one of deepening polarization. The reaction in Kansas suggests that it is still possible for a party to go too far—that there is still a center in American life which may yet hold.

Brownback, who has a law degree from the University of Kansas, is possessed of a low-key personal style and a high-intensity conservative politics. He has been the defining figure in Kansas political life for two decades, since he won Bob Dole’s Senate seat in the 1996 election. In the mid-aughts, when evangelical conservatives were understood to be the country’s most powerful political bloc, Brownback had seemed a plausible representative for the G.O.P.’s future—a rigid social conservative who found some ways to appeal to moderates. He made increasing American aid to Africa his cause, and cited the example of William Wilberforce, the Christian abolitionist who helped lead the campaign to end the slave trade in the British Parliament, so often that there was a rash of editorials about the rise of “Wilberforce Republicans.” But national politics grew more liberal and optimistic, and after a brief bid for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination Brownback returned to Kansas, where he won the Governor’s office in 2010. In his first term as Governor, he focussed on a different kind of problem. People were leaving his state for “faraway places that entice our children to abandon the communities that nurtured them,” he wrote, in 2012. “I don’t have oceans and I don’t have mountains,” he pointed out to an interviewer last year. “Just got mountains of grain.”

Brownback decided to remake Kansas by radically cutting taxes, an experiment to draw new business and people to the state. “We can no longer afford to view our current economic crisis as something distinct and apart from the crisis of family and community decay,” he wrote in an op-ed, in 2012. Brownback persuaded the legislature to adopt budgets that would eventually eliminate taxes on three hundred and thirty thousand small businesses, and cut the state’s top income-tax rate by a third. Brownback chose to opt out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which denied coverage to more than seventy-five thousand Kansans.

But the flight out of Kansas did not reverse, and as revenues diminished even basic state functions began to erode. Budget shortfalls were so severe that Kansas turned to raiding its highway-construction fund, which meant that highways were not repaired. Without Medicaid patients, a large rural hospital in Independence had to close. Public schools saw their performance on standardized tests decline, as the state contributed less to their budgets; the Kansas Supreme Court held in two different cases that the state’s underfunding of education was in violation of its own constitution. Brownback became the least popular governor in the country—last September, his approval rating was at twenty-three per cent. Seven separate organizations were founded with the goal of electing moderates, and one of them, the Save Kansas Coalition, persuaded the four living former governors of the state—two Democrats and two Republicans—to denounce Brownback and endorse moderate candidates for legislative offices. Mike Hayden, a former Republican Governor, said that Brownback and his allies “should be ashamed” of what their tax cuts had done to the state. “We virtually don’t have a penny in our pocket,” Hayden said. “The experiment is failing.”

In the Republican primaries last year, moderates ousted more than a dozen Brownback supporters, most of them explicitly declaring their opposition to the Governor. In the general election, more than a dozen more Brownback Republicans lost to Democrats. When the legislature reconvened, in January, a moderate coalition rejected Brownback’s budget and voted to expand Medicaid. (Yesterday, Brownback vetoed the legislation; the moderates may be a few votes short of overriding him.) At a forum after the election, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party suggested that there were “some voters who were anti-Brownback and there were others whose main motivation was they didn’t like the status quo.” He conceded, “They had this uncomfortable feeling about Kansas.”

State legislative elections receive little attention, but their stakes are high, making them a good target both for lobbyists and for ideological factions. Harvard’s Theda Skocpol has found that the best predictor of whether a state legislature voted to curb public-employee bargaining in 2011 was not public opinion within the state but whether the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, which was pushing the issue, had a paid staffer there. In Kansas, legislators make less than twenty thousand dollars each year, which may mean that candidates tend toward the committed fringes. In 2011, a Brownback ally in the legislature named Virgil Peck said, about a bill proposing that feral hogs be shot from helicopters, “Looks to me like, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a solution to our illegal-immigration problem.”

The revolt of the Kansas moderates has some of the feel of a social restoration, in which small-town institutionalists reclaimed Republican politics from the ideologues who had taken over. Peck was beaten in the Republican primary by a retired Air Force commander. A school superintendent in Stafford beat a more conservative incumbent; so did a retired school superintendent from Tonganoxie. The moderate coalition that voted to expand Medicaid coverage was led by a retired anesthesiologist, Republican Barbara Bollier, who had been kicked off the Health Committee when the State Assembly was in more radical hands. Last week, shortly after the vote to expand Medicaid coverage, the State Senate passed a resolution condemning pornography. That seemed like a good hint at where Kansas politics might go, guided by the remnant faction of religious conservatives and the rising one of school administrators.

For all its excess, the Brownback era obeyed a certain logic, which also helped fuel the rural support for the Trump campaign. If you believed that your home was under existential threat, then an extreme politics made sense. In 2015, the Times Magazine published a moving story by Chris Suellentrop, a journalist and Kansas native, whose uncle, a state legislator with a serious and temperate disposition, had joined the Brownback movement. Gene Suellentrop was sensitive to his fellow-Kansans’ plight. Without an aggressive effort like Brownback’s to draw business and attention, he told his nephew, “everyone else will see us as flyover country.” In retrospect, voters’ perceptions of the state’s precariousness and Brownback’s radical politics acted as mutual accelerants. The question now is whether those levers can act in reverse—whether moderate politicians can persuade residents that no social precipice is near, that Kansas is not dying.

Do It Now — Jonathan Chait on the need to filibuster Neil Gorsuch.

Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice. “He’ll be on the floor of the Senate next week and confirmed on Friday,” promised Mitch McConnell, and there is no reason to doubt him. Either Democrats will filibuster, and Republicans will change Senate rules to prevent filibusters of Supreme Court nominees, resulting in Gorsuch being confirmed, or Democrats will fail to filibuster, resulting in Gorsuch being confirmed. The only question at issue is in what fashion Gorsuch takes his seat. Republicans are fervently working to persuade Democrats to let Gorsuch take his seat without a change in the filibuster rule. Why do you think they care so much?

If Republicans are telling Democrats that any attempt to filibuster the Republican nominee will lead to the Republicans abolishing the filibuster, it stands to reason that the filibuster is not worth keeping around. What value is there in a weapon one’s adversary can disarm at any time?

Republicans have devised a somewhat complicated response to this objection. Yes, they concede, the filibuster is useless right now, in this instance. But that is only because the merits of this particular nomination so obviously and clearly lie on their own side. “If Neil Gorsuch isn’t good enough, there’s never going to be a nominee good enough, and so I don’t see any advantage to rewarding bad behavior,” says Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. Republican senators’ “appetite is entirely a function of circumstance,” argues Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist. “Only seeing such a model jurist held hostage to cynical political whims would be enough to compel the righteous indignation necessary to go nuclear.” (Going “nuclear” means changing Senate rules to limit the filibuster.) If Democrats drop the filibuster, Republicans will leave it in place, and maybe Democrats will get to use it next time. Maybe!

One flaw in this argument is that it utterly ignores the circumstances by which Gorsuch came to his nomination. Yes, he is well qualified and respected by liberal peers. On the other hand, he only has the opportunity to claim a Supreme Court seat because Republicans violated a long-standing norm that allows presidents to nominate somebody — the exact parameters of who that somebody is being the subject of regular dispute — to fill a vacant seat.

The Republican incredulity that Democrats would have the gall to object to fine, upstanding Neil Gorsuch is quite special. (How can you complain about me picking up some money I found lying there on the sidewalk? Never mind whether it got there because I ripped the wallet out of your pocket.)

The notion that Republicans would somehow not be willing to abolish the filibuster for Trump’s next nominee, after being willing to do so to complete the wake of the judicial heist of the century, defies plausibility. Every Supreme Court vacancy counts for one vote. The next vacancy will matter just as much as this one. Sure, if Trump decides to nominate Michael Cohen or Scott Baio to the Court, some Senate Republicans might object. But Trump has clearly indicated that he defers on this subject to regular Republicans. The next judicial vacancy will seem at least as crucial as this one, and the pressure on Senate Republicans to confirm their party’s choice will be overwhelming.

We already live in a world where a Republican president has a 50-vote standard to confirm a nominee to the Court. The only question is whether Democratic presidents have the same standard. The worst possible outcome for Democrats would be to allow Republicans to fill a vacancy with 50 votes while forcing their party to muster 60. And there is a lot of reason to believe this is the case right now. Barack Obama’s last Supreme Court nominee, the highly respected and moderate jurist Elena Kagan, got the support of just five Republican senators, of which two were driven into retirement by actual or threatened primary challengers in part because of those votes. Once Democrats lost their supermajority, their ability to seat a justice probably disappeared with it.

In 2014, Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Elle that she did not want to retire in part because she believed Senate Republicans would filibuster any left-of-center nominee to replace her:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Democrats] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided.

Mitch McConnell wants to preserve an ambiguous situation where the norms say one thing and the rules say another. This is to his advantage, because he is a serial violator of norms. This isn’t a moral question — he’s a brilliant tactician and he’s very good at identifying political strategies that are legal but which have not been used due to social convention. If McConnell can use the threat of the nuclear option to make the filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee a useless weapon for the opposing party, he can preserve it as a potential useful one for himself. If Democrats don’t make McConnell abolish the Supreme Court filibuster, he may use it to blockade their next nominee, and they will have only themselves to blame.

Double Bill — Two plays by William Inge that epitomize the plain-speaking charm of his characters and home town are running in repertory.  Elisabeth Vincentelli has a review.

Hal and Marie are young, gorgeous, vital. They’re also inopportune outsiders, wreaking havoc on seemingly tranquil communities.

As the catalysts in two William Inge plays of the 1950s, Hal (in “Picnic”) and Marie (in “Come Back, Little Sheba”) are inadvertent agents of change. But don’t expect melodramatic fireworks: The shows depict lives in turmoil with deceptive simplicity — an elusive quality that the Transport Group captures in the graceful revivals now in repertory at the Gym at Judson.

Inge doesn’t have the reputation of his contemporary Tennessee Williams, perhaps because he lacked Williams’s incantatory flamboyance, which encouraged myriad staging possibilities, audience devotion and a thousand campy spoofs. But his work burst with generous humanity and possessed a sure grasp on the power of intimacy — something these productions skillfully bring to the fore.

The director Jack Cummings III has staged both shows in close quarters for about 85 people at a time. The Kansas porches where the “Picnic” action takes place are gone, and Dane Laffrey’s scenic design consists of a few rusting deck chairs in front of a plywood back wall. There is period furniture in “Sheba,” which only reinforces the play’s take on claustrophobic middle-class despair. In each case, theatergoers are never more than a few feet from the actors — in some scenes, a few unsettling inches — turning from passive viewers to emotionally invested neighbors.

In “Picnic,” Hal (the likable but distractingly gym-buffed David T. Patterson) is an ebullient drifter who lands in a small Kansas town and starts doing odd jobs for Mrs. Potts (Heather MacRae). The mere presence of this pulchritudinous life force sends the local women into a spin, from a suddenly giddy Mrs. Potts to the young beauty Madge (Ginna Le Vine) to the single schoolteacher Rosemary (Emily Skinner). Even Madge’s boyfriend, Alan (Rowan Vickers), gets a touch of Hal fever.

The contaminant in “Sheba” is Marie (Hannah Elless), a pretty coed who rents a room from Doc (Joseph Kolinski) and his wife, Lola (Ms. MacRae). The older couple appear happy enough, but their obsession with Marie suggests fault lines. Doc is in Alcoholics Anonymous and sticks to meticulous routines as a way to cope; he also sneaks looks at Marie, his fixed expression imbued with guilt and creepy desire.

As for Lola, she engages in conversation with deliverymen (all portrayed by John Cariani); the connection is played as a result of unbearable loneliness rather than misguided flirtation. She treats Marie like a surrogate daughter (her actual child died soon after birth), pouring onto her the affection she probably unleashed on her now-missing dog, Little Sheba.

The story is fairly predictable, especially with a bottle of whiskey sitting on top of the fridge like a malevolent lighthouse luring Doc to the shoals. But the play proves spoiler-proof, the payoff simply devastating.

“Sheba” and “Picnic” have a lot in common, most notably their juxtaposition of disappointed older characters with younger ones who still have the luxury of options. Some of these options may not be healthy or enduring, but at least the young’uns can try again. They don’t realize what their older counterparts know: Nothing lasts, least of all joy and looks.  [Photo by Richard Termine/New York Times]

 Doonesbury — Topic of the day.

Monday, February 27, 2017

And The Oscar Goes To… ?

I didn’t watch the show so I hear there was some confusion at the end.

“Moonlight” — the film — is based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney.  He’s a graduate of Miami’s New World School of the Arts and soon to be the head of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama.

Wow. Congratulations.

By the way, if Betsy DeVos had her way, there would never have been a New World School of the Arts.  The money for that public school would have gone to some scammer setting up a charter school and strip joint and that would be the end of it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

His Greatest Weakness — John Stoehr in the Washington Monthly.

I teach a class at Yale on the classic books of presidential campaign reporting, books like Teddy White’s The Making of the President. As you can imagine, my students are exceedingly bright, highly informed, and savvy. But they don’t know much.

By that, I mean they don’t know much about how normal people think about politics. I know that I’m suggesting that my students aren’t normal. They are normal in the sense that they are smart young adults with all the concerns smart young adults have. But they aren’t normal in another sense. They are elite.

To get to Yale, they have gone through years of indoctrination making them suitable to Yale. I don’t mean brainwashing. I mean they know deep in their bones that they are required to make arguments based on facts and come to conclusions through reasoning. They must master and pledge allegiance to logic.

As you can imagine, my students find Trump supporters confounding. This is not an ideological reaction: I have liberal, libertarian, civic republican, and conservative students. They have been shocked by Trump’s election, because to them he is so transparently unfit to lead anything, much less the US government.

They know he’s unfit, because they know something about politics and policy, and knowing something about politics and policy means they know when the president is demonstrating some kind of allergy to falsifiable objective reality independent of his insecure ego.

My students, in other words, privilege knowledge, because to them, knowledge is how they will command and control their destinies.

What they don’t know is that most people don’t know much about politics, don’t know much about policy, don’t care to understand the details that make up the foundation any position, and don’t think they need to care about understanding those details, because knowledge is not what they trust most in the world.

What they trust is character.

Before I continue, let me say one more thing. After I strive mightily to get my students to understand how normal people perceive politics, they often come to an unfair conclusion—that the people who support Donald Trump are racist and stupid.

That’s probably true for a good number of the president’s supporters, but it’s certainly not true for a great many more. The reason is simple: politics is about conflict. Most people, whether normal or elite, really try to avoid conflict. It’s okay to not know much about politics, and not to care to know, because people just want to get along. No one should be faulted for that.

Besides, life is hard. There are so many things to worry about—jobs, kids, finances, health, so very many things—that Washington politics is the last thing most want to think about. I often tell my students that most people have something better to do.

The reason I’m going into the weeds like this is to get readers of the Washington Monthly and anyone who believes Donald Trump is a singular threat to democracy to understand how and why his supporters very much like what the president is doing, even though it makes no sense to the readers of the Washington Monthly and anyone who believes Donald Trump is a singular threat to democracy. In understanding how and why these people very much like what the president is doing, we can devise an effective strategy for the battles ahead.

There’s a reason why Donald Trump is reportedly fond of watching himself on TV with the sound turned off. It’s not only because he’s a narcissist, though narcissism surely plays a part. It’s also because he is trying to experience what most normal people experience when they watch the president on TV, and that means a majority of people since most still get their news about what’s happening in Washington from TV, despite the ubiquity of digital. Remember, they don’t know enough to know he’s lying. What they can see is Trump’s performance: the expressions of strength, the wit and charm (which are evident), and the braggadocio.

[Thursday]’s press conference was in fact a hot mess, but imagine watching it with the sound turned off so you don’t know what the president is saying. Imagine watching the president’s gestures, his expression, his sparring with the press. That’s probably a close approximation of what his supporters experience when they watch the president on TV. That’s the extent to which most people assess the president’s policy views. It is style’s mastery over substance.

Which brings me back to character. That is something people can judge, because they trust their ability to size up the president. That trust, of course, is misplaced, because Trump is in fact a serial liar, but remember, most people, especially Trump supporters, don’t know enough about politics or care enough to know much about politics, so they don’t know he’s lying.

What they can see is how he looks. And this is key.

I really want you to understand the connection between Trump’s appearance and the trust his supporters place in him. What the Democratic opposition needs to do is undermine that trust. Part of doing that is pointing out every time Trump lies. (The Washington press corps is doing that.) But the opposition must also attack the president where it really hurts him—by appealing to logic and reason, but not only logic and reason. The opposition must wound the president by focusing on his weakness.

Fact is, the president is weak. We saw that yesterday. When confronted with the fact that he did not win a bigger electoral victory than anyone since Reagan, he immediately backed down, spluttering something about how he had been given that information so it’s not his fault. Some have implied he will never accept the truth, so don’t bother. But that’s an argument of logic and reason. What happened in that brief exchange needs to happen a million times over in order to reveal that the president is weak and that in that weakness his supporters have misplaced their trust.

So, say it with me: The president is weak.

Say it again. Over and over. Then when the president really does demonstrate weakness, as he did when confronted by the reporter about his fake electoral landslide, the president will have substantiated the opposition’s charge of weakness.

That will hurt.

Trump ran on strength. Only he was strong enough to solve our problems. And people believed him. They still believe him. But if the opposition can establish an image of weakness, it will come close to breaking trust in him.

Who Watches the Watchers? — Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times.

Whom do federal immigration agents despise more: former President Barack Obama, or the immigrants whose lives are in their hands?

That uncomfortable question came to mind as I read articles over the past week of the growing numbers of raids, roundups, the knocks on the door, the flooding of “target-rich environments,” a phrase an anonymous immigration official used in speaking to The Washington Post. What’s a target-rich environment? “Big cities,” the official explained, “tend to have a lot of illegal immigrants.”

Clearly, with President Trump’s executive orders having expanded the category of immigrants deemed worth pursuing and deporting, the gloves are off. There’s been plenty of news coverage of this development, but few reminders of the context in which the pursuers have been freed from previous restraints.

So it’s worth noting that the union representing some 5,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents actually endorsed Mr. Trump in September, the first time the union endorsed a candidate for president. In an inflammatory statement posted on the Trump campaign’s website, Chris Crane, president of the union, the National ICE Council, complained that under President Obama, “our officers are prevented from enforcing the most basic immigration laws.” The statement went on to say that while Mr. Trump had pledged in a meeting to “support ICE officers, our nation’s laws and our members,” Hillary Clinton’s immigration plan was “total amnesty plus open borders.”

That everything in that statement except for the reference to Mr. Trump was untrue is not the point. (Far from failing to enforce the law, the Obama administration deported more than 400,000 unauthorized immigrants a year, and Mr. Trump’s Democratic rival endorsed neither total amnesty nor open borders.) Rather, the statement is evidence of how openly these law enforcement officers have been chafing at the bit to do their jobs as they please.

And chafing for a long time: back in 2012, Mr. Crane was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s deferral of deportation for immigrants brought to the United States as children. The claim was that the program put agents in a position of either failing to enforce immigration law as written or suffering reprisals at work for not adhering to the new policy. The plaintiffs were represented by Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. An anti-immigration activist who joined the Trump transition team as an adviser on immigration, Mr. Kobach is an originator of the false “massive voter fraud” rationale for voter ID requirements and has exported anti-immigrant legislation to states around the country, most notably Arizona.

A federal district judge in Dallas dismissed Mr. Crane’s lawsuit against the deferral program. Mr. Crane also showed his disdain for President Obama by refusing to allow members to participate in a course aimed at training immigration agents in carrying out the Obama administration’s policy that gave priority to deporting high-risk offenders rather than immigrants with clean records and deep roots in the country. Last month, after President Trump issued his immigration orders, Mr. Crane’s union and the union representing Border Patrol officers issued a joint statement declaring that, in case anyone asked, “morale among our agents and officers has increased exponentially” as a result of the president’s promised actions.

Why does any of this matter — aside from the irony of these public employee unions having achieved pride of place in the conservative firmament, while Republican governors and legislatures are moving quickly to disable public employee unions they find troublesome?

It matters because along with entrusting our immigration enforcers to keep us safe, in the president’s often-tweeted phrase, we also entrust them with the responsibility of treating unauthorized immigrants not as prey but as human beings entitled to dignity, even if only minimally to due process.

Not everyone shares that view. I get that, and I’m reminded of it every time I write about immigration. Reader comments on articles about immigration, including the gripping one last week about Guadalupe García de Rayos, the Phoenix woman and mother of two American children who was abruptly deported when she dutifully showed up for her routine check-in at the local ICE office, run to “if she wasn’t illegal in the first place, she wouldn’t have been deported.”

Right. I’d like to think we’re better than that. A month ago, we were.

In what may be an early warning of what’s to come, last Friday immigration agents in Seattle took a 23-year-old Mexican into custody despite his paperwork proving that he had been granted work authorization under the deferred-deportation program, which for now remains in effect.

“It doesn’t matter, because you weren’t born in this country,” one of the immigration enforcement agents told the man, Daniel Ramírez Medina, according to a petition for habeas corpus filed on his behalf in Federal District Court in Seattle. Mr. Ramírez was brought to this country at age 7 and twice qualified for the deferral program, most recently with a renewal last May. On Tuesday, a federal magistrate judge gave the federal government until Thursday to explain the basis for the detention.

This column is usually about the Supreme Court, and this one is, too. Next Tuesday, the justices’ first day back from a monthlong recess, the court will hear an important case on whether a Border Patrol officer can be required to pay damages to the family of a Mexican boy he killed with a bullet fired across the dry bed of the Rio Grande, the international border that separated the two by only yards. The facts of the case, Hernández v. Mesa, sound highly unusual, but they aren’t; there have been 10 cross-border shootings in recent years in addition to several dozen others along the border.

This case raises important questions about the extraterritorial reach both of the Constitution and the damages remedy that is available to United States citizens whose constitutional rights are violated on American soil by a federal official. Sergio Hernández, the unarmed 15-year-old killed seven years ago by the Border Patrol agent, Jesus Mesa Jr., was not an American citizen, and the bullet reached him in Mexico. He and his friends had been playing in a dry culvert, daring each other to run up the opposite bank and touch the barbed-wire fence on the American side. The F.B.I. report initially claimed that the boys were throwing rocks at the agent, but cellphone videos showed Sergio hiding under a railroad trestle in the last minutes of his life. He was shot when he stuck his head out from his hiding place.

The Justice Department investigated but declined to prosecute Mr. Mesa. Mexico charged the agent with murder, but the United States refused to extradite him. Sergio’s parents sued for damages, but lost when the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that even if Sergio had constitutional rights that were violated by the shooting, the existence of any right was sufficiently unclear as to entitle Mr. Mesa to “qualified immunity,” a legal shield extended to official defendants when the relevant law is deemed uncertain. Because the case has never gone to trial, the eventual Supreme Court decision won’t resolve the conflicting accounts or establish the motive for the agent’s fatal shot. But presumably the law will be clear, one way or another, the next time such an incident occurs.

On the chaotic night last month when Mr. Trump fired the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, for refusing to defend his immigration order, he made another personnel change that got less attention. Without explanation, he replaced the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Daniel Ragsdale, with Thomas Homan, a career employee who had been serving in the agency’s top enforcement position. Last April, when Mr. Homan received the government’s highest Civil Service award, a profile in The Washington Post began: “Thomas Homan deports people. And he’s really good at it.”

In the Post profile, Mr. Homan declined to answer questions about policy, or whether he might be supporting Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. “Sorry, I can’t say what I think,” he told the reporter.

The Roman poet Juvenal asked: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will guard the guardians? We need to ask that question now, urgently. I fear the answer.

 Why Thornton Wilder Matters — Laura Collins Hughes on the revival of “The Skin of Our Teeth.”

Thornton Wilder

When Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” had its Broadway premiere in 1942, directed by Elia Kazan and starring a dream cast led by Tallulah Bankhead and Fredric March, the critic Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times called it “one of the wisest and friskiest comedies written in a long time.” When it returned in 1955, with Helen Hayes and Mary Martin, Mr. Atkinson deemed it simply “perfect.”

After that, though, the play’s fortunes fell. On its third and most recent Broadway outing, José Quintero’s 1975 revival starring Elizabeth Ashley, the Times critic Mel Gussow dismissed it as “simplistic.” Boundary-breaking in its day, it has long been scarce on professional stages.

So Arin Arbus’s new Off Broadway production for Theater for a New Audience, in previews at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, is a rare chance for re-evaluation. With a cast of 35 (!) and original music by César Alvarez (“Futurity”), it follows the members of the Antrobus family of suburban New Jersey through the ice age in Act I (their pets are a mammoth and a dinosaur; freezing refugees clamor at the door) and into a great flood in Act II. The third act opens amid the ruins of a war. With each calamity, the Antrobuses have to figure out whether and how to survive.

Jeffrey Horowitz, the founding artistic director of Theater for a New Audience, said he didn’t choose the play with topicality in mind. But Wilder had his own suspicions about when it resounds most powerfully. As he explained in the 1950s, in a preface to his collection “Three Plays”: “It was written on the eve of our entrance into the war and under strong emotion, and I think it mostly comes alive under conditions of crisis.”

Several admirers of the play spoke recently about why “The Skin of Our Teeth” endures, what makes it problematic and why this could be a ripe time for its resurgence. Here are edited excerpts from those interviews.

Carey Perloff

The artistic director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco directed “The Skin of Our Teeth” at Classic Stage Company in New York in 1986 — a production that, according to Mr. Gussow’s review in The Times, included the refugees in Act I singing a chorus of “Tomorrow,” from “Annie.” Ms. Perloff laughed as she said she didn’t recall much about that long-ago detail, but she was very clear on the play’s current resonance.

All of us who are running theaters now are in this strange position of thinking: What is the appropriate response to the chaos and uncertainty of this moment, and how do you think about that theatrically? It was very prescient of Jeffrey to program this.

I think the reason this one keeps coming back is that it is an allegory, so it has those deep biblical roots and kind of archaeological references. It’s a very profound play to rehearse, because those epic questions come up as you work: Is humanity resilient? It’s a really dystopian look at the American experiment, and I think that’s what we’re all kind of waking up to. We assumed we would be inheritors of this great ideal, and now we realize how completely fragile it is.

There are great things in the play, and there are really frustrating things in the play. As with many great theatrical artifacts, you sort of wish you could take it apart and recombine it somehow. Sometimes I think we should give ourselves permission to do important plays even if they don’t really work.

Paula Vogel

“The Skin of Our Teeth” is the first play that the playwright (“Indecent”) ever saw, at her public high school in Maryland in the 1960s. A self-described “huge fanatic about Thornton Wilder,” she regards it as an example of near perfection and said it has been deeply influential on emerging writers over the past 40 years. Ms. Vogel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, considers the play — with its reverence for books and great thinkers, represented by Mr. Antrobus’s cherished personal library — a defense of Western humanism.

In my life, I’ve only seen two productions of it. One of the difficulties is that commercial and mainstream American drama has eschewed Wilder’s more global, abstract, philosophical voice for a kind of nitty-gritty naturalism, which doesn’t critique American society the same way that Wilder does. What I think happens is that there is a critical reprimand for choosing mythic elements and allegorical elements in American theater.

It’s an extraordinary time to be producing this play. We’re in this moment in time where we are thinking again very apocalyptically. A, we’re having extreme climate change; B, we’re having floods; C, we’re having refugees; and D, we’re actually facing the extinction of animals on our planet, and then hanging over us is the perpetual warfare. Everything in the play is pretty much upon us.

Obviously he’s writing on the brink of huge apocalypse, of World War II and Hitler, and he’s saying: “Let’s look at the resistance. Let’s look at the fact that we are going to get through this, and let’s look at what we need to get through it. What we need are our books.”

Arin Arbus

Ms. Arbus first encountered “The Skin of Our Teeth” in 2002, when the nation was still reeling from 9/11, and immediately wanted to direct it. “I thought, If I don’t do it soon, it just won’t be relevant anymore,” she said, and laughed with what sounded like ruefulness. She agrees with Wilder that the play comes alive in times of crisis, but she believes it is staged as rarely as it is partly because of its complex requirements, including a large cast and the need to balance multiple theatrical styles while leaving room for Wilder’s humor.

One of the challenges and the thrills of it is the slippery style of the play: We go kind of without transition from a Brechtian theater, in which the emotional climax of the scene is broken and commented upon, into absurdist drama with lines like “Have you milked the mammoth?” into this dark domestic family tragedy. Unlocking that is hard.

He was writing it as the world was descending into chaos. I think everybody was wondering: “Will we get through this? And if we do, what then? Will we learn anything? Will we grow or change or do it better the next time?” Although the characters do grow and they survive, they are not transformed. Evil — quote-unquote evil — remains within the nation and within the family and within the home.

Things keep falling apart, and these characters have to go through it over and over and over and over again. That’s what it’s about. The characters are continually hitting rock bottom and then finding a way — and it’s usually with the help of other people — to have the hope to move forward, despite the catastrophic situation that is facing them in that immediate moment.

Bartlett Sher

The Tony-winning director, whose “Oslo” opens on Broadway this spring, has immersed himself twice in the Wilder play: first as an assistant to the director Robert Woodruff on a Guthrie Theater production in Minneapolis in 1990, then on his own Intiman Theater staging in Seattle in 2007. He cast the deaf actor Howie Seago in the role of Mr. Antrobus — in part, Mr. Sher said, to add “another layer of Joycean logic” to the play. He has great affection for Wilder, for both his experimental nature and his capacious heart, but that didn’t make staging the play any easier.

It’s a hard, hard, hard, hard show. It’s all based on “Finnegans Wake.” He was reaching for a kind of narrative in the structure that he put together that’s incredibly interesting but which I’m not sure he was totally successful at accomplishing. It’s one of those things that everybody’s really drawn to, how much they can’t wait to do it, and then they find out how hard it’s going to be.

It has a comforting and profound view of time. It makes you think of time over a very long arc. Right now we’re all freaking out and exploding over the particular kind of time that 2017 appears to be. But if you cycle way back, you think: “Well, yes, we’re going through an incredibly bumpy period in the republic, but it’s not impossible that the institutions will survive and come out reinvigorated.”

The primary job of interpreting the classics — absolutely primary job — is to discover the immediate significance of the work in the time you’re doing it. It’s interesting that Arin is doing it now, because I tend to think these works come around when you need them. It may be one of those things where this particular time requires a good “Skin of Our Teeth” to help make sense of it.

Doonesbury — Kids these days.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday Reading

Conscientious Objector — Charles M. Blow in the New York Times.

Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes.

I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

“Tu día llegó” — Jennine Capó Crucet on Miami’s reaction to the death of Fidel Castro.

The first time Fidel Castro died was around my birthday in 2006. I was in Miami when the announcement went out that Castro had had an operation and was temporarily ceding power to his brother. This being the first time Castro had voluntarily stepped away from his dictatorship, speculation ran wild. Miami Cubans took to the streets to celebrate the death of a tyrant, a symbol of death and loss for Cubans of all races and faiths.

This morning, my sister texted, “Fidel is dead… again,” one of 26 messages from friends and relatives sharing the news.

I’d already heard: around midnight, Cubans of every age again poured into the streets of Miami to celebrate the death of a dictator who’d had a profound effect on our lives — who was, in many ways, the reason we were all here in the first place. I was in Westchester, a south Miami neighborhood that’s arguably the heart of Miami’s Cuban community (and as a Hialeah native, I’d be the first one to argue).

On Bird Road, where the lane closest to the sidewalk had been blocked off to allow for overflowing crowds, police lights bathed people in swirls of blue and red light. A father had his arm around his adolescent daughter, who was draped in a Cuban flag, the two of them watching the celebration around them. A woman about my age, there with her girlfriend, wore a T-shirt she seemed to be saving for this day: it read, Tu dia llego (meaning, “your day has come,” though the accents were missing from both día and llegó). A crew of fraternity brothers, none of them Cuban, said they’d “come down from Broward to see this.” “Hialeah must be on fire right now,” one of them said.

I am always somehow back in Miami when something monumental happens in our community. Celia Cruz’s death. Obama’s 2015 visit to Cuba. Even the Elian Gonzalez chaos in 1999 and 2000 coincided with my college breaks. I turned that saga into a novel in order to write through the media’s inaccurate and incomplete portrayal of frenzied Cubans throwing themselves at the feet of a young boy-turned-symbol.

The news out of Miami today will show you loud Cubans parading through the streets. It will show us hitting pots and pans and making much noise and yelling and crying and honking horns. It will give you familiar, rehashed images of old men sipping café out of tiny cups outside Versailles, the famous Cuban restaurant in Miami. That’s all part of it, yes.

But what is more important, yet difficult to show, are other prevalent scenes: People just outside the camera frame, leaning against a restaurant wall, silent and stunned and worried about those still on the island; the tearful conversations happening this morning between generations, families sitting around café con leche and remembering those who Castro’s regime executed.

At a dinner with Miami-based Latino writers a couple nights after the Miami Book Fair last week, we joked that Castro would never die because he is protected by powerful santería — the joke being that the news would take such a statement from us as fact because of our heritage. We are already anticipating the inevitable question: Now that Castro is dead, will we visit Cuba? As if those visits would legitimize something about our identities as American-born Cubans, as if the choice to visit the island would be worth bragging about — as if our answer to that question is anyone’s business but our own.

Those conversations are more nuanced and don’t have the same dramatic effect as banging on pots and pans. They are complex and harder to fit into whatever you write within hours of learning that the dictator who has literally and symbolically represented oppression your entire life is finally gone: Tu día llegó – your day has come – and yes, the shirt fits, but each of us knows there is so much more behind those words that is impossible to distill.

Many of us out on the streets last night and this morning are here as witnesses, as bearers of memory, as symbols ourselves. Many of us are out because we have family that can’t be here — mothers, abuelos, cousins who died at the hands of the Castro regime. We are here to comfort each other and to honor the sacrifices these family members made. This morning in Miami, in the house in Westchester, we were calling each other around the city and the country and saying, “I am thinking of you.”

In one call, ten minutes into the play-by-play of where we all were when we heard the news, my partner’s grandfather, who was born in Cuba but now lives in Puerto Rico, asked us over speaker phone, “Now are you gonna get married?” I lifted a mug to my mouth and began chugging coffee with sudden intensity, and in the laughter around the moment, someone chimed in that we’d stick to the day’s plan of getting a Christmas tree. But his response is proof that there is hope and optimism and excitement at the base of many of these new conversations.

Today I awoke to stories we’d heard a thousand times, stories about the family left behind in Cuba, about survival and exile, about first weeks in the United States, stories honoring those who did not live to see this moment — all being told with more verve and energy than they’ve been told for a long time. I cannot speak for every Cuban and have never embraced the chance to do so. This was my immediate reaction to hearing about Fidel Castro’s death: That’s impossible, he will never die. Turns out even I’d fallen for the hype.

Broadway Recommendations for Mike Pence — Michael Schulman at The New Yorker has his picks.

Dear Vice-President-elect Pence,

Congratulations on scoring tickets for “Hamilton”! Not an easy task. Hopefully you enjoyed the title performance by Javier Muñoz, a gay, H.I.V.-positive Puerto Rican.

Here are some suggestions for other Broadway shows to check out—or avoid, for your own safety. As you know, the theatre is a “safe place,” except if you’re a virulent homophobe or texting in the presence of Patti LuPone.

So get on that TKTS line and remember: if you’re molested by a Times Square Elmo, you have Rudy Giuliani to thank.

“Aladdin”

A stage version of the Disney classic about an Arab street criminal who infiltrates the government under a false identity and employs black magic to bring down the wise Royal Vizir. Skip.

“The Book of Mormon”

An inspirational drama about two white Christians spreading God’s word to deepest, darkest Africa. The showstopper is about young men using religion to repress their homosexual thoughts. No wonder audiences are smiling!

“The Phantom of the Opera”

A psychopathic troll terrorizes the cosmopolitan élite. Donald Trump called it “great”!

“Wicked”

A well-intentioned and intelligent woman is smeared with false accusations until the public is convinced that she’s a malevolent witch. A+

“Falsettos”

A musical about gay Jewish New Yorkers who have lesbian neighbors and sing songs like “Four Jews in a Room Bitching.” At the end, one of them gets AIDS and dies. AVOID.

“Chicago”

An eye-opening portrait of crime and corruption in Barack Obama’s home city. The hero is the brilliant defense attorney Billy Flynn, who bamboozles the public with sensationalist lies and sings, “How can they hear the truth above the roar?” Bonus: jailed women.

“Holiday Inn”

A throwback to when America was truly great, 1942. Men were men, women were women, and barns were red. Includes the greatest song ever written by a Jew, “White Christmas.”

“Fiddler on the Roof”

A musical about members of a despised minority who are forced to leave their homes after being targeted by violent hate groups under a repressive czar. A heart-warmer!

“The Color Purple”

A wistful portrait of being a poor black woman in the Jim Crow South, a.k.a. the good old days.

“The Front Page”

An exposé of the corrupt mainstream media as it distorts the truth and undermines law and order. Needless to say, Nathan Lane is a hoot!

“Waitress”

This portrait of working-class women in America’s heartland starts off O.K., when the title character chooses to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. But she winds up committing adultery and taking control of her own life choices. Recommendation: leave at intermission.

“Kinky Boots”

A black drag queen helps the white working class bring back manufacturing jobs by producing bedazzled red footwear. This musical must be stopped.

“Cats”

The Donald Trump of musicals: it’s tacky, it’s nonsensical, and it’s from the eighties. The cats live in the streets without a social safety net. And, since they’re competing for a chance at reincarnation, all the characters are potentially unborn. Go!

Doonesbury — It’s an honor.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Theatre Is Not A Safe Place

Quoth Donald Trump: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place,” he continued. “The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

To quote Mr. Trump again: “Wrong.”

Theatre, in its long history and purpose, has never been a “safe place.” It has always been, since the days of Socrates and Aeschylus and William Shakespeare and Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Aphra Behn and Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg and Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey and Elmer L. Rice and Clifford Odets and Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Miller and William Inge and Maria Irene Fornes and Lorraine Hansberry and Robert Anderson and Lanford Wilson and Edward Albee and Sam Shepard and Robert Patrick and August Wilson and Terrance McNalley and Marsha Norman and Paula Vogel and every playwright in the Official Playwrights of Facebook page, its duty to challenge, frighten, discomfort, tweak, bullyrag, provoke, infuriate, piss off; to make uncomfortable, to squirm and cringe, and at the same time force everyone inside the theatre and outside of it to think. We may do it with laughter and music and lights and sets and costumes, but a play that does not change the audience, that does not make it see the world and themselves in a different way when the lights come up and the curtain comes down, has fallen short.

That is the solemn promise we in theatre make when we take up the profession and the art, and while we may do it in as many different ways as there are plays, stages, playwrights, and places to hear and see our work, we will never accede, concede, or give up our obligation to challenge the status quo and make a difference. What other power have we? We are not politicians, we just pillory them. We cannot make laws, we just decry the bad ones. We cannot erase bigotry with the wave of our hand but we can make us aware of it and torture it into submission.

Theatre is a powerful weapon against tyranny and bullshit. It has always been a threat to the intolerant, which is why it is always the first to be suppressed by the dictators. Many writers and playwrights have been imprisoned, banished and executed because they proved the pen is more a threat to a tyrant than armed rebels in the streets. Nothing wounds more than mockery and ridicule. This is a lesson that must not be forgotten.

So no, Mr. Trump, the theatre must never be a safe place. That is what makes it special.

(PS: It’s a tad ironic that someone from the “Party of Lincoln” would think that being booed is the worst thing that could happen to a politician in a theatre.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Theatre History

Yesterday the City of New York unveiled a plaque at the building on Sheridan Square that housed the Circle Repertory Company from 1974 to 1994.

circle-rep-plaque-11-16-16

Lanford Wilson, Marshall W. Mason, and the Circle Rep were the subject of my doctoral dissertation in 1988. I had more fun researching and learning about their work together than any grad student and aspiring playwright had a right to. Lanford and Marshall could not have been kinder and generous, and I considered them friends as well. I also became friends with Robert Macnaughton and Tanya Berezin who contributed greatly to my research. The dissertation was published in 1993 and at the 2001 Inge Festival that honored Lanford, I was able to get him and Marshall sign both the published book and my original dissertation. I am honored to have been a witness to American theatre history.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Authors, Authors

If you want to start a discussion among theatre scholars, just speculate on who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  It’s been a running argument since he shuffled off this mortal coil, but now scholars at Oxford are saying they have deduced that at least some of them were co-authored by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe.

The New Oxford Shakespeare edition of the playwright’s works — which will be published by Oxford University Press online ahead of a worldwide print release — lists Christopher Marlowe as Shakespeare’s co-author on the three “Henry VI” plays, parts 1, 2 and 3.

It’s the first time that a major edition of Shakespeare’s works has listed Shakespeare’s colleague and rival as a co-author on these works, the volume’s general editor, Gary Taylor, said in a phone interview.

“No one has had the confidence to put the name actually on the title page,” Mr. Taylor said. “Which is perfectly reasonable because the only reason that we can do it now is because Shakespeare has entered the world of big data.”

The “Henry VI” plays have long been believed to be the work of more than one author. Names floated by scholars in addition to Marlowe’s include Robert Greene and George Peele.

As a theatre scholar — albeit more of modern American (post-World War II) drama — we used to discuss this all the time back in grad school, and the possibility of Marlowe as a collaborator was more or less a given. Were it not for copyright and the staunch support of the Dramatists Guild today that protects a playwright’s work, a lot of people could lay claim to authorship. Playwriting is inherently collaborative. Input from the director, the designers, even the actors, can change or refocus a script, but we playwrights are the ones who get stiffed on the royalties.

Four hundred years ago, it would be an event if a play went up strictly as written. For one thing, a lot of the actors couldn’t even read. There was no such thing as a director; that’s a 20th century concept evolving out of the actor/manager persona. So what we see in the folios probably wasn’t what the audience was hearing anyway.

In the larger scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter to me if there was more than one author of Shakespeare’s work or if he didn’t write them at all.  The works speak for themselves.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Republican Party Created This Monster — John Nichols in The Nation.

Republicans who for months put up with Donald Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry were finally giving up on their nominee Friday night, after the release of a tape that confirmed Trump’s reputation as a lewd and predatory sexist.

“I’m out,” declared Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.”

Utah Senator Mike Lee, a hero to libertarian-leaning conservatives, went so far as to to tape a video addressed to the nominee, in which Lee said, “Mr. Trump, I respectfully ask you, with all due respect, to step aside. Step down. Allow someone else to carry the banner of these principles.”

Lee was not alone. Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, and Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock—a trio of Republicans who were already facing reelection challenges—all called on Trump to stand down. They were joined by Rob Engstrom, the national political director of the US Chamber of Commerce, who tweeted late Friday: “Trump should step down immediately tonight, yielding to Governor Pence as the GOP nominee.”

But Trump is not going anywhere. On Saturday morning, the candidate told The Wall Street Journal there is “zero chance I’ll quit.” He told The Washington Post, “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life. No, I’m not quitting this race. I have tremendous support.”

The out-of-control nominee released a hastily produced video in which he threatened to make things worse for Republicans. “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump ranted in the midnight statement. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women.… We will discuss this more in the coming days.”Trump then urged viewers to tune in to Sunday’s second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.If Trump tries to slime his way out of the corner into which his own words and deeds have painted him, strategists from across the political spectrum say he is likely to doom not just his own candidacy but that of down-ballot Republicans in tough races. But, of course, Trump has never seen the Republican Party as anything more than a vehicle for his own ambitions. So he does not care. At issue now is the question of whether key Republican leaders—such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell, and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus—care enough to finally reject Trump.

Ryan, McConnell and Priebus have been Trump’s chief enablers throughout a 2016 campaign in which the billionaire has turned the “Party of Lincoln” (or, at the least, the “Party of Reagan”) into the “Party of Trump.” Even as they have moaned about the chaotic candidate’s “textbook” racism and whined about “his seeming ambivalence about David Duke and the KKK,” the top leaders of the party have always signaled that they will back their nominee.

The refusal of Ryan, McConnell and Priebus to say they would not support Trump as the GOP’s fall contender helped to “legitimize” the billionaire during the primaries. And promises of support that Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus provided in the late spring and early summer assured that Trump would have smooth sailing at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Now, the political Frankensteins who created a party that was ripe for Trump (by condoning extremism, embracing obstruction, and practicing a win-at-any-cost politics), and then cleared the way for Trump’s nomination, are stuck with their monster. They cannot replace him as the GOP nominee unless Trump chooses to step down, and Trump is not so choosing.

So Ryan, McConnell and Priebus must decide whether they will continue to place rank partisanship ahead of anything akin to principle.

It is not enough to object once more to their nominee’s disgusting words and deeds. It is not enough to fantasize about shaking up the ticket and putting Mike Pence—Trump’s chief defender, and a political careerist who has proven himself to be every bit as cynical as his running mate—in the presidential slot.

It is time for Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus to recognize a crisis of their own creation. They need to say what should have been said months ago: that they cannot support as their nominee a man whose latest indiscretions are described by Ryan as “sickening.”

If they cannot echo Jason Chaffetz’s “I’m out!” announcement, if they cannot put principle ahead of partisanship, then they are every bit as destructive to their trashed party, to their conservative movement, and to their country, as is Donald Trump.

The Prize — Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker on the impact that the Nobel Peace Prize could have on Colombia’s peace talks with FARC.

In the hours after last Sunday’s plebiscite called by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to ratify the peace deal he had struck with his country’s FARC guerrillas—which was rejected by a margin of sixty-three thousand ballots, out of thirteen million cast—memes appeared showing a cartoonish Santos lying prone on the ground, apparently kicked to death by Álvaro Uribe, his arch-adversary and right-wing predecessor. Uribe had launched and led the successful “No” campaign against Santos’s peace deal, opposing it on the grounds that it was too lenient to the FARC, and also exposed government soldiers to possible war-crimes prosecution. In the cartoon, Uribe was depicted as being forcibly led away from the scene by several supporters, with a caption reading, “Enough, leave him, he’s dead.” Another meme riffed on the expectation that Santos’s chances of winning a Nobel Peace Prize—a possibility that had been floating in the atmosphere in recent months—were now doomed.

The surprise No victory threw Colombian society into a tense limbo, and the past week has seen a suddenly weakened Santos government forced to enter into dialogue with Uribe over possible “adjustments” to the peace plan, and an increasingly anxious FARC, which still has an estimated six thousand fighters armed in the field.

Uribe—who evidently did not expect his No campaign to win—has reëmerged as Colombia’s top power broker. In several public pronouncements, the former President has sought to effect a magnanimous mien, apparently aware that if his demands are too high, he could doom any possibility of peace and be responsible for a return to war. But Uribe has also made it clear that he seeks something like surrender terms for the FARC, including prison sentences for its leaders (rather than “restorative sentences,” as called for under the current peace plan) and a ban on their participation in politics. Such terms give the FARC’s battle-hardened guerrillas—who have fought for fifty-two years for a Marxist society—little incentive to come in from the cold. While expressing their commitment to “continue to pursue the path of peace,” the FARC’s leaders, in Havana, have made it clear that they do not regard the current deal—which was formally signed by Santos and their leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (known as Timochenko), in a public event on September 26th—as negotiable.

[Friday’s] announcement by the Nobel Committee seems to have reversed the situation once again, delivering Santos a helpful push from the international community, as well as a morale boost for closing the peace deal. The prize also puts pressure on Uribe to back off a bit. The former President congratulated Santos backhandedly on his award, saying in a tweet (Uribe is a prolific tweeter, with a following of four and a half million), “I congratulate President Santos on the Nobel but I want this to lead him to make the changes to the accord that are damaging to democracy.” Upon hearing the news, Timochenko, the FARC leader, tweeted, “The only award we aspire to is that of peace with social justice, and for a Colombia without paramilitaries, without retaliations or lies.”  It was a dig at Uribe, who is a mortal enemy of the FARC, and who was closely associated with the violent paramilitary campaign that decimated the ranks of the FARC’s civilian followers in the nineties and early two-thousands. (Uribe was recently investigated for his alleged paramilitary ties, but he was not charged.)

Uribe was Colombia’s President from 2002 to 2010, and during his time in office he established an amnesty program for the paramilitaries, but since leaving office and being succeeded by Santos, who served as his defense minister, Uribe has bitterly opposed giving the FARC any concessions in exchange for peace. Uribe’s father was killed in a botched kidnapping attempt by the FARC, and he has never forgiven its guerrillas. He regards Santos’s dialogue with the FARC as a betrayal.

Many Colombians I met over the past week expressed bitterness over what they regard as the country’s stability being subjugated to the Santos-Uribe duel—“a battle between the élites” that is deeply personal, even more than it is ideological, since both are politicians on the political right. A couple of days ago, in Bogotá, I watched as thousands of students gathered to conduct a silent, torchlit “march for peace” through the city’s streets to the iconic Plaza Bolívar, where they chanted slogans and sang songs, including the national anthem. One of the most popular catchphrases was “Los jovenes estamos mamados de la guerra”—“We, the youth, are fed up with war.” With the public demonstrations and today’s Peace Prize, the pendulum has swung back once more toward peace and away from war. Still, half the country’s electorate voted against the peace deal on Sunday. In an effort to help convince those doubters that it is serious about making peace, Pastor Alape, one of the FARC’s veteran leaders, said on a radio program tonight from Havana that, for him and his comrades, there was “no longer any alternative to peace.”

What A Character — Stephen Greenblatt on Shakespeare’s take on the 2016 election.

In the early 1590s, Shakespeare sat down to write a play that addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?

The problem was not England’s, where a woman of exceptional intelligence and stamina had been on the throne for more than 30 years, but it had long preoccupied thoughtful people. Why, the Bible brooded, was the kingdom of Judah governed by a succession of disastrous kings? How could the greatest empire in the world, ancient Roman historians asked themselves, have fallen into the hands of a Caligula?

For his theatrical test case, Shakespeare chose an example closer to home: the brief, unhappy reign in 15th-century England of King Richard III. Richard, as Shakespeare conceived him, was inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage, the consequences of a miserable, unloved childhood and a twisted spine that made people recoil at the sight of him. Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.

From this psychopathology, the play suggests, emerged the character’s weird, obsessive determination to reach a goal that looked impossibly far off, a position for which he had no reasonable expectation, no proper qualification and absolutely no aptitude.

“Richard III,” which proved to be one of Shakespeare’s first great hits, explores how this loathsome, perverse monster actually attained the English throne. As the play conceives it, Richard’s villainy was readily apparent to everyone. There was no secret about his fathomless cynicism, cruelty and treacherousness, no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe that he could govern the country effectively.

First, there are those who trust that everything will continue in a normal way, that promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected. Richard is so obviously and grotesquely unqualified for the supreme position of power that they dismiss him from their minds. Their focus is always on someone else, until it is too late. They do not realize quickly enough that what seemed impossible is actually happening. They have relied on a structure that proves unexpectedly fragile.

Second, there are those who cannot keep in focus that Richard is as bad as he seems to be. They see perfectly well that he has done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is. They are drawn irresistibly to normalize what is not normal.

Third, there are those who feel frightened or impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence. “I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys,” Richard threatens, and the opposition to his outrageous commands somehow shrivels away. It helps that he is an immensely wealthy and privileged man, accustomed to having his way, even when his way is in violation of every moral norm.

Fourth, there are those who persuade themselves that they can take advantage of Richard’s rise to power. They see perfectly well how destructive he is, but they are confident that they will stay safely ahead of the tide of evil or manage to seize some profit from it. These allies and followers help him ascend from step to step, collaborating in his dirty work and watching the casualties mount with cool indifference. They are, as Shakespeare imagines it, among the first to go under, once Richard has used them to obtain his end.

Fifth, and perhaps strangest of all, there are those who take vicarious pleasure in the release of pent-up aggression, in the black humor of it all, in the open speaking of the unspeakable. “Your eyes drop millstones when fools’ eyes fall tears,” Richard says to the murderers whom he has hired to kill his brother. “I like you, lads.” It is not necessary to look around to find people who embody this category of collaborators. They are we, the audience, charmed again and again by the villain’s jaunty outrageousness, by his indifference to the ordinary norms of human decency, by the lies that seem to be effective even though no one believes them, by the seductive power of sheer ugliness. Something in us enjoys every minute of his horrible ascent to power.

Shakespeare brilliantly shows all of these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election. Unlike “Macbeth” (which introduced into the English language the word “assassination”), “Richard III” does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.

WHY an election? Shakespeare evidently wanted to emphasize the element of consent in Richard’s rise. He is not given a robust consent; only a municipal official and a few of the villain’s carefully planted henchmen shout their vote: “God save Richard, England’s royal king!”

But the others assembled in the crowd, whether from indifference or from fear or from the catastrophically mistaken belief that there is no real difference between Richard and the alternatives, are silent, “like dumb statues or breathing stones.” Not speaking out — simply not voting — is enough to bring the monster to power.

Shakespeare’s words have an uncanny ability to reach out beyond their original time and place and to speak directly to us. We have long looked to him, in times of perplexity and risk, for the most fundamental human truths. So it is now. Do not think it cannot happen, and do not stay silent or waste your vote.

 Doonesbury — A great disturbance in the waves.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sunday Reading

Sickly Sweet — David Singerman on the shady history of Big Sugar.

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

Today’s sugar industry is a product of the 19th century, when the key federal sugar policy was not a dietary guideline but a tariff on sugar imports. In the decades after the Civil War, Americans’ per capita consumption of sugar more than doubled, from 32 pounds in 1870 to 80 pounds in 1910. As a result, the government got hooked on sugar, too: By 1880, sugar accounted for a sixth of the federal budget.

To protect domestic refiners, then the largest manufacturing employer in Northern cities, the tariff distinguished between two kinds of sugar: “refined” and “raw.” Refined sugar that was meant for direct consumption paid a much higher rate than did raw sugar crystals intended for further refining and whitening. But by the late 1870s, new industrial sugar factories in the Caribbean began to jeopardize this protectionist structure. Technologically sophisticated, these factories could produce sugar that, while raw by the government’s standard, was consistently much closer to refined sugar than ever before (akin to sweeteners such as Sugar in the Raw today). The American industry now faced potential competition from abroad.

The country’s largest refiners mobilized on several fronts. They lobbied the United States Congress to adopt chemical instruments that could measure the percentage of sucrose in a sugar cargo, and to deem sugar refined when its sucrose content was sufficiently high. Previously, customs officers had judged the purpose of a sugar cargo by its color, smell, taste and texture, as people throughout the sugar trade had done for centuries. Now refiners argued that such sensory methods were ripe for abuse because they depended on a subjective appraisal. They demanded a scientific standard instead — one that would reveal some “raw” sugar to be nearly pure and thus subject to higher tariffs — and they prevailed.

Their plea for scientific objectivity may have sounded sensible, but it masked nefarious aims. Like the tobacco industry in the 1960s, these refiners knew that scientific questions were hard for outsiders to adjudicate, and thus easier to manipulate to an industry’s advantage. If refiners were to bribe a customs chemist to shade his results in their favor — as they were routinely accused of doing for decades, beginning in the 1870s — such corruption would be much harder for the government to detect than it had been when everyone could see and smell the same sugar.

In addition to their lobbying, refiners waged a public campaign to dissuade Americans from eating raw sugar. One of their common advertisements featured a disgusting insect that supposedly inhabited raw sugar and caused an ailment called “grocer’s itch” in those who handled it. Other pamphlets suggested that Cuban factories operated by slaves or Chinese indentured workers would “give the people sugar teeming with animals and Cuban dirt.”

The refiners’ real agenda, of course, was not Americans’ health; it was to maximize their profits from selling sugar. Thanks in part to their influence over both tariff policy and the new methods of customs collection, the big refiners were soon able to form the Sugar Trust, one of the most notorious and successful monopolies of the Gilded Age. By the early 20th century, belief in the health benefits of refined sugar was so widespread that increasing Americans’ consumption of it actually became a goal of federal policy.

Looking back at the industry’s transformation of sugar (an edible substance derived from a plant) into sucrose (a molecule), we also see the roots of “nutritionism” in United States policy. That’s the idea that what matters to human health is not food per se but rather a handful of isolable biochemical factors. As food critics like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle have argued, nutritionism is better at helping processed-food companies market their products as healthy (“with Omega-3 added!”) than it is at promoting our well-being.

Today, the sugar industry remains politically powerful, with consequences for both public health and the environment. The Miami Herald reported this summer, for example, that the industry contributed $57 million to Florida elections in the last 22 years; meanwhile, state officials have resisted efforts to make sugar companies pay for their damage to the Everglades.

If we want to check the power of Big Sugar, we’d be well served to acknowledge the long record — past as well as present — of the industry’s machinations.

The Astringent Power of Edward Albee — Hilton Als in The New Yorker.

Writing that gets under your skin, in your bones, will play in your head and memory like nothing else. While painting, photography, and movies can come at you with a very particular force—an in-your-face power that, when done correctly, unearths hitherto unexamined or marginalized feelings—dramatic literature lives in your ear, and, when it’s truly great, shapes how you shape words yourself.

As a very young writer or, at any rate, as a young person who longed to write, I was especially taken by Edward Albee’s plays, the astringent power of all those speeches and curt one-liners that disinfected or seemed to scour a stage world lousy with illusions. He was a different kind of realist. As the youngest of the three artists who reshaped the architecture of the postwar American theatre—Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller completed the trinity, and were more than a decade older than their younger colleague—Albee didn’t make work that believed only in the story. That is, the playwright wasn’t entirely convinced that telling a story led to anything as trite as catharsis. While Williams and Miller believed their protagonists—and often identified with them—Albee was just as often skeptical if not down right distrustful of what his characters said, and how they said it.

Despite the violence of their words, Albee’s characters do not speak freely; they are always hedging their bets because life is disappointing, and who wants to have less of what they already have? The best that Albee’s characters manage to do is steel themselves or bulwark themselves against the fake, often within hollow conventions like marriage that his domineering women and seemingly passive men cling to and talk about wryly, and with more longing than their shared bitchiness would ever let on. Like many of us, Albee learned to cope—to build the defenses he felt were necessary to survive—while sitting on his mother’s knee. But he was rarely, if ever, coddled as a child. In an interview with Lillian Ross that appeared in this magazine in 1961, after three of his first short plays were performed in New York and abroad—1959’s “The Zoo Story”; and “The Death of Bessie Smith” and “The American Dream,” both from 1961—Albee told the reporter a bit about his background:

Born in Washington, D.C., on March 12, 1928, and came to New York when I was two weeks old . . . I have no idea who my natural parents were, although I’m sure my father wasn’t a President, or anything like that. I was adopted by my father, Reed A. Albee, who worked for his father, Edward Franklin Albee, who started a chain of theatres with B. F. Keith and then sold out to R.K.O. My father is retired now. My mother is a remarkable woman. An excellent horsewoman and saddle-horse judge. I was riding from the time I was able to walk. My parents had a stable of horses in Larchmont or Scarsdale or Rye, one of those places. I don’t ride anymore. Just sort of lost interest in it. My parents gave me a good home and a good education. . . . I went to Choate. . . . I was very happy there. I went on to Trinity College, in Hartford, for a year and a half. I didn’t have enough interest in it to stick it out for four years. . . . After a year and a half, the college suggested that I not come back, which was fine with me.

Memory has a way of trivializing the truth—and smoothing over the past—in a way that is misleading. Albee’s mother may have been an excellent horsewoman, but her skills did not extend to mothering. She treated her only child as something of an accessory, and lived for herself—for her idea of power. The best and most troublesome of Albee’s female characters are her. After Albee left home, he never saw his father again, and he had no real contact with his mother until seventeen years before her death. By then he had made a different kind of family—with like-minded gay men such as the poets Richard Howard and James Merrill, who had troubled relationships with their mothers, too, men who could go toe to toe with Albee in the Village bars they frequented, places where language was a performance in itself, and cruelty a badge of honor.

One gets the sense that, growing up and beyond, Albee was rather proud of his put-downs; he wanted to hurt the world he could never show had hurt him. For all the tension and confrontation in his plays, there’s a lot of avoidance. Mystery informs his best-known play, the 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” While Pamela McKinnon’s superlative 2012 production brought out so much in the famous text—including the fact that the warring married couple, George and Martha, were very turned on by one another—it only increased our interest in why, for instance, Martha drank, lied, cheated. Unlike Williams and Miller, Albee did not believe in backstories—that the child was, artistically speaking, father to the man—and when his characters “share,” none of it is cozy. It’s as if, when he left home, Albee wanted to be a different person—a person who would not describe his past as the past was attached to other people.

But, of course, we are always attached to other people: our relationships to them are, to some extent, who we are. Albee learned cruelty at home—one could call his domestic dramas the living room of cruelty—and he wrote most exquisitely about how cruelty can, for some, make a home. As a young artist, he borrowed too heavily from Ionesco—an early and permanent influence, along with Beckett—who thought characters existed for the sole purpose of making theatre. Albee was attracted to that idea, but he was also an American, which meant that storytelling of one sort or another was in his blood. He erred on the side of theatre as theatre when he came out with “Tiny Alice,” in 1964. I am very fond of this piece, which purports to be about the richest woman in the world—the Alice of the title—but what it’s really about is unfathomable. (Sir John Gielgud, who starred in the original production, told Albee that he didn’t know what the play was about. Albee said he didn’t really, either.) To my mind, the play is about meta theater, and role-playing; it borrows quite a bit from Jean Genet’s 1957 masterpiece, “The Balcony,” especially when it zeroes in on organized religion, another form of theatre. Here’s how it opens:

Lawyer: Oomm, yoom, yoom, yoom, Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Um? You do-do-do-do-um?. . . .

The Cardinal enters

Cardinal: Saint Francis?
Lawyer: Your eminence!
Cardinal: Our dear Saint Francis, who wandered in the fields and forests, talked to all the . . .
Lawyer: Your eminence, we appreciate your kindness in making the time to see us; we know how heavy a schedule you . . .
Cardinal: We are pleased. . . . We are pleased to be your servant . . . if we can be your servant. We addressed you as Saint Francis . . .
Lawyer: Oh, but surely . . .
Cardinal: . . . as Saint Francis . . . who did talk to the birds so, did he not. And here we find you, who talk not only to the birds but to—you must forgive us—to cardinals we well . . . . To cardinals? As well?
Lawyer: We . . . we understood.
Cardinal: Did we.
Lawyer: We find it droll—if altogether appropriate in this setting—that there should be two cardinals . . . uh, together . . . in conversation, as it were.
Cardinal: Ah, well, they are a comfort to each other . . . companionship. And they have so much to say. They . . . understand each other so much better than they would . . . uh, other birds.

Given Albee’s interest in the stage as an arena for ideas, it seems strange that critics and audiences rejected important works such as “Box” and “Quotations From Mao Tse-Tung.” Those short plays are all about voice—indeed, “Box” is a monologue starring a woman we never see—and also the logical extension of an experimentalist who, throughout his life, worked within fairly conventional structures. Albee continued to work hard even as, inevitably, he began to lose favor with the critics. He knew theatre was as much subject to trends as anything. In his 1962 essay “Some Notes on Nonconformity,” he put out this warning: “One must always mistrust fashion, because it is, as often as not, arbitrary; and the assumption that one can become informed of, and participate in, the intellectual temper of our time through reliance on any breathlessly composed list of fashionable far outs is funny and sad—and, what is much worse, terribly conformist.”

Albee did like plot and ideas, and often in his work the idea was the story. Listen carefully to Agnes at the beginning of “A Delicate Balance,” from 1966. The drama is about her body—and her mind. In no uncertain terms, she lets Tobias, her husband of many years, know how much he disgusted her at one point, but not before she talks about a thought she has had: What would happen if she lost her mind? Agnes is sister to Nancy in Albee’s underrated and fantastic, in all senses of the word, “Seascape” (1975). There Nancy sits on a beach with another husband of many years, and it doesn’t take her long to goad him into talking about a past that he doesn’t want to share while she belittles him for taking more risks—risks she probably would have been averse to when she was younger. What Nancy is really talking about, though, is her life. And the bitterness of compromise that is part of life:

Charlie: Well, we’ve earned a little . . .

Nancy: . . . rest. We’ve earned a little rest. Well, why don’t we act like the old folks, why don’t we sell off, and take one bag apiece and go to California, or in the desert where they have the farms—the retirement farms, the old folks’ cities? Why don’t we settle in to waiting, like . . . like the camels that we saw in Egypt—groan down on all fours, sigh, and eat the grass, or whatever it is. Why don’t we go and wait the judgment with our peers? Take our teeth out, throw away our corset, give to the palsy . . . the purgatory before purgatory.

Life as a way station between the worse and the worst. Marriage and security as a holding pattern between many kinds of deaths. I don’t think Albee ever wrote an “out” gay play, though “The Zoo Story” and his 1966 adaptation of James Purdy’s “Malcolm” contain more than their share of homoerotic feeling. But, for me, the gayness was always there—the high-dudgeon witchery of a very smart queen who “read” the world. (One wonders what Albee made of gay marriage.)

Part of Albee’s genius was figuring out ways to bring his brilliant gay talk to an audience that, at the time, may not have known what informed his ice-cold torrent of words against coupling, against convention. But his gay fans knew what was going on. We unearthed Albee’s aesthetic by putting his words in our queer mouths and laughing. Once, long ago, on a trip to Amsterdam with my closest friend, we read aloud from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” over and over again. Calling ourselves George and Martha during the readings was, of course, part of the camp. The names didn’t matter. What did was Albee’s revenge against a world that said George and Martha, in all their awfulness and vindictiveness, were normal, while we weren’t.

Thank You — Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Calling this “the greatest day of my life,” a visibly moved Barack Obama held a news conference on Friday to thank Donald Trump for granting him U.S. citizenship.

“The issue of whether or not I was a U.S. citizen has been a dark cloud over my existence for as long as I can remember,” a tearful Obama told the press corps. “Only one man had the courage, wisdom, and doggedness to make that cloud go away: Donald J. Trump.”

The President, who had to halt several times during his remarks to compose himself, praised the Republican Presidential nominee for “never giving up” in his quest to prove that Obama was born in the U.S.

“A weaker man would have said, ‘I don’t need this in my life,’ but Donald Trump was always there for me,” the President said. “Over the past five years, barely a day went by when he didn’t call me and say, ‘Barack, I don’t care what a bunch of crackpots say. You were born here, and I’m going to prove it once and for all.’ “

The President said he planned to spend the day celebrating his U.S. citizenship with his family. “It’s great to be an American, at last,” he said.

When asked if he had any message for Trump, the President paused for a moment. “Just this: I love you,” he said, a tear trickling down his cheek.

Doonesbury — Welcome aboard Trump Airlines.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Edward Albee — 1928-2016

Alas, we will be planting yet another tree in the playwright’s garden at the Inge Festival next spring. We have lost a great voice of truth and raw humanity.

Edward Albee, widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation, whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth and the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life, died Friday at his home in Montauk, N.Y. He was 88.

His personal assistant, Jakob Holder, confirmed the death. Mr. Holder said he had died after a short illness.

Mr. Albee’s career began after the death of Eugene O’Neill and after Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had produced most of their best-known plays.From them he inherited the torch of American drama, carrying it through the era of Tony Kushner and “Angels in America” and into the 21st century.

He introduced himself suddenly and with a bang, in 1959, when his first produced play, “The Zoo Story,”opened in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” A two-handed one-act that unfolds in real time, “The Zoo Story” zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency, presenting the increasingly menacing intrusion of a probing, querying stranger on a man reading on a Central Park bench.

When the play came to the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village the next year, it helped propel the burgeoning theater movement that became known as Off Broadway.

In 1962, Mr. Albee’s Broadway debut, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, the famously scabrous portrait of a withered marriage, won a Tony Award for best play, ran for more than a year and half and enthralled and shocked theatergoers with its depiction of stifling academia and of a couple whose relationship has been corroded by dashed hopes, wounding recriminations and drink.

Edward Albee was the honoree at the William Inge Festival in 1991, my first year there.  I was sitting in the lobby of the Apple Tree Inn on the first morning of the festival and in he walked in a sweatsuit; he’d been out for a walk or a jog.  I nervously introduced myself and he smiled and sat down on the couch next to me.  I have no idea what we talked about; I was still in shock that I was sitting in a hotel lobby in the middle of Kansas chatting with one of the most important writers of the 20th century.  We chatted for a few minutes, then he patted me on the thigh and went back to his room.

Just about everyone knows “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” because of the film with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but the play in its immediacy and brutality works best on the stage when you can’t look away or change the channel.  His other works — “The Zoo Story,” “A Delicate Balance,” “Three Tall Women,” and his short pieces — are just as honest and tightly wound.  Albee never used a paragraph where a word would do, and he used them to define his characters and places with exacting detail.

I know a lot of playwrights of my generation see him as a mentor and an inspiration even if they do not see the world as he did.  I admired him when I was learning about writing plays, and to this day I still read his works with awe.  I followed a different path in my writing, but I think that’s one thing I learned from his works: we are on our own with our own thoughts, and find our own way to share them.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fifth of July

Fifth of July is not just a date, it’s a play by Lanford Wilson. It opened off-Broadway in 1978, then, after some revision, on Broadway in 1980. It’s also the play that was the starting point of my doctoral studies and the subject of my doctoral thesis in 1988.

In 1985 I directed a production of the play at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder with a great cast.

Fifth of July Nomads March 1985

The cast of Fifth of July at Nomads Theatre, Boulder, Colorado, March 1985

In the course of my studies I became friends with Mr. Wilson, and the director of the productions, Marshall W. Mason. So ever since then, I have marked the 5th of July as a special day for me and my love of theatre.

“Matt didn’t believe in death and I don’t either…. There’s no such thing. It goes on and then it stops. You can’t worry about the stopping, you have to worry about the going on.” – Sally Talley, Fifth of July.

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