Brecht anti-Hitler play Arturo Ui on stage


This video from the USA says about itself:

8 April 2017

Performed by Colorado State University‘s Department of Theatre students. Directed by Walt Jones. WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE CONTENT.

Bertolt Brecht’s shudderingly accurate parallel between Hitler and his henchmen on the one hand, and the old crime lords of Chicago on the other, is a vigorous eye opener that was produced on Broadway with Christopher Plummer. The Cauliflower Trust in Chicago is in need of help and turns to a racketeer by the name of Arturo Ui to begin a “protection” campaign. His henchmen look astonishingly like Goebbels and Göring. Their activities include “accidental” fires and a St. Valentine’s Day massacre.

The performance was recorded by the RAMProductions student live event production team. RAMProductions was created by the Department of Journalism and Media Communication at Colorado State University with support from Campus Television (CTV), the College of Liberal Arts, and CSU External Relations.

By David Walsh in the USA:

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui: Bertolt Brecht’s parable play about the rise of Hitler

17 October 2017

Left-wing German dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a parable play about the political ascension of Adolf Hitler, was staged this month by the Department of Theatre and Drama at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Brecht, a refugee from Nazi Germany, wrote the play in several weeks in March and April 1941 while he was in Finland, awaiting a visa for the US. Arturo Ui was not produced until 1958, two years after Brecht’s death, and not in English until 1961—although it was originally intended for the American stage.

The Ann Arbor production took considerable and conscientious care with Brecht’s play and its concerns. The present world situation and the situation in the US in particular were clearly on the minds of the director, Malcolm Tulip, Assistant Professor of Theatre, and the student-actors.

The satirical play creates a parallel between the career of the Nazi leader and the rise of a fictional Chicago gangster, Arturo Ui. In a note in his journal for March 10, 1941, Brecht observed that he was “thinking of the American theatre, again struck by the idea I once had in New York, of writing a gangster play, that would recall certain events familiar to us all (the gangster play we know).” The latter of course referred to the career and coming to power of Hitler.

Although the play—divided into 15 scenes, a prologue and an epilogue—is designed to bring to mind specific historical events, the dramatist took pains to give “the ‘masking’ (which is an unmasking) some life of its own, i.e., it must … also work independently of its topical references,” otherwise “people would constantly be looking for the ‘meaning’ of this or that move, and would always be looking for the real-life model for every figure.”

Brecht succeeded to a considerable degree, although Nazism and Germany are never far from view, nor intended to be.

The play follows the efforts of Ui, a thug down on his luck, to worm his way into and eventually dominate the vegetable trade in Chicago, and beyond. Times are hard for the “cauliflower trust,” a group of businessmen (Flake, Caruther, Butcher, Mulberry and Clark). “It looks as if Chicago/The dear old girl, while on her way to market/Had found her pocket torn and now she’s starting/To scrabble in the gutter for her pennies.”

The trust members succeed in getting the widely respected—but corrupt—businessman, Dogsborough (“The good old honest Dogsborough!/His hair is white, his heart is black”), to help obtain a loan for their business from city hall. Arturo Ui uses his knowledge of the illicit practices to make a deal with Dogsborough: Ui and his men will shield Dogsborough from an investigation, and the latter will protect the gangsters from the local police.

Once he has taken over the vegetable trade in Chicago, and rubbed out a malcontent in his own ranks, Ernesto Roma, in an evocation of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, Ui sets his sights on Cicero. Ui has journalist Ignatius Dullfeet murdered, out of fear of his muckraking articles, and proceeds to woo Dullfeet’s widow, Betty (“Now you stand defenceless/In a cold world where, sad to say, the weak/Are always trampled. You’ve got only one/Protector left. That’s me, Arturo Ui.”).

Having won out in Cicero, Ui has plans to expand rapidly his operations all over the country:

“Peace in Chicago’s vegetable trade
Has ceased to be a dream. Today it is
Unvarnished reality. And to secure
This peace I have put in an order
For more machine-guns, rubber truncheons
Etcetera. For Chicago and Cicero
Are not alone in clamouring for protection.
There are other cities: Washington and Milwaukee!
Detroit! Toledo! Pittsburgh! Cincinnati!
And other towns were vegetables are traded!
Philadelphia! Columbus! Charleston! And New York!
They all demand protection! And no ‘Phooey!’
No ‘That’s not nice!’ will stop Arturo Ui!”

If Ui corresponds to Hitler, his henchmen Giuseppe Givola, Emanuele Giri and Ernesto Roma suggest Nazi leaders Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Göring and Ernst Röhm (murdered on Hitler’s orders in the Night of the Long Knives in 1934), respectively. Dogsborough stands in for President Paul von Hindenburg, who appointed Hitler chancellor of Germany in January 1933, and Dullfeet represents Engelbert Dollfuss, the right-wing Austrian chancellor assassinated by Nazi agents in July 1934.

The plays also includes an episode that alludes to the notorious Reichstag fire, the “terrorist” arson attack on the German parliament in February 1933 that the Hitler regime used as a pretext to institute dictatorial measures and carry out mass arrests of Communist Party members.

Its rich, captivating language is one of Arturo Ui ’s great strengths. As Stephen Parker in his recent biography of Brecht notes, “There are echoes of Shakespeare’s Richard III and Julius Caesar, and of Goethe’s Faust, as well as of Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator. Brecht’s use of roughly hewn blank verse in the grand style of the verse drama brilliantly counterpoints the sordid content of the dialogue.”

At any rate, the savage irony of gangsters declaiming in high-flown fashion, while plotting arson and murder, is only a slightly exaggerated and “unmasked” expression of the everyday reality of bourgeois political life, especially in our day.

It is all very amusing and very sinister at the same time, including the scene in which a second-rate actor tutors Ui on how to walk, stand, sit and speak (based on an actual incident). The scene concludes with Ui reciting Mark Antony’s speech over Caesar’s body in Julius Caesar, “a model of demagogy.”

The play makes a strong impression, much stronger, in my view, than the works of that period for which Brecht is far better known, Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and her Children, The Good Person of Szechwan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle, all of which suffer from political discouragement and an artistically pat and ultimately unconvincing approach. Arturo Ui is something of a revival of the sort of bitter, lively satire to be found in Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1929-31) and other earlier works.

The epilogue, spoken by the actor who plays Ui, is powerful and memorable (in any of the various translations):

“Therefore learn how to see and not to gape
To act instead of taking all day long
The world was almost won by such an ape!
The nations put him where his kind belong.
But don’t rejoice too soon at your escape
The womb he crawled from is still going strong.”

In the recent Ann Arbor production of Arturo Ui the décor was minimal, with few props or concrete references to Chicago or Germany. “We’re putting canvas on the floor,” director Malcolm Tulip told journalist Hugh Gallagher. “Brecht loved the idea of theater being like a boxing ring.”

The actors, all in white face, threw themselves into the work. Clearly, the present political and social conjuncture was a factor. Tulip told Gallagher, according to the latter, that “last year’s presidential campaign rhetoric made Brecht’s play appropriate for the times and the early stages of Trump’s administration have only increased the play’s immediacy.”

The director himself explained: “When Charlottesville happened, it was really out there with the Nazi symbols, the far-right symbols, it became more and more relevant. … People say, ‘Well, you’re doing this because of Trump,’ and I say, ‘No. We’re doing the play because we’re asking the question ‘how does a mass of people put a person in power when that person might not work in the best interests of the mass of people?’ I think Brecht was looking at that, too. It wasn’t just about Hitler but about the people who put Hitler in power.”

Jesse Aaronson, who does an excellent job as Ui, told the same journalist, “I spent a lot of the summer researching Hitler … I read parts of Mein Kampf, which was very difficult reading—one, because it’s poorly written; the translation I read focused on how Hitler wrote it, which was mad scrawlings.”

Aaronson added, “With Hitler, you can’t pass him off as a madman. … He was very successful, he had the support of the people most of the time, and figuring out why that happened and how it happened has been a really interesting part of the process for me.”

“He was going to make Germany great again, he was the original make-the-country-great-again, he really was. … He toured the country and said to the people, ‘I’m the guy for you.’” Aaronson wears a long red tie at one point.

The recognition of the threat represented by Donald Trump, Steven Bannon and the extreme right is entirely legitimate, and it is critical that students and young people are turning to a study of the historical issues and parallels.

However, the allusion to Hitler’s popularity and similar views underscore weaknesses in Brecht’s play and political standpoint.

When he portrays the support of big business for Hitler and the cowardly response or complicity of petty bourgeois layers, Brecht was on the mark. However, when the playwright moralized, “The play is not so much an attack on Hitler, but rather upon the complacency of the people who were able to resist him, but didn’t,” he was leaving out the decisive issue: the role of the parties that supposedly represented the German working class and were charged with defeating fascism through the socialist transformation of society. Hitler was only able to come to power through the bankruptcy, impotence and betrayals of those organizations.

Hitler’s horrible rise was indeed “resistible,” but Brecht’s remarkable play provides only a portion of the answer as to who was responsible for its coming to pass.

Anthony Scaramucci’s new media organization is sparking outrage for a poll question asking readers how many Jews they thought had been murdered during the Holocaust. Tweeters accused The Scaramucci Post, which President Donald Trump’s former communications director launched in September, of pandering to Holocaust deniers by asking its 24,000-plus Twitter followers this question on Tuesday morning: here.

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African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry, new film


This 8 September 2017 video from the USA is called Sighted Eye/Feeling Heart – Official Trailer.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry

4 October 2017

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart

Tracy Heather Strain’s new documentary Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart chronicles the life of African-American writer Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), famed author of A Raisin in the Sun, a play about black working class life in Chicago in the 1950s. Strain’s movie takes its title from Hansberry’s contention that “one cannot live with sighted eyes and feeling heart and not know or react to the miseries which afflict this world.”

Filmmaker Strain was the coordinating producer for the 2016 documentary, The Mine Wars/American Experience, about the West Virginia coal miners’ uprisings in the early 20th century.

Lorraine Hansberry was politically and artistically influenced by and personally knew historian W.E.B. Dubois, singer Paul Robeson and poet Langston Hughes among other significant African American intellectuals. The title of A Raisin in the Sun comes from Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred,” in which he asks, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun, Or does it explode?”

Strain’s documentary combines fascinating archival material and interview footage of Hansberry, as well as Anika Noni Rose’s reading of Hansberry’s words. It presents a straightforward and enlightening picture of a woman who was smart, sensitive and rebellious, tragically dying of pancreatic cancer at the age of 34.

Hansberry was born in Chicago during the Great Depression. When her family moved to a “hellishly hostile white neighborhood”, her father became involved in a battle to end restrictive housing covenants that prohibited the sale of houses to African Americans, Jews and others.

At the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s, Lorraine Hansberry joined the Communist Party, through the medium of the Henry Wallace campaign. Moving to New York City, Hansberry then worked for Paul Robeson’s magazine, Freedom. In 1953, she met songwriter and activist Robert Nemiroff on a picket line in New York, and they soon married. (Nemiroff co-wrote the song “Cindy, Oh Cindy,” famously recorded by Eddie Fisher in the 1950s). The couple divorced in 1962, and Hansberry later became an activist for gay rights.

Debuting on Broadway in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun made Hansberry, at age 29, the youngest American and the first black playwright to win the Best Play of the Year Award from the New York Drama Critics. A film version of the play was released in 1961, featuring its original Broadway cast of Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Louis Gossett, Jr., among others.

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart does not shy away from the fact that Hansberry, like other black artists, such as Robeson, novelist Richard Wright, singer-actor Harry Belafonte, Dee and Hughes, turned to the Communist Party, seeing the fight against racism as part of the fight against capitalism.

That A Raisin in the Sun was not an exclusivist work, that it was intended to illuminate the lives of working people of all races and ethnicities, helped account for its wide popular appeal.

“Mama: Oh—So now it’s life. Money is life. Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change. . .

Walter: No—it was always money, Mama. We just didn’t know about it.” (A Raisin in the Sun)

According to director Strain, Hansberry was influenced, among other works, by Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock (1924), a play about the Dublin slums during the Irish civil war in 1922. Hansberry’s play is humane and sincere. If it does not rise to the dramatic heights of O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock or The Plough and the Stars (1926), the stagnant, conformist atmosphere in the US has a great deal to do with it.

Interestingly, Hansberry’s friend, singer Nina Simone, quipped that when she and the writer got together, “It was always about Marx, Lenin and revolution—typical girl talk.” In his memoirs, another friend, Belafonte, states that in his early years, he moved in circles of “socialists and communists [who] embraced the working class as the bedrock of a new political order.” Notably, on June 18, 1953, on the eve of their marriage, Hansberry and Nemiroff were picketing the Chicago Federal Building against the execution scheduled for the following day of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Communist Party members who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union.

Hansberry once wrote: “A status not freely chosen or entered into by an individual or a group is necessarily one of oppression and the oppressed are by their nature (i.e., oppressed) forever in ferment and agitation against their condition and what they understand to be their oppressors. If not by overt rebellion or revolution, then in the thousand and one ways they will devise with and without consciousness to alter their condition.”

It is not clear when Hansberry left the Communist Party. In an interview with Harold Isaacs, she apparently told him that she “had quietly left in the late 1950s.” FBI spies concluded that Hansberry had quit the party before its 1957 convention. …

Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart includes a video clip of the 1963 meeting between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Hansberry, Belafonte, James Baldwin and other civil rights activists, which ended with Hansberry’s walkout. The documentary does not mention that after the meeting Kennedy ordered FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to increase the surveillance on Baldwin and several others. One of the results was an FBI report labeling the gay Baldwin a “pervert” and “communist.”

A few citations from A Raisin in the Sun may help shed light on Hansberry’s political thinking and her general view of life. The universality of her concerns is expressed in lines such as these: “I’m just tired of hearing about God all the time. What has He got to do with anything?… I’m not going to be immoral or commit crimes because I don’t believe. I don’t even think about that. I just get so tired of Him getting the credit for things the human race achieves through its own effort. Now, there simply is no God. There’s only man. And it’s he who makes miracles.”

Or this passage that speaks to the question of class: “Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the ‘tooken.’ I’ve figured it out finally. Yeah. Some of us always getting ‘tooken.’”

… Tracy Heather Strain’s Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart provides a valuable examination of a remarkable, courageous woman who fought against the existing social order on the grounds that “an oppressive society oppresses everyone.”

In a 1988 introduction to A Raisin in the Sun, Nemiroff wrote that the play “will remain no less pertinent. For at the deepest level it is not a specific situation but the human condition, human aspiration, and human relationships—the persistence of dreams, of the bonds and conflicts between men and women, parents and children, old ways and new, and the endless struggle against human oppression, whatever the forms it may take, and for individual fulfillment, recognition, and liberation—that are at the heart of such plays. It is not surprising therefore that in each generation we recognize ourselves in them anew.”

Theatre and dance in Den Bosch city


This June 2017 video is a trailer for the Boulevard theatre festival, 3-13 August 2017 in Den Bosch city in the Netherlands.

After we had arrived in Den Bosch on 10 August, we went to that festival.

First, we went to Eendje (Duckling), a solo play by actress Kim van Zeben.

Kim van Zeben with duckling, 10 August 2017

This photo shows Ms van Zeben during her 10 August Den Bosch performance. A cell phone photo, like the other Den Bosch one in this blog post.

The play Eendje is inspired by the fairy tale The Ugly Duckling, by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

But it differs: in The Ugly Duckling a duck family hates one duckling because it is different: bigger and whiter than the others. In a happy end, the ‘ugly’ duckling grows up to be a beautiful swan.

In the play Eendje, a duck family (especially the mother) hates one duckling for being different as well. Not because of looks, but because that duckling does not like bread and would like to live in a house.

In Eendje, Kim van Zeben plays the role of Pia, a radio journalist, doing interviews with humans and, in this case, with the duck Dobber. As a ventriloquist, Ms van Zeben plays the six other roles (dolls) as well: duckling Dobber; its conformist mother; Theo, a sewer rat; a human housing bureaucrat; a guitar playing cat and a chicken.

After a quarrel, Dobber swims away from its family and lands in a sewer. It hates the faeces and urine there. Theo the rat living there likes shit and piss, and drives Dobber away for not liking it.

Dobber asks the human bureaucracy if it can get a house. The duck then has to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of various questions and tasks. The last, decisive, task is: can Dobber ring a doorbell? Dobber tries, but the bell is much too high. Then, Dobber remembers being a bird. It flies up to the bell and rings it. ‘Now, I surely qualify to get a house?’ No, says the bureaucrat, you have flown. Humans cannot fly. So, you are not human and don’t have the right to live in a house. Sad, Dobber has to go away again.

Then, Dobber meets a cat which tries to eat the duck. However, when Dobber talks about being a unusual, nonconformist duck, the cat stops being aggressive. As the cat is unusual and nonconformist as well, being able to play heavy metal music on a guitar. The cat’s girlfriend is a chicken. ‘How ridiculous, a chicken and a cat as a couple’, Dobber says. ‘No, not ridiculous at all’, the cat says. ‘Remember what you yourself went through. It is OK to be different’.

Now, Dobber really understands diversity, and discovers how to live a happy life. The duck can go back to its native wetland; and, as well, build a house there to live in.

After we came out of the tent where Ms van Zeben had performed, we were on the main theatre festival ground.

Boulevard theatre festival, 10 August 2017

Next, we went to a performance by the five dancers of MAN||CO.

This video announces their new thirty minute show The Winner Takes It All; which we saw. It is modern dance with also some spoken word (in English, about a president). Its theme is power, and how it may lead to militarism and oppression. With a hint in the show to, eg, Donald Trump.

Then, we went by bus from the city to the countryside, for a performance of Hallo Dampkring (Hello Atmosphere), by children’s theatre company Artemis.

Hallo Dampkring

The theme of the play is global warming. The text is based on letters about that by children from Terschelling island and the Den Bosch area. It is in the form of a Roman Catholic Requiem. Six children are the actors. The audience sings along in some parts.

The open air stands were full of spectators, who applauded much.

Flint, USA poisoned water in Ibsen theatre play


Theatre director Purni Morell

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Theater professionals address the Flint water disaster

Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s classic play: A remarkable artistic event

15 June 2017

Written, directed and produced by Purni Morell, based on An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

A remarkable cultural event took place last week in the devastated city of Flint, Michigan, whose 100,000 inhabitants have been systematically poisoned with dangerous amounts of lead and other deadly contaminants.

Actors from across the US, assisted by a British writer-director, performed Public Enemy: Flint, an adaptation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People, on June 8, 9, and 10 in the gymnasium of a former school.

Ibsen’s famed work concerns a doctor, Thomas Stockmann, who tries to warn the local authorities—including his brother, the mayor—about water contamination problems and is persecuted for his discoveries. Parallels to the present catastrophe in Flint are striking, and hundreds of residents from the city and surrounding area responded enthusiastically to the performances.

British theater directors Purni Morell and Christian Roe learned about the Flint water crisis in January 2016, while touring the US. In an interview, Morell explained to a reporter: “It’s not about doing a play about a water crisis in a city experiencing a water crisis—it’s about the underlying issues, like what made the water crisis possible in the first place. In the play, as in Flint, the water is a symptom of a bigger problem, and I think that needs to be investigated because it affects all of us, not just the city of Flint.”

Morell’s version follows the general outline of Ibsen’s play. Dr. Heather Stockman has ascertained through laboratory tests that the water in the town’s economic “salvation,” its Wellness Resort, owned by Mineralcorp, is contaminated with lethal chemicals and carcinogens.

Stockman tells the newspaper editor Oscar Hofford: “I mean contaminated, Hofford. Polluted. Impure. Mercury, in high proportions, chloroform off the scale—that means legionella; copper levels way too high…I’m saying the Wellness Resort is a danger to public health. Anyone who uses the water is endangering himself.” It turns out, she explains, that an industrial plant upriver is “seeping chemicals into the groundwater. And that groundwater is the same groundwater that feeds the pipes into the pump room.”

Hofford, at this point supportive of Stockman’s exposé, thinks the contamination speaks to broader issues: “What if the water isn’t the problem, but only a symptom of the problem?… I think this is the perfect opportunity to talk about what’s really going on. The vested interests, the—well, maybe not corruption exactly, but the system, Heather—the system that means these people can do whatever they like without any comeback.”

Audience members in Flint

The newspaper’s publisher, Stephanie Anderson (Ibsen’s Aslaksen), representing the city’s small business concerns, makes an appearance. The embodiment of petty bourgeois philistinism, Anderson’s watchword is “moderation” in all things. As a founding member of the Homeowners’ Association and the Temperance Club, she informs Stockman that the “resort is the backbone of our enterprise…Especially for the property owners.”

Anderson too is initially supportive of Stockman’s revelations, even suggesting that the doctor be recognized for her “contribution to the city’s welfare.”

Everything changes when Stockman’s brother Peter, the mayor, outraged by word of the doctor’s findings, bursts in and demands that the truth be suppressed to protect Mineralcorp’s interests. He claims that re-laying the pipes, to avoid the contaminated water, will cost $7 million and mean closing the resort for at least two years. “Do you have any idea, any idea at all, what this means? … This would finish us. We close the resort, everyone else capitalises on our idea, and in three years’ time, when, if, we reopen it again, this city will face ruin. And it’ll be your fault.”

In Ibsen’s play, Act IV is entirely taken up by a public meeting at which Stockmann denounces town officials and imparts “a discovery of a far wider scope than the trifling matter that our water supply is poisoned … the discovery that all the sources of our moral life are poisoned and that the whole fabric of our civic community is founded on the pestiferous soil of falsehood.” He passes on from that insight to a misguided conception, the defense of “isolated, intellectually superior personalities” and the notion that the “majority never has right on its side.”

In the Morell-Flint adaptation, the director and actors have decided to turn over this portion of the play to a genuine public meeting.

Tyee Tilghman (Horster)

Tyee Tilghman, the actor playing Jim Horster, a soldier who faces deployment to Mosul in Iraq, addresses the audience directly: “What we’re going to do now is change things up a little bit because in the next scene in the play, there’s a town meeting and what normally happens in it is that Stockman tells the people in the town about the water problem, and they call him an enemy of the people because they don’t want to hear about it—but we thought it would be more interesting to do this a different way, since we’re here and you’re here, and so we thought we’d set up a little town hall of our own.”

This prompted audience members of all ages, children, teenagers and adults, to discuss their appalling and inhuman conditions. One man described having to lug endless cases of water up flights of stairs. Some audience members reported owning houses that were literally crumbling. Others bitterly denounced the bullying of the authorities, who threaten to take their homes and even their children. Still others recounted how they had received water bills higher than their mortgages, and how the homes of protesters had been broken into by police who confiscated computers. Angry residents explained how they contracted health problems and even debilitating diseases from the poisoned water.

All of this was reinforced by the fact that signs in the restrooms alerted users not to wash their hands with water from the taps! Cases of canned water were stacked against the wall.

Sign in the restroom warns against using tap water to wash hands

When Public Enemy: Flint resumes, Dr. Stockman and her daughter, Petra, a teacher, both lose their jobs. Moreover, Stockman’s mother-in-law, Eleanor, the owner of the polluting plant, threatens the doctor and her daughter with financial disenfranchisement and destitution. Stockman lashes back at “hypocrites” like Anderson, with her “cheap, small-town flimflam,” and the townspeople themselves.

Petra has the final word: “This town is fine—it’s no better or worse than anywhere else. OK, there are things you can’t fix—you can’t fix that people with money can buy their way out of problems, and you can’t fix that some people care more about their position than what’s right—maybe you can’t even fix the water.

“I think you’re wrong about people, Mom. You said people get the government they deserve but I think people get the government government can get away with. And the government gets away with a lot, not because people are poor or because people are stupid—but because for years, for decades, we’ve eroded our schools, we’ve failed to educate our youth, we’ve failed to invest in ourselves as people.”

And she mentions that like her counterpart in Ibsen’s play, a work now 130 years old, she will start a school.

Public Enemy: Flint is a highly unusual confluence of a classic play, committed, talented actors and a motivated and engaged audience. It is proof, if proof be needed, that art is not something detached from social life. Important, enduring art by definition is work that does not remain indifferent to the crises and convulsions of its time. From that point of view, this modest three-day presentation, staged in a gym, was one of the most significant theatrical efforts in the US in recent years. The participants in the production, which was serious and thoroughly professional throughout, deserve the strongest congratulations and thanks.

The central role of Dr. Stockman was exceptionally performed by Los Angeles-based actress Michole Briana White. She was supported by an outstanding cast that included Charles Shaw Robinson from Berkeley, California as Peter Stockman, Madelyn Porter from Detroit as Stephanie Anderson, Briana Carlson Goodman from New York as Petra, Tilghman from Los Angeles as Horster, Meg Thalken from Chicago as Eleanor and Chris Young from Flint as Billing.

Public Enemy: Flint was the creation of British theater company fieldwork, in collaboration with Detroit Public Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, the Goodman Theatre (Chicago), Chautauqua Theater Company (New York), Berkeley Repertory Theater, People’s Light (Philadelphia), UM-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance, M.A.D.E. Institute, & the New McCree Theater, Flint.

Morell’s adaptation honored Ibsen’s play while eliminating its more elitist tendencies. The latter had a great deal to do with the situation in Norway in the 1880s, where, as Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov once explained, “a working class, in the present sense of the term, had not yet developed … and was, therefore, nowhere evident in public life.”

Plekhanov pays strong tribute to Ibsen’s social insight and instincts, in particular the dramatist’s abhorrence of the crude, grasping petty bourgeoisie. The Norwegian writer, observes Plekhanov, despises the “moral rottenness and hypocrisy of small town society and politics” and “the boundless tyranny of petty bourgeois public opinion.” He notes that “Ibsen hates opportunism with all his soul; he describes it brilliantly in his plays. Recall the printer Aslaksen [Anderson, in Morell’s play], with his incessant preaching of ‘moderation,’ which, in his own words, ‘is the greatest virtue in a citizen—at least, I think so.’ Aslaksen is the epitome of the petty bourgeois politician.”

The play’s passion and outrage continue to speak to present-day audiences, not least of all in Flint, whose working-class residents are the victims of corporate predation and government indifference or worse. In fact, when the mayor in Public Enemy: Flint proclaims that “the public doesn’t need new ideas; what the public needs is good, strong, time-tested method, not hare-brained theories that turn the world upside down,” one is tempted to shout out that the world, above all, needs to be turned upside down.

The corporate and right-wing attacks on the production of Julius Caesar by the Public Theater, part of the annual free Shakespeare in the Park season in New York City’s Central Park, illustrate the danger of artistic censorship and more generally that of authoritarianism posed by the Trump administration: here.

Once again thousands of residents in the city of Flint are being threatened with home foreclosures for failing or refusing to pay for water, which is still tainted with lead and other toxins. On Tuesday, an unelected financial board voted unanimously to overturn a temporary moratorium, paving the way for the city to issue tax liens on the homes of 8,000 residents who could then face home foreclosures: here.

Banks, bondholders driving the legal conflict over Flint’s water supply: here.

IF YOU USE LOUISIANA TAP WATER Don’t get it up your nose if you live in these two parishes in the state, health officials warned after the water systems tested positive for a brain-eating amoeba.  [HuffPost]

Jewish Dutch poet Jacob Israël de Haan, theatre play


This February 2017 video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Salaam Jeruzalem, by theatre organisation De Nieuw Amsterdam, about Jewish Dutch author Jacob Israël de Haan.

On 25 March 2017 I went to see this play in Leiden.

Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924) was from an Orthodox Jewish family. He broke with that religion and became a socialist journalist. In 1903, he collected money for the children of railway workers who had been sacked because they had gone on strike. He was also a gay rights pioneer, writing novels like Pijpelijntjes. He is seen as a predecessor of Amnesty International. Because of his activity, inspired by a meeting with exiled Russian anarchist Kropotkin, against human rights abuses in pre-World War I czarist Russian prisons; jointly with socialist poetess Henriette Roland Holst.

De Haan himself wrote poetry as well.

This video shows some of his 1919-1924 poems.

He had contacts in the Dutch literary avant-garde around De Nieuwe Gids magazine. And he wrote works about laws; he was a Legum Doctor.

De Haan’s experiences in czarist Russia made him aware of the evils of anti-Semitism. That contributed to De Haan’s re-conversion to Judaism. He also became a Zionist. In 1919 he emigrated to Palestine, then a British colony.

In the video at the top of this blog post, one of De Haan’s poems, written in Palestine, is recited. It is (my translation):

Unrest

Who in Amsterdam often said, “Jerusalem”
And was driven to Jerusalem,
He now says with a dreamy voice:
“Amsterdam. Amsterdam.”

As the poem shows, De Haan had become ambivalent about emigrating from Amsterdam. Zionism as practiced in Palestine turned out to be different from De Haan’s lofty ideals when he had been in Amsterdam. De Haan became an advocate of negotiating with Palestinian Arabs so that Jews and Arabs might live together peacefully.

That made him an enemy of the Zionist paramilitary organisation Haganah. On 13 June 1924, Haganah fighter Avraham Tehomi murdered De Haan, as ordered by Haganah commander Itzhak Ben-Zvi (later the second president of the state of Israel). A crowd of 5,000 people attended De Haan’s funeral in Jerusalem.

Left Zionist Moshe Beilinson reacted to the murder:

The flag of our movement must not be tarnished. Neither by the blood of the innocent, nor by the blood of the guilty. Otherwise – our movement will be bad, because blood draws other bloods. Blood always takes revenge and if you walk down this path once, you do not know where it would lead you.

A line from a De Haan poem is inscribed in the monument in Amsterdam for LGBTQ people murdered by the 1940-1945 German nazi occupiers of the Netherlands. The line is ‘Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen’; ‘Such a boundless desire for friendship’.

A review of the play is here. Another review is here. And here.

There are five actors in the play. Two of them play Arab music. Egyptian Dutch actor Sabri Saad El Hamus plays both De Haan and, at the end, an Arab singer. Ludo van der Winkel plays the cynical antagonists of De Haan; like Arnold Aletrino (named in the play only by his pseudonym Sam from De Haan’s gay novel Pijpelijntjes), the older fellow author who betrayed Jacob Israel when Pijpelijntjes caused a scandal in homophobic public opinion. And P.L. Tak (named in the play), newspaper chief who sacked De Haan because of Pijpelijntjes.

Randy Fokke plays both De Haan’s wife and Carry van Bruggen, De Haan’s sister and also a famous Dutch author. Carry van Bruggen never got over the murder of her one year younger brother.

This English language video is about De Haan.

In the play, by Dutch playwright and director Gerardjan Rijnders, there are several allusions to happenings after the death of De Haan; including recent ones. When talking about De Haan joining the marxist Dutch Social Democratic Workers’ Party, actors say: ‘the predecessor of the Dutch PvdA labour party … or what is left of it’. In the recent 15 March 2017 Dutch elections, the PvdA went from 38 to 9 MPs because they had been junior partners in a right-wing coalition government. The play also mentions French playwright Jean Genet’s solidarity with Palestinians in the 1980s. This is followed by a xenophobic, Geert Wilders-like rant by Ludo van der Winkel.

The play includes a theory about right and left halves of the human brain, supposedly linked to the origins of religions. It is unclear what this has to do with De Haan. I think it is one of the weak sides of this interesting play about an interesting person.

Ancient Aeschylus play and today’s refugees


This video from Scotland says about itself:

29 September 2016

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Actors Touring Company Present

THE SUPPLIANT WOMEN

by Aeschylus, in a new version by David Greig.

1 – 15 October 2016 at The Lyceum and then touring.

The creative team talk about staging this 2500 year old play that feels more relevant than ever, working with a community chorus and combining ancient and contemporary music….

Learn more about the play here.

By Paul Foley in England:

Women begging immediate attention

Tuesday 21st March 2017

Written almost 2,500 years ago, a drama on the migrants’ plight is a play for today if ever there was one, says PAUL FOLEY

The Suppliant Women

Royal Exchange, Manchester

5/5

THIRTY-FIVE women, fists defiantly aloft, chant: “Power to women!” The lights snap off and the theatre erupts with cheers.

As endings go, they don’t come much better than this and David Greig’s scintillating adaptation of Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women deserves that audience response.

In it, migrant women risk everything as they cross treacherous seas before washing up on Greek shores. Fleeing forced marriage, incest and rape, they seek asylum. As the women enter at the opening, suppliant batons in hand, they chant and move as in some native American ritual dance. Their fear is palpable but their pride is intact.

“To act or not to act” is the dilemma facing The King of Argos. Protecting these migrant women will lead to war but fail them and Argos will be shamed for ever. His solution is to rely on democracy and let the people decide.

On the eve of the vote, the women are reminded that as migrants they will be feared and mistrusted. They must remain meek and respectful so that the people — and we — can see the merits of their cause.

Ramin Gray’s spellbinding production for the Actors Touring Company, aided by Sasha Milavic Davies’s choreography and John Browne’s music, has 35 women — all volunteers from the local community — making the case on behalf of refugees around the world, with Gemma May superb as the ringleader corralling her sisters.

Aeschylus inverts the normal Greek dramatic tradition by putting the chorus, usually a device to drive the narrative forward, centre stage. But here it is itself the story, with the main protagonists merely on the periphery.

Moving to the rhythm of the sea, they sway back and forth like hypnotised snakes as they dance to the haunting sounds of Callum Armstrong’s Aulos pipes.

Then, suddenly, they’re whipped into a frenzy, as if an ill-wind is tossing them into a vortex of doom.

In a world where scapegoating migrants and refugees escaping poverty and war is the norm in some quarters, Aeschylus reminds us of our common humanity.

Highly recommended. Runs until April 1, box office: royalexchange.co.uk.