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‘The Bedwetter’ a Hysterical and Meaningful Sarah Silverman Romp

Zoe Glick in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Sarah Silverman is a legendary comic and she may have been born with a funny bone. But how did she morph into the talented comedian who has a musical production about her early life, playing eight times a week at the Atlantic Theater Company? We discover the inspirations that planted the seeds comedicsuccess in the very humorous, irreverent pop music show The Bedwetter. Based on Silverman’s memoir The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, the theater adaptation highlights the most important year of Sarah Silverman’s life, a year that intimated the possible future success Silverman would offer in her unique comic grist.

(L to R): Zoe Glick, Emily Zimmerman in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

With book by Joshua Harmon and Sarah Silverman, lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and Sarah Silverman, music by Adam Schlesinger, choreographed by Byron Easley with creative consultation by David Yazbek, The Bedwetter is a hoot. Also, it is ironically woven with themes about divorce, mental illness, childhood angst and dysfunctional families. The two act musical briskly unfolds via the comical and exuberant perspective of precocious, potty-mouth Sarah played by the uber talented and sharply focused Zoe Glick.

Ashley Blanchet in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Glick is a wunderkind. Her pacing, nasal singing voice and edgy delivery reveal she is a natural. She portrays Sarah as a loving, exhausting, “in-your-face, quick-witted love bug who goes through a series of disastrous events at the worst time in her life. The momentous problems occur at the formative age of ten-years-old when she has to go through her parent’s divorce, her mother’s increasing depression, her father’s philandering with most of the moms in town, and a move which forces her to attend a different middle school where she has no friends.

(L to R): Margot Weintraub, Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis, Zoe Glick, Charlotte MacLeod in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Though she manages to face these cataclysms with the help of her alcoholic Nana played by the inimitable Bebe Neuwirth in a wonderful turn, there is one issue which is insurmountable. She is a bedwetter. The secret remains among family and perhaps former friends, however, it cramps her style with making new acquaintances. Not only is she embarrassed because she is “too old” to wet the bed, her terrible debility infantalizes her. Thus, she feels inferior and demeaned by a condition she can’t control. The opening number (which also closes the show in a beautifully made sandwich) “Betterwetter” encapsulates all of her issues. Glick sings it with zing, verve and joy.

Bebe Neuwirth, Zoe Glick in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Interestingly, wetting the bed at her age, we note, must be related to her parents’ divorce, the move and inner stress. And then we discover that it is genetic. Her father Donald (the humorous Darren Goldstein who rocks many women’s boats) also wet the bed. However, as he enjoys reminding her, he did grow out of it. Sarah wonders when that wonderful occasion will happen in her life to end the emotionally painful stigma.

Ellyn Marie March (center) (L to R): Charlotte MacLeod, Zoe Glick, Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis, Margot Weintraub in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

As we follow Sarah who introduces us to her family, we meet her sister Laura (Emily Zimmerman) who disowns her in school and puts up with her at home, decrying she doesn’t know who she is and how she is a part of the family. Interestingly, in Act II, Laura’s approach changes after Sarah’s life takes nullifying downturn. And when Nana has to be hospitalized, the Laura softens her attitude toward Sarah. Then the sisters unite and become close again. As Laura, Emily Zimmerman works the transformation from annoyances to hypocrisies to fear and concern for Sarah in a fine and authentic acting and singing performance.

Zoe Glick, Rick Crom in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Sarah’s mother Beth Ann, normally portrayed by Caissie Levy covered by Lauren Marcus the night I saw the production is only capable of staying in bed and watching television. We learn why this situation abides in the second act when a fight erupts between Beth Ann and Nana and the truth spills out. It is then we understand Beth Ann’s depression and feel empathy for her. However, Nana ends up becoming sick over the remembrance of what happened. Indeed, her hospital stay reveals self-punishment and feelings of guilt for she feels responsible for events that cause Beth Anns’ depression.

Darren Goldstein in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

Considering the circumstances of her caved-in life, Beth Ann does the best she can. She is aware of Donald’s philandering, one cause for the divorce. However, he is a good father. He provides enough money to take care of the family and eventually pay for Sarah’s treatments to stop her bedwetting. Also, he is there for his two daughters. Likewise, though Beth Ann’s debilitating depression hinders her for “normal” activities, she stands by her children and when Sarah needs her most, she is present for her.

Initially, Sarah, encouraged by Nana (Bebe Neuwirth comes prepared with an authentic accent and bright, cheerful demeanor) who tells her she can do anything, coasts into school. We are impressed as Sarah’s humor and agreeability eventually lures the girls in her classes to be her friends, rendered in an adorable song with Charlotte Elizabeth Curtis (Ally) Charlotte MacLeod (Abby) and Margot Weintraub (Amy).

Mrs. Dembo their teacher (the very funny Ellyn Marie Marsh) tries to inspire them to hone their talent like Mrs. New Hampshire did (the lovely voiced, effervescent and funny Ashley Blanchet) for their school is presenting a talent show. Sarah and her friends begin to practice songs for the show, inspired by the golden tones of Mrs. New Hampshire. When they practice together, they are crackerjack astounding with their harmonies and seriousness in “getting the number right.” They should form a girl band.

Zoe Glick, Darren Goldstein in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

After Sarah invites her new friends to her Dad’s house, they are impressed. Darren Goldstein’s philanderer number as Donald brought the house down when I saw the show. The men loved his machismo, which he manages in the ethos of a hapless idiot far from a hot, “know-it-all” arrogant lothario. His balance in achieving a hysterical, irreverent unpolitically correct and refreshing tone is well shepherded by director Anne Kauffman.

The ease that Donald presents with Sarah and her friends opens a door of hospitality so that Sarah is invited to a sleep over. She almost doesn’t go because she will wet the bed and the girls use the occasion to add to her horrific embarrassment. But her mother unthinkingly tells her she’ll be OK. Meanwhile, Donald tries to find cures for Sarah which result in a very funny bit between the hypnotist portrayed by Rick Crom who is brilliant and whose voice is excellent for the role. Unfortunately, the hypnosis doesn’t work and the hypnotist sings a counterpoint duet with Sarah underscoring that he’s a fraud as she sings that the hypnosis doesn’t work.

Rick Crom in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

When Sarah goes to the sleepover, she has an accident. What happens after this event reaches into catastrophe. However, Silverman’s horrors come with great humor and irony. The number that takes place in the psychiatrists office is farcical in a great way, for the doctor (Crom) sings the praises of the latest cure for depression, the diagnosis he gives Sarah. As the doctor Crom leads the large dancing yellow Xanaxes that come alive to sing along with him about their wonderous effects. Crom attests to their ebullience as he flutters and skips high as a kite on Xanax. The number is one of the best in the show, as well as the most sardonic. Just great!

As the good doctor and singing dancing Xanaxes move off stage, Sarah desperate to do anything to stop her debility pops her pills for “depression.” We shudder understanding that Sarah is too young to take such powerful drugs, but it is a fact that Big Pharma likes to get folks hooked as young as possible. Instead of stemming her depression, anxiety and sorrow, Sarah joins her mom in bed where together the sing of their troubles and their hopes.

Ironically, the depression that Xanax is supposed to cure throws her into a full-blown depression so she must take more to attempt some relief. Once again, the cure is worse than the condition. The resolution does arrive to reveal the need for redemption for the family and salvation for Sarah who is still wetting the bed.

The deus ex machina (a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence) arrives when Miss New Hampshire appears in a dream. She tells Sarah about her secret which brings the child confidence in knowing that this lovely, talented woman had the same problem. Maybe there is hope for her after all. By the conclusion of this wacky and warm musical, Sarah takes the stage in the talent show and cracks open her wild and authentic comedy number (which we’ve been watching). The show ends with the rousing song “The Bedwetter” sung by the cast, and our delectable farce sandwich concludes.

Zoe Glick in The Bedwetter (Ahron R. Foster)

The production is excellent, though it is “dirty” and “uncouth” and unpolitically correct and indecent for younger girls (that’s for the NEWSPEAK thought police on “the left” and “the right,” reference to 1984 by George Orwell). Anne Kauffman has rehearsed the cast to a fine rhythmic pace, rapid fire delivery of quips and jokes and acute pauses for timing which add to the overall hilarity and upbeat performances.

Nevertheless, when the show turns to the dark side, all of the issues break wide open and we can empathize with what this family has gone through to make it to the next day. Of course the struggles and strains provide the foundation for Silverman’s comedy and engender her growing up beyond her years, sustained by cracking jokes to forestall the misery. Indeed, misery and humiliation provide the meat upon which Thalia, the muse of comedy feeds. Silverman and Thalia are besties in this production. And Silverman’s and Harmon’s and Schlesinger’s book and lyrics inspired by the immortal acquaint us, the actors and director with her finer points of merriment.

The cast works seamlessly as an ensemble. Their voices are powerfully resonant and spot-on. Each of the leads remains precisely authentic in their own songs, whose lyrics are humorous, sometimes wildly hysterical, but always pealing out the human condition.

Kudos to the set design which was functional, variable and effectively minimalistic (Laura Jellinek). Costumes by Kaye Voyce showed up the Ad dancers and Miss New Hampshire well. Japhy Weideman’s lighting, Kai Harada’s sound, Lucy Mackinnon’s projections, Kate Wilson’s dialects made the production’s themes cohere. The music team is exceptional. These include: Dean Sharenow (music supervisor & coordinator) Henry Aronson (music director) and David Chase (orchestrations).

This is one to see for its exuberance, fun, laughter and poignant moments, too rendered by the fine performances of the ensemble and sensitive, balanced direction, keeping the humor in the pathos. For tickets and times to The Bedwetter that runs about two hours go to their website: https://atlantictheater.org/production/the-bedwetter/

Jennifer Lopez in ‘Halftime’ at Tribeca, Now on Netflix (Review)

Jennifer Lopez in Halftime at Tribeca Film Festival (Tribeca Film Festival/Netflix)

Jennifer Lopez in an interesting move joins Beyoncé and Demi Lovado (see my SXSW review) as the celebrated subject of her own documentary in Halftime. Singularly, the film chronicles Lopez’s journey to fame in flashbacks cut with the key present event she aims for, the half-time show at the 2020 Super Bowl. Director Amanda Micheli in present to past to present video segments and clips chronicles how Lopez got to the Super Bowl moment that she always fantasized about. Thus, with thematic breakdowns, Micheli follows Lopez from the day of her 50th birthday celebrations to the Super Bowl half-time show she co-headlined with Shakira in 2020.

Importantly, in this World Premiere which first screened at Tribeca Film Festival, Lopez deals with many problematic issues in her upbringing and career. Centrally focusing on the intersection of both, Lopez comments about the issues in naturalistic interview clips without make-up and in a relaxed gym outfit. Briefly referring to tabloid exploitation of her relationships at various points, we understand a different portrait from what the media reveals.

Director Micheli employs an abundance of video clips that flashback to her numerous films, and trace the trajectory of her career. Also included are family moments, for example around the Thanksgiving dinner table, and a brief interview with her mom. Throughout, Lopez includes her daughter who also performs in the Super Bowl half-time show and rehearses with her to prep for the show.

Lopez highlights how her work morphed from dancing after she reconciled her mother’s thoughts that she couldn’t sing. With every opportunity that presented itself to her, she transformed. Now, she does it all, singing, acting, dancing, producing (Hustlers) and performing a monolithic show at Super Bowl 2020 that makes a statement for a global audience.

The director captures rehearsals for the show and delves into Lopez’s vision to make a political statement. Powerfully standing up to the management who wanted her to mute her vision decrying the kids in cages at the Southern Border, she used her klout. The show’s songs encouraged unity, equity and ended with “Born in the USA.” Her show’s vision uplifted immigrants nationally. Indeed, Lopez’s courage in standing against the fear mongering former president’s cruel immigration policies reveals the same admirable courage and boldness shown throughout her career and life.

In preparation for the show, we note she is an overcomer. Lopez discusses the difficulties in the chauvinistic decision to cast two Latinas to do the job of one performer. Indeed, they cut down their time and forced them to work with prodigious collaboration that created immense pressure for both performers. That they succeeded credits their talent, hard work and effort, something the officials, as Philistine corporates cluelessly benefited from.

Jennifer Lopez preparing for her performance at the 2020 Super Bowl half-time show (Tribeca Film Festival, Netflix)

Though some will be snarky and whine that criticism of her treatment by the tabloids, media and chauvinists amounts to victimization, that attitude too easily dismisses Lopez. In anticipation of this Micheli emphasizes that Lopez had to battle negativity her entire life as a Latina. Though the media demeaned her, ridiculed her “failed” relationships and underestimated her career, she accepted the challenge. Thus, with effective counterpoint Halftime focuses on her startling achievements.

Also, Micheli spends time on the media’s creation of the fake woman’s perfect Anglo Saxon look and appearance. Throughout her career the media ridiculeed her figure as a woman with curves. Lopez’s discussion of this rocks. All women have to measure up against the media’s prescribed BMI 17 weight. As a result they images doom they to fail. With humor Lopez exposes the way women have been demeaned and objectified to make them vulnerable for further exploitation. Her authenticity allows all women who see this film to identify.

Considering what Lopez overcame to arrive at her current destination, her detractors have not even done one-eighth as much. Importantly, Micheli and Lopez present Lopez’s overcoming perspective. Take it or leave it, the documentary stands on its own as informative, beyond entertaining, authentic and human. Vitally, Halftime inspires women and encourages them to strive, to persist and forge their own paths where none may exist.

Well structured, the film uses flashbacks to reveal her history and rise to fame. Halftime strikes a balance in revealing issues which Lopez takes up about her life, like being a Latina. The self-expose becomes intriguing. For example Lopez discusses how Cartoon TV ridiculed her and featured her as a Bimbo. Clearly, the smear campaigns hurt, as she explains in response to questions. On the other hand she relied on the strength she received from her mother and her heritage as a Puerto Rican. who could “do anything.”

Some of the most mesmerizing video clips feature Lopez during her rehearsals and training. They include clips for the Halftime show rehearsals, and clips from practice sessions to prepare for her Oscar-nominated role in Hustlers. Additionally, we get to experience Lopez discussing the Oscars and selecting outfits for the media campaign to win Best Supporting Actress for Hustlers. She is hopeful about receiving her first Oscar after her nomination for Selena twenty years before. When she doesn’t win, her disappointment and her team’s upset are acute. Her team (who she’s employed for years to do hair, make-up, etc.) ride the highs and lows of her career; this was a lowpoint.

Micheli covers tremendous ground. The portrait reveals Jennifer’s humanity, her expressed vulnerabilities and hurts which have informed her acting and performing. In understanding her genius, her tremendous talents as an actress, dancer, singer, entrepreneur, producer, mom, sister and much more we identify and are inspired. What we don’t understand, Miceli gives a wide birth: her private romantic life. After all, we don’t kiss and tell as tabloid fodder.

Halftime acquaints us with a Jennifer Lopez fans who love her know. It introduces those who underestimate her with a mosaic of myriad reflections of a woman determined to move through the next fifty years of her life (at least) making waves. Lopez indicates she has more to say, do, achieve. Halftime whets our appetites.

The excellent documentary streams on Neflix beginning the 14th of June. To review Tribeca Festival features go to their website: https://tribecafilm.com/ or see Tribeca At Home offerings: https://tribecafilm.com/festival/at-home

Jon Hamm in ‘Corner Office,’ at Tribeca FF

Jon Hamm in Corner Office (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

In Corner Office, John Ham shines in his portrayal of Orson, employee of The Authority a monolithic global conglomerate. Director Joachim Back’s opening shots reveal The Authority’s headquarters to be a structural monstrosity so immense it towers into the clouds, rendering its upper floors invisible in obvious symbolism. Screenwriter Ted Kupper adapted Corner Office from Jonas Karlsson’s ironic, existential novel The Room. A Tribeca Film Festival Spotlight Narrative film, Back’s sardonic comedy features Hamm’s deadpan delivery and ironic voice over narration with success.

Importantly, the director creates the atmosphere and surreal tenor of the film using flat lighting and dull color schemes to evoke the austere look and feel of a lifeless office environment. Also, he uses unusual camera angels implying relationships of menace, inferiority or absence. For example, at times he shoots Andrew, their boss in an upward angle as Andrew looks down on his underlings. These he alternates when Hamm’s Orson is in his element of peace, power and personal authority which begins after Back sets up Orson’s nemesis, The Authority and those who promote it. The cubicle desks set off the see-through glass office where, Andrew (Christopher Heyerdahl) sits, observes and manages with eerie calm. The function, mission and purpose of The Authority remain opaque. However, its symbolism becomes apparent as Hamm’s Orson eventually challenges its ethos with his unique particularity.

In keeping with Jonas Karlsson’s concepts and overall thesis, Back takes to task the overweening domination of the anti-creative, drudgery producing Philistines of the corporate world. Indeed, the higher ups of multi-global conglomerate boards oppress their plebeians with mediocrity in a status quo which destroys humanity to increase the bottom line. With the banality of evil, such non inspiring workplaces siphon off creativity, originality, genius, identity and vision. Indeed, Back’s creation of the nullifying atmosphere that reduces Orson and his colleagues to drones, characterizes the loathsome world of corporate and governmental bureaucracies everywhere.

When Orson arrives at his new position with his box of desk supplies, Beck foreshadows his alienation and isolation. Visually, the director includes an aerial shot of Orson getting out of his car in a snowstorm, a lone figure against white in a massive parking lot of hundreds of employees’ cars.

Quickly, Orson adjusts to his open office cubicle. However, he has no divider between himself and his colleague Rakesh, who displeases him like the rest of the uncaring, numbed workers. Throughout, Orson narrates his impressions and thoughts to us, while remaining quiet, non communicative, removed.

Cleverly casting Hamm against his Mad Men type, Beck transposes Karlsson’s Orson into a nebbishy-looking, seemingly wish-washy invisible. Yet, Orson’s astute, inner critic circumspectly analyzes his colleagues’ mediocrity with humorous wit and darkly comedic self-satisfaction. Structuring his routine into 55 minute slots to achieve maximum performance, he even holds off on bathroom breaks. He tells us withholding his pee builds character.

Jon Hamm in Corner Office (courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival)

Interestingly, Orson’s analytical inner critic remains defensive. And his arrogant attitude puts off unmotivated desk partner Rakesh (Danny Pudi) whom he chides for piling up his folders that threaten to mess up Orson’s organized, OCD desk. Thus, Back subtly, humorously intimates Orson’s character strives to distinguish himself as superior to the others. He rejects the hive mentality; fit in, shut up, don’t make waves, don’t excel, speak quietly, just get by. Safely, Orson confides in us, as he hypocritically plays the game. However, he determines himself to be a person to be reckoned with in time, in an opaque and funny statement.

As Orson, Hamm’s delivery and attitude remain reserved, understated and ironically humorous. For example he notes his “peers” defer to dominant Carol (Allison Riley). Yet her child’s incorrect perspective in a crayon drawing shows her biased weakness at not correcting the silly drawing. Though Orson channels low-key, his inner perceptions revealed by Hamm’s voice over narration with Back’s visuals of his clueless peers indicate Orson’s maverick brilliance and talent.

When Andrew scolds Orson for not obeying the sign “Think About the Floor,” to cover his snow laden boots with booties, Orson recoils, humiliated. And it is then walking to the men’s room that he discovers a secret room along the corridor nearby. Making sure no one watches him, he goes inside and finds a traditional, warm, wood paneled office with luxurious appointments, seating, soft lighting and pleasant anti-corporate, anti-worker bee, anti-bureaucratic esthetic.

Magically, this lovely warm, traditional office befitting a CEO works wonders for Orson’s soul. The secret room that Back enhances with muted, lyrical music each time Orson enters transforms him physically into the gorgeous, stunning Hamm. He drips with confidence and power. Evolved confidence presents the finest version of himself.

Problematically, when colleagues and Andrew question what he’s doing, Orson refers them to the secret room. They insist upon no corner office . And Back verifies this as colleagues gather to watch Orson stand in front of a wall and stare. Frightening us, we wonder what gives? Back tricks us to want to believe the room exists because of how Orson morphs when he relaxes in its “magic.” Profoundly, the contrast between institutionalization and humanity so pronounced by Back in his sets, atmosphere, cinematography, silences, room music stuns. Ironically, we gladly accept Orson’s reality. Yet, if the others don’t see it, we accept Orson’s crazy. Which truth abides?

We experience cognitive dissonance and a disconnect. Can both be true if we lift our understanding to the metaphoric level that some people see and experience things which help them tap into the best of themselves? Or is Orson just off his rocker and in intentional rebellion against the Philistines? If that is the case, he does have a point, but carries it too far and sets himself up for attack and betrayal.

After he visits the company psychiatrist and she determines his wellness, Andrew presents the condition of his employment. To remain he must not stand by the wall and stare into it. He must agree no room exists. Unquestionably, Orson experiences the “rooms” beauty and becomes his evolved self in it. Why can’t they see the room or its possibilities?

Adhering to Andrew’s rules, Orson works even more furiously arriving earlier and leaving later. He sneaks into the magical office where he creates his finest most precise work. When Andrew discovers Orson created the assignments and not other employees, he lauds him and his colleagues congratulate him. Perhaps, he even saved the division from the threatened restructuring. His valuation by Andrew indeed made him a person of reckoning. Subsequently, this confidence prompts him to attempt a relationship with the company’s beautiful, friendly receptionist (Sarah Gadon), whom he squires to “the corner office” where he kisses her.

After this turning point, the conflict explodes between Orson’s inner knowledge, vision and genius and the corporation’s flalining function and structure, represented by Andrew, his colleagues and the EVP (Executive Vice President) in one of the cloud shrouded floors above. You’ll have to see the film or read Karlsson’s novel to understand whether a resolution breaks open or uncertainty continues.

Back’s symbolism and metaphors of the commercialism which breeds institutionalization and bureaucratic nihilism that destroys smashes through each scene of the film. Superb, ironic performances by Hamm, Pudi, Heyerdahl and the entire office cast elucidate the profound themes. The indictment of the Philistines of corporate empires to cast aside their employee’s opportunities for genius and innovation manifests with power in this surreal tale.

You’ll laugh and you’ll ache, but you must see it. Go to the Tribeca platform to stream it at home: https://tribecafilm.com/films/corner-office-2022

‘Golden Shield’ at MTC, Review of a Must-See Production

Fang Du in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Golden Shield by Anchuli Felicia King, directed by May Adrales currently at Manhattan Theatre Club is a thematically rich and profound work that looks into corporate greed, political activism, digital censorship as a means of control, the ethic of understanding a different language through translation without considering cultural variance, and relationship reconciliation redux. Through the lens of a jury trial against corrupt actors who refuse to consider the consequences of their actions when digital efficiency and progress is at stake, King examines ethical responsibility and the fallout when accountability is measured in litigation awards.

The principal theme begins when audience members hear the instructions to keep masks on and turn off cell phones in another language. Mandarin. They think they know what is being discussed because it is the protocol of all theatrical experience in New York City to be reminded before the play begins to be the dutiful audience. However, in reality, unless they have a working knowledge of Mandarin, they don’t know what is being said. The speaker might be cursing out the audience; thus, the setting and context determine the level of trust the audience has for the speaker.

(L to R): Max Gordon Moore, Daniel Jenkins in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

This is the linchpin of Golden Shield, illustrated by Fang Du, the clever and affable Translator who takes our hand during the more opaque sections of the two act drama and guides us with his knowledge of Mandarin and unaccented English. We can only assume that he understands both languages to provide a correct translation of what is happening when the conversation is only in Mandarin. Thus, we trust him. But should we? This is a slippery slope. Indeed, trust between and among human beings, even if they are friends and family, as King proves, is flawed.

It is a fluid theme. By the end of the play, The Translator learns an important lesson. There is no correct translation for what happens during the play between older sister Julie Chen (the excellent Cindy Cheung) and younger sister Eva (the superb Ruibo Qian) who Julie abandoned to live with their tyrannical mother in China when she was a child. Nor is there a correct translation for what happens to Li Dao (Michael C. Liu in a heartfelt powerful portrayal) when Eva gives a one sentence translation that mistakenly encourages Li Dao to take a course of action that impacts him and the case that Julie is trying for her law firm.

(L to R): Max Gordon Moore, Kristen Hung, Fang Du, Daniel Jenkins in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Indeed, The Translator and the Chens realize that translation is a matter of interpretation of cultural values, the proper selection of metaphors and figurative language, subtle inflections and nuances in a contextual medium that must be included to convey what an individual is saying. Finally, there is no translation for why Chen acts as she does at the play’s end, nor is there a translation for the villain ONYS Systems in how they relate to the Chinese government.

Language between native speakers is not easily conveyed if there are geographical and cultural differences within a nation. Words hold loaded meanings and what one thinks one communicates may hold offense or have an entirely different understanding for the listener. How much more is the confusion of communication if a language that conveys meaning in a circular fashion through characters and pictorial thoughts is translated to a listener and speaker of English which is essentially linear and word based, and whose time is chronological? Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese are effectively without chronology, and retain a circularity and pictorial, visual thought process seamlessly navigated and understood by those who speak, read and write it.

(L to R): Ruibo Qian, Cindy Cheung in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Interestingly, Fang Du’s Translator warns us about the chronological expansiveness of English compared to the circularity of Mandarin and suggests there is no word for word translation. However, by the end of the play as he lives through and guides us through the events, even he is caught up short. The revelation for him is profound because he has been in the “God” seat. But he becomes enlightened like the Chens and the audience that what results is because of incomplete translation and incorrect “interpretation” and felt understanding. Mistaken understanding roils through every interaction in King’s play; it is fascinating.

This is perhaps the most profound of the themes in King’s work which takes place between 2006-2016 and shifts scenes from Washington, D.C. to Beijing, to Yingcheng, to Dallas, to Palo Alto to Melbourne. Though flashback is used and The Translator keeps us mapped out in the setting and scenes, Act 1 is top heavy. The playwright wants to say so much that she dilutes the force by trying to jam pack it all i>. Truly, the play could be streamlined and the dialogue shaved at the least to arrive at the question what are the most salient, striking themes. How can they be made to bring the audience toward vibrance.

(L to R): Ruibo Qian, Gillian Saker in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

When I saw Golden Shield, members of the audience appeared to be most affected by the relationship which implodes between the Chens. Nevertheless, King’s passion for the topics and themes is noteworthy. How do you streamline even a few words when you are in love with what your characters are saying to you. I get it, but it bears looking at for future productions to make Act I a dynamo and powerhouse leading through Act II in its explosion/implosion and powerful trial scene testimony then the conclusion.

The frame of King’s work fans out into part courtroom drama, part lawyer discussion, part insider talk at the fictional American tech company ONYS Systems. They get the contract to create a process to help them spy on any activity that opposition and adversaries use to smash the firewall of digital censorship that pertains throughout China. ONYS Systems’ pompous Elon Musk-type executive Marshall McLaren (the sardonic and superb Max Gordon Moore) creates an effective firewall by decentralizing it into multiple checkpoints, making it much easier for Chinese monitors to gauge spying and identify hackers who defy China’s digital control.

(L to R): Fang Du, Cindy Cheung, Ruibo Qian in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Thus, ONYS Systems in an extraordinary pro-communist political move is used as a tool of the Communist Chinese government to expose potential American spies in a counter-American action to protect itself. It also is used as the chief deterrent to stop hacking their firewall by identifying the hackers and punishing them severely.

During the course of the play, we understand the culpability of ONYS Systems through Moore’s McLaren. His nonchalance and self-satisfied genius, that he and he alone came up with this plan of decentralization for his company which increased their profitability exponentially as China pays them a huge price is loathsome. Interestingly, Moore makes the character ironic with the help of Adrales fine direction. Thus, the full understanding becomes “lost in translation.” And the full impact of how China has created a puppet in McLaren/ONYS Systems as a compromat or whatever the Mandarin word is for those without ethics or integrity who turn against their own nation, humanity and the “little people” for extraordinary wealth is muted. But hey, what the hell; it’s just business. (Some of this plays out from real life; check out Cisco and Yahoo litigation.)

Meanwhile, McLaren and ONYS Systems have ignored the impact of this “Golden Shield.” Their bottom line is paramount. Enter Chinese-American attorney Julie Chen who leads a class-action lawsuit by eight dissidents against ONYS Systems, chief among them the severely injured Professor Li Dao. Chen has found an obscure law used against pirates a few centuries ago that gives federal courts the jurisdiction to hear litigation filed by non-U.S. citizens for torts committed in violation of international law. She convinces her partner in the firm (Daniel Jenkins who doubles in his ONYS Systems’ role ) that they must take the case of the dissidents. She is passionate, convinced that McClaren and ONYS Systems are culpable for injuring the dissidents via their digital assistance to the oppressive and brutal Communists. Indeed, during various flashbacks we learn of Professor Dao’s five year imprisonment and torture because he showed students how to circumvent the Communist governments’ new “Great Wall of China,” The Golden Shield.

Kristen Hung, Michael C. Liu in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Enter the side plot and conflict between the siblings which also is lost in translation, misunderstanding and flawed communication because of emotional trauma, cultural differences and denial. Julie hires her sister Eva to visit China with her and speak to Professor Liu who can only testify and reveal so much of the brutality visited upon him under the Communists because he has been traumatized. The most vital scenes of the play occur with Li Dao and his wife Hang Mei (the fine Kristen Hung). Liu represents Li Dao with such empathy throughout that his portrayal ironically, though we don’t understand his speech, conveys superb understanding of his feelings and his expressions. Thus, the theme of translation being an incomplete and flawed means of communication hits the hardest with their performances because the words don’t matter. The emotions, tone, timbre wrought with great feeling immediately convey truth.

In Act II the courtroom scene where Professor Dao testifies is sensationally done with all the actors firing on all syllables. However, Chen as a result of her own trauma with her mother and leaving her sister in China has a confluence of emotions which end up forcing her to take a path which is devastating. For her part Eva, who we find out has been a sex worker and has compromised her sister’s relationship with her law firm partner, ends up bereft and lost. By the conclusion all the characters reveal that the events have traumatized them in one way or another. It doesn’t become a matter of winning or losing the lawsuit, it becomes whether or not one respects oneself for one’s choices.

(L to R): Kristen Hung, Michael C. Liu, Ruibo Qian, Gillian Saker, Cindy Cheung in Golden Shield (Julieta Cervantes)

Only Eva in her relationship with her Aussie lover (Gillian Saker who also does double duty as lawyer for ONYS Systems) seems to be seeking some sort of resolution with herself, especially after she throws over her sister Julie. But all of the characters are flawed, not very appealing, ethically challenged with the exception of the Professor Dao who has paid a terrible price for challenging China’s autocracy and repression. And indeed, by the play’s conclusion the future appears even more bleak as McLaren provides himself an off-ramp from changing his ways reflecting on the Dark Web, Block Chain and other tech “innovations” which provide myriad ways toward profitability by any means necessary.

I particularly enjoyed dots’ scenic design which coupled with Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s lighting design was used to smashing effect during the scenes relating to the Professor’s prison term and punishment. The set of Li Dao’s and Huang Mei’s living raised on a platform and framed by the lattacework partitions/screens on either side intimated the cultural setting, though the living room appeared Western. Its functionality was pointed and well thought out. Kudos to the rest of the creative team for applying King’s themes and Adrales’ vision. These include Sara Ryung Clement (costume design) Charles Coes and Nathan A. Roberts (original music & sound design) Tom Watson (hair & wig design).

The show closes on Sunday 12 June. I have highly recommended to to friends. It is a must-see and will be performed again. Look for it regionally. For tickets go to their website: https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/shows/2021-22-season/golden-shield/

‘Mr. Saturday Night,’ Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Dazzle With Comedic Genius and Heart

(L to R): Brian Gonzales, Chasten Harmon, Randy Graff, Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Shoshana Bean, Mylinda Hull, Jordan Gelber in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

Billy Crystal’s reshaped Mr. Saturday Night at the Nederlander Theatre, directed with acute sensitivity by John Rando is based on Crystal’s 1991 Oscar nominated titular film. This production “hurts!” (in today’s parlance “kills:). Crystal embodies “Mr. Saturday Night” from head to toe. In the two act musical Buddy Young, Jr. (Crystal) luckily faces the opportunity of a second chance in his waning comedian years. With this do over, he gets to reexamine how he sabotaged his career with the hope of regenerating it. Most importantly, he faces the opportunity to revitalize his estranged relationship with his brother Stan (David Paymer reprises his Oscar nominated film role) and his non existent relationship with daughter Susan (the golden voiced and superb Shoshana Bean).

Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

We all love second chances because we need so many of them. Buddy is no exception as the writers fashion his character to bump up against chance after chance. Indeed, in flashbacks from present to past to present, we note that as Buddy’s ego explodes with his successes, he eventually blows every chance that comes his way. When it is announced that he has died on TV (a symbolic reaffirmation of hope for a resurrection) Buddy plunges into the opportunity with the help of agent Annie Wells (Chasten Harmon covered by Tatiana Weschsler the night I saw the musical). The dramatic problem arises. Perhaps Buddy has gained the wisdom to retrieve the lost golden ring of success and once more establish himself. But what if he hasn’t?

This caveat is the crux of the conflict and arc of development. Can Buddy get out of his own way long enough to be the best human being he can be, absolving himself of past regrets with humility and aplomb? You’ll just have to see this reconfigured Mr. Saturday Night to find out

Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

Crystal, himself is receiving a new thrust of fame in this upward moving transition in his career as a Broadway star going for his second Tony Award. He won a special Tony for 700 Sundays) doing what he enjoys, performing in front of a live audience every night. The production, despite a few twitches, is an absolute joy to see, and Crystal is the ebullient muse of hilarity, pattering jokes with lightening speed and seamless grace.

(L to R): Billy Crystal and David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

Reprising his role with Paymer, Crystal is the former Borscht Belt comedian, who once had a successful TV show until he didn’t. Paymer is his long suffering brother/manager/agent who was generous with his own salary during their heyday, but barely has enough to treat his girlfriend to a pricey dinner. Randy Graff does a fine job as wife Elaine, encouraging Bean’s Susan to “give her father a break.” “Putting up with her father is something Susan finally shutters with maturity and firmness, prompting Buddy to reassess, reevaluate and recalibrate or lose her love. The scene between Bean and Crystal against the warm background of the projections of the NYC brownstones and the doorway to Susan’s apartment and new relationship with her Dad is beautifully done.

Randy Graff and Billy Crystal in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

The production combines an endearing and poignant update with LOL vibrance. It soars with Crystal’s outstanding performance where he sings and dances, as one would expect seventy-something Buddy Young, Jr. to crow out a tune and jubilantly hop and skip some mildly energetic dance steps, sans flips, strenuous tap or break dancing. Indeed, Paymer and Crystal deliver their enjoyment “I Still Got It,” and companionship together and also dig deep when their characters hit the abyss: Paymer in the exceptional “Broken,” and Crystal in the profound “Any Man But Me.” Surprising, endearing, adorable, belly-laughing, fun, thoughtful and appealing, the principals are a team and appear to have fun making the audience laugh in a time when we desperately need to apolitically chortle and “fall out” in a life-affirming way.

Billy Crystal and Shoshana Bean in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

With Book by Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Music by Jason Robert Brown and Lyrics by Amanda Green, the production has been nominated for five 2022 Tonys, including Best Musical, Book, Score (Brown and Green), Leading Actor in a Musical (Crystal), and Featured Actress in a Musical (Bean). What is marvelously stranger than fiction is that the film, if one reads the “critics” was not “the bomb,” it did not “kill” and it did not, in Buddy’s words “hurt them.” It flopped. Crystal and his creative team are to be credited for courage and gumption to try again, this time as a Broadway musical, one of the most difficult of creations and during an ongoing pandemic that no one likes to acknowledge.

Shoshana Bean in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

However, this is Mr. Saturday Night’s persevering second chance. With the added lift of the music and dance, and overall nostalgic silliness of 50s TV bits, where actors dress in hot dog costumes, cigarette boxes, etc., (Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales, Mylinda Hull) Mr. Saturday Night offers a retrospective on a history younger audiences don’t know. Also, it is an encomium to comedians who were huge greats in their time, some of whose stars still shine in films on Turner Classic Movies and black and white TV reruns.

The musical also highlights the importance of the Borscht Belt circuit in the Catskills, where comedians and entertainers could credibly try out their material and look for opportunities like Buddy did when he “covered” for Milton Berle at Farber’s. As the musical flashes back to Buddy, Stan and Elaine as twenty-somethings, we discover it is at Farber’s that he lands the gig that launches his successful career and Stan’s as agent and manager. The flashback also reveals how he met Elaine (Graff manages to be a convincing younger version of Elaine) whom he unwittingly “stole” from Stan in a a sour note between the brothers. Thus, the characterization and arc of development eventually reveal head on undercurrents of the strife between Crystal’s Buddy and Paymer’s Stan as a loop of pain which the actors convincingly inhabit and play battling each other.

David Paymer in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

All these events with his brother, long suffering wife and broken-hearted but defiant daughter reveal the depth of the characters. They also illuminate reasons for Buddy’s self-torment, ambition and feelings of inferiority all of which are the fountain of his comedy which is part insult comedy, part ironic defense, and the type of ridicule which makes angels laugh. But when it’s directed at the individual in question, it hurts for real as dismissive one upmanship. Buddy has a tough time differentiating Shakespeare’s, “All the world’s a stage,” and is continually making his entrance and never pausing long enough to realize he needs to exit.

Brian Gonzales, Mylinda Hull, Billy Crystal, Jordan Gelber in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

In an important scene with agent neophyte Annie (the fine Wechsler), Crystal’s Buddy gets to praise his comedy mentors. We note on the walls of the Friar’s Club and in projections a wide expanse of brilliant funny men and a few women of high humor. Buddy’s rant implies Annie should know the greats and this inspires her to do her research, then work like the devil to help Buddy get something which turns out to finally land as a part in a film. The role is funny and incredibly poignant and it requires Buddy audition, which he does. But after all the angst rehearsing and auditioning and blowing a chance at closeness with his daughter, his “big opportunity” is destroyed when the role is given to Walter Matthau. Bummer. Crystal handles this earth shattering moment with an ethos that’s believable Buddy. What he’s lost isn’t recoverable, for the loss isn’t just this part, its his mountainous history of regrets.

Brian Gonzales, Mylinda, Jordan Gelber in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

Unlike the film which referenced the comedian’s waning years from a younger man’s perspective (Crystal was in his forties, ironically “old” at that time), this Mr. Saturday Night shines in the age appropriate sequences. Interestingly, it is their younger portrayals by Paymer and Crystal as the twenty-somethings, that seem a stretch with wigs (Charles G. Lapointe) and make-up that don’t quite cohere.

However, when the flashback to Farber’s arrives, we’ve been prepped with jokes by the opening number “We’re Live” (Jordan Gelber, Brian Gonzales, Mylinda Hull). Then Buddy does his act at a retirement home (“A Little Joy”), which is a laugh riot. And by then, we’ve become acquainted with the premise, the announcement of Buddy’s death on TV, and his “new lease on his career” as agent Susan-Tatiana Wechsler sings “There’s a Chance, ” and excited Buddy and Stan sing and move to “I still Got It.” So, what’s a bad hair day for the two men returning to their younger days measured against the overall success of the well paced Act I that moves even more briskly through Act II and the conclusion after which Crystal takes a few audience questions? Well…(said with an upward lilt of a Jewish accent).

Chasten Harmon in Mr. Saturday Night (Matthew Murphy)

The themes of aging and regrets not answered, second, third and fourth chances, familial reconciliation, and redemption even for the incorrigible, spin in and out with a bow and a wink, superbly subtle. The sets of Buddy and Elaine’s home, Faber’s, the paneled Friar’s Club and the old time TV Studio designed by Scott Pask are spot-on, as is the costume design by Paul Tazewell & Sky Switser enhanced by Kenneth Posner’s lighting design and Kai Harada’s superb sound design. The Video & Projection Design is smashing, reminiscent of divided screens from the period, creating various effects pegged to the emotion of the scene.

The choreography by Ellenore Scott is just enough for this type of show and the actors are at ease and comfortable with their steps and movement. As silly as Elaine’s wishful thinking about leaving for “Tahiti” is, Graff pulls it off looking debonair and adorable. Thanks to Jason Robert Brown’s Arrangements and Orchestrations, David O’s Music Direction and Kristy Norter’s Music Coordination, the tone and tenor of the music fits with the book by Crystal, Ganz and Mandel, with Green’s lyrics. The time, effort and love shows, as all is held together by John Rando’s direction. Wow!

Get your tickets to this must-see show. You are not going to see this production with this cast again. For tickets and times go to their website: https://mrsaturdaynightonbroadway.com/

‘Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love’ New York Botanical Garden’s Major Exhibition Through September 11, 2022

Latino Farmworkers in the U.S.-Portraits Series 2018, by Lina Puerta (photo Carole Di Tosti)

When we think back to our grandparents’ and parents’ cuisine, what comes to mind? Whatever generation we are, the foods we were served as children on holidays or perhaps daily indicate the family heritage. And once we discuss heritage foods, inevitably there are similarities and differences among cultures, though they might be as wide-ranging as Europe to India.

Nightshades originating from the Americas: Tomatoes, peppers, potatoes found in the cuisine of a multitude of cultures. Lemon grass at the bottom holding the sign is from East Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The New York Botanical Garden’s latest exhibition Around the Table” Stories of the Foods We Love, is all about our culture heritage and the heritage of others by examining the cuisine. And no matter how one views the cuisine, at its most basic foundation we find plants.

Jennifer Bernstein, Chief Executive Officer and The William C. Steere Sr. President of NYBG, gave the opening remarks introducing the exhibit Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love (Carole Di Tosti)
The centerpiece showcase table surrounded by edible plants, some surprising, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

For those unfamiliar with farms and growing seasons, seeds and techniques to produce the most healthful, successful gardens of fresh fruits and vegetables, this exhibition is for you. Also, for those who come from a background whose cultural heritage was steeped in orchards and vegetable gardens as mine was, the exhibit is a chance to reconnect with and add to knowledge already in one’s mental and emotional bank account.

One of my favorite plants in the world, Coffea arabica, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The plantings found throughout the 250 acres reveal the art and science of food traditions, many dating back to millennia and the beginning of the growth of civilizations throughout the world. Though the plants have been developed through experience by people culturally and historically, many of the plants from ancient cultures have also been modified scientifically to what they are today. Much of the history of cuisine relates to migration and travel. As people moved throughout the world, they brought their cultural understanding of plants with them to retain and perfect their food traditions.

What is an Italian holiday without artichokes? See the one growing at the top of the stalk? NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Importantly, the NYBG exhibit acknowledges the cultural heritages of food cuisine and highlights the aspect of travel and migration that brought plant species to the Americas and species that were in the Americas to European in cross cultural migration.

Buckwheat used in cultures around the world (Southeast Asia, China, Russia, Southern US and US) NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Found in various plantings in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory which separate into three installations, we note the diverse and wide variety of living edible plants that are used in cuisines from Asia to South America, from Africa to Europe.

A baby pineapple is from the Bromeliaceae family (Bromeliads). It originated from South America and a favorite has been cultivated around the world, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

When one looks carefully, one finds the plants that are the basis of staples we cannot do without, like coffee, chocolate, sugar, flour and plants that nourish the animals that provide the meat we eat, for example the plants that produce the grains and corn fed to cattle, pigs, chickens and sheep.

The pomegranate is flowering, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Citrus tree along the walkway, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Balanced citrus trees along the walkway, NYBG (Crole Di Tosti)

The displays of edible plants include hundreds of varieties including peppers, squash, cabbage, beans, grains, corn, banana, sugarcane, taro, breadfruit, fruit (tomatoes) and more.

A variety of squash including zuccini and other gourds, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Banana tree surrounded by taro eaten for their corms and leaves which must be cooked or you will die of the poisons, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
The pink flower of the banana tree blossoms then drops off when the fruit begins to grow, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Rice can be grown out of water. Grown in water, the weeds are eliminated, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

In the Conservatory’s Seasonal Exhibition Galleries is the assortment of edible herbaceous plants and fruit-bearing trees growing in containers, entwined in overhead trellises and creating green walls for compact urban spaces.

Along the NYBG conservatory walkway, an edible wall of lettuces and kale to grow in tight urban spaces, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Conservatory Courtyards present fig, citrus, olive and apple trees and reveal plants suited to tropical regions like rice, taro, mango, banana, manioc and breadfruit.

Pearl Millet in the conservatory, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Magnolia tree and amaranth: the magnolia flowers are edible, the amaranth produces seeds/gluten free grains and has edible leaves, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Look for the pearl millet, the nightshade section (tomatoes, peppers, and the herbs associated with them like basil). There is also a spirit garden indicating many of the plants used to create beer, wine, rum, liquors and the cork associated with the preservation of spirits and wines.

The spirit plants. From which plants are wine, vodka, rum and beer processed ? NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

One of the more interesting installations is on The Conservatory Lawn. It has been transformed into a field of dwarf sorghum and barley. These traditional grains align with our climate and allow us to view the sowing, nurturing, harvesting and replanting over mini seasons. If you visit in early June and stop back at the end, you will be amazed at the growth of the height of the plants.

Barley seeds sprouting, apple trees in planters in the distance, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti

Interspersed among these plantings you will find picnic tables beautifully decorated by local artists that add a colorful effect amidst the field of green.

Table painted by artist Gayle Asch, Seven Species, Acrylic paint & vinyl on wood 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Garden selected 30 artists living or working in the Bronx and they designed the tables that highlighted food themes from “Around the Table.”

Tossed Salad by Ruth Marshall, Paracords & zip ties on wood, 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti

These artistic works can be found outside and inside the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building as well as throughout the grounds.

Table in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Nicky Enright, Oro Verde (Green Gold) mixed media on wood, 2022, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

If you examine the table tops you will note edible plants that embody their own cultural heritage and significance and inspire the sharing of personal stories of foods traditionally served at holidays and celebrations.

Artist table in the courtyard of the Leon Levy Visitor’s Center, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

It is through foods, most especially we are more open to understanding cultures different from our own.

The African American Garden Installation at NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

In another section of the extensive exhibition, make sure to visit the African American Garden at the Edible Academy. The installation is entitled African American Garden: Remembrance & Resilience. It is curated by Dr. Jessica B. Harris, America’s leading scholar on the foods of the African Diaspora.

When you move along the walkways to look at the beds planted, you will be fascinated to connect with the plants that highlight African American culture and foods, gardening histories and tidbits about early Americana. The African American Garden features the contribution of essential plants to our collective history.

Flax used for its edible seeds and to create oil. The plant is used to make linen, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti
Indigo used to create blue dies, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Immature cotton plant, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Dr. Harris worked with historians, heritage seed collectors, and NYBG’s Edible Academy staff to lay out a sequence of eight garden beds arranged in a semi-circle. These represent a celebration of African American food, plantings, and ongoing contributions to our country’s plant and food culture.

The African American Garden of Resilience and Remembrance arranged in a semi-circle, note the trellised apples in the foreground, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
The greens from the garden, kale, lettuces, collards, note the apple trees to the left, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Detail: staples of the South, tobacco on the right foreground, indigo on the left foreground, sugar cane top left, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
Pearl Millet in the foreground, corn in the background, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The experience includes an orientation center, shaded seating and a Hibiscus Drink Station. Stop by the drink station to cool yourself off with a taste of Roselle, sweetened or unsweetened.

Folks having a drink of Roselle at the Hibiscus Drink Station, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

With it saunter along the Poetry Walk curated by Cave Canem Foundation.

A poem by renowned Lucille Clifton if you are a poetry aficionado, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The Cave Canem Foundation is the premier home for Black poetry that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets.

LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building and Art Gallery, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Finally, visit the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building Art Gallery to see the works of contemporary Colombian-American artist Lina Puerta in her exhibit on the first floor. It is entitled Lina Puerta: Accumulated Wisdom.

Lina Puerta standing in front of her work, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The artist highlights and gives voice to the invisible farm workers who labor in the fields for low pay and long hours. Throughout the country they are the voiceless abused by corporate owners who have exploited their labor. Without their labor where would populations be? Read Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook, an expose of agribusiness in Florida and how slave labor keeps the tasteless tomatoes coming to market.

Mother by Lina Puerta (2020) NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)
synopsis of Lina Puerta’s Mother, NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

Puerta’s mixed-media sculptures, installations, collages, handmade paper paintings, and wall hangings are strikingly beautiful. They speak of farm workers and reveal the relationship between nature, the human-made and ancestral knowledge related to plants.

Detail of Lina Puerta’s ‘Mother,’ NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

The materials she uses range from textiles and handmade paper to found, personal, and recycled objects.

Detail of Lina Puerta’s ‘Mother,’ NYBG (Carole Di Tosti)

This exhibit has an abundance of activities for adults, family and children alike. There are artist-designed table tours, food demonstrations, themed weekend celebrations to name a few.

Look out for A Seat at the Table on Saturday, June 18, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. Two thrilling sessions will explore how Black farming informs American history and culture in New York City and across the country. Natalie Baszile, author of We Are Each Other’s Harvest, joins Dr. Jessica B. Harris, food historian and scholar, for the discussion at Ross Hall, “Celebrating the African American Farmer.” In “Stories from the Farm,” moderated by NYBG Trustee Karen Washington (farmer, urban gardener, food advocate, activist) will lead a multigenerational panel discussion devoted to stories of Black farmers from many perspectives urban and rural, North and South.

For complete programming on this incredible exhibition, Around the Table: Stories of the Foods We Love, to to the NYBG website by clicking HERE.

‘Funny Girl’ the Broadway Revival Starring Beanie Feldstein, Ramin Karimloo, Jane Lynch, Jared Grimes

Jared Grimes and Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Funny Girl has been successfully presented in the UK’s West End in revival (2016, book by Harvey Fierstein), in Paris, and in regional theater. However, producers have been loathe to consider a full-on Broadway revival until now. This is so for numerous reasons, not the least of which Barbra Streisand, who originated the role as a relatively unknown 21-year-old in 1964, inevitably draws acute comparison with anyone daring to try the part on for size.

Streisand was Fanny Brice in a confluence of personality, genius talent, comedic flair and pure drive. Though she didn’t win the Tony for Best Lead Actress in a Musical (1964 when Funny Girl opened), she won the best actress Oscar for the 1968 film adaptation. It was a satisfying recognition after her tremendous work in making Fanny Brice and Funny Girl legendary. Her connections to the role, and association with the show’s signature songs became inviolate. So it is a good thing that Funny Girl is in play in this revival; perhaps more revivals will come in the near future.

(L to R): Kurt Csolak, Beanie Feldstein, Justin Prescott in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

That said it takes a courageous sensibility to attempt to transmogrify the role of the Fanny Brice Ziegfield Follies star away from Streisand’s iconic work, in this first Broadway revival. Kudos go to Beanie Feldstein who stars with Ramin Karimloo, Jared Grimes and Jane Lynch in the Jule Styne (music), Bob Merrill (lyrics), Isobel Lennart (book), Harvey Fierstein (revised book), Funny Girl revival directed by Michael Mayer. Currently, the production runs at the August Wilson Theatre.

Beanie Feldstein has the appropriate determination to portray “the greatest star.” Nevertheless, during specific moments, she appears to be overwhelmed by the complex and profounder transitions the role requires as Fierstein’s book travels in flashback from the opening scene where Fanny gets ready to go onstage. The flashback of her memories follow how she moved from childhood to teen rising star to successful Follies celebrity who becomes an icon in her time. Uncloaked is her first anointing from gambler Nick Arnstein who compliments her on her talent. And as her star rises she becomes worthy of their budding relationship and blossoms, as his star dims and his wealth diminishes. By that time they’ve married.

(L to R): Leslie Flesner, Afra Hines, Beanie Feldstein, Ramin Karimloo in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Feldstein is not new to challenges. She debuted on Broadway as Minnie Fay in Hello Dolly (2017). And she has been appreciated and noted for the humorous Booksmart and Lady Bird, and in her role as Monica Lewinsky in Impeachment: American Crime Story.

In the role of Fanny Brice she is uneven at best, at worst out of her kin, vocal acumen, acting talent, comfort/confidence zone. When she teams up with others (“I’m the Greatest Star” (“Reprise), “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” “You Are Woman, I Am Man,” “Sadie, Sadie,” “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”), she shines with capability and confidence. When she carries the song on her own (“Who Are You Now?” “I’m the Greatest Star,” “People,” “The Music That Makes Me Dance”), she skates on thin ice.

Beanie Feldstein and the cast of Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Not fervent with authenticity and the intensity that the role requires with songs like “People” which Fanny sings to convince herself to let go and love Nick Arnstein, who her mother has suggested is a criminal, she isn’t quite believable. However, with the ensemble, Jared Grimes’ wonderful Eddie Ryan and Ramin Karimloo’s suave, alluring Nick Arnstein, Feldstein relaxes and has more fun. Also, with the exuberant Jane Lynch (not necessarily believable as a pushy, Jewish mother), she overcomes herself and more comfortably inhabits the role.

Beanie Feldstein and Jared Grimes in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Sometimes Feldstein’s sweet singing went a tad flat momentarily in the first act and became a distraction to the events undergirded in the song. In her attempt to make Fanny Brice her own, certain schtick works if it glimmers, strikes, then vanishes. When it becomes repetitive, the humor loses its “funny.” As such, the youthful Fanny, the bumbling Fanny and the fake pregnant Fanny are clever. She is appropriately, broadly a ham (“His Love Makes Me Beautiful”). As Feldstein takes off on the visual, risque joke, the audience adores it and their adoration sets Fanny off into Fanny Brice stardom, all Beanie believable.

Beanie Feldstein, Ramin Karimloo in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

The flashback of the cute, adorable, wide-eyed innocent Fanny, the gutsy star-driven dreamer with heart (“I’m The Greatest Star”), works for a season. When she meets Nick and is with him for a while,, she doesn’t quite transition to charming, sensual, intriguing funny, the lure which entices Nick. Thus, their relationship never moves beyond the girlish Fanny who transforms into the Fanny who is a star that is beyond Nick in success, talent and charm. At some point the “Star is Born” meme should come alive when she exceeds Nick in grace and beauty as a Follies “Great.” Feldstein never quite pulls that off. Nor does she manifest the pain Fanny experiences when Ramin’s Nick and she part ways which leads into the overcomer Fanny who transcends, heartbroken but triumphant.

Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Karimloo’s Nick is gorgeous, fit, debonair and experienced. This superficial ethos lures Fanny like bread does to fresh water fish. In their scenes and songs (“I Want To Be Seen With You,” “You Are Woman, I Am Man,” “Who Are You Now,” and You’re a Funny Girl” that Nick sings alone), both actor’s make sense of these scenes because Karimloo plays the seducer, the lover, the partner who acts upon her as the receiver. Feldstein doesn’t have to do much but “fall” into his arms and be under his spell. And that is easy to do. The women in the audience are standing in her shoes enamored of Karimloo’s aura and sterling voice.

(L to R): Deborah Cardona, Toni DiBuono, Jane Lynch, Jared Grimes in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

However, the complications of their marriage, seem static and should be predictable but are not emotional as Feldstein’s Fanny doesn’t register that her relationship is dissipating with Nick after she becomes a “Sadie.” Despite all the lovely set appointments by David Zinn’s scenic design for their Long Island home, the irony is manifest. It is not a home because it lacks warmth as Nick’s concern about money takes over.

Ramin Karimloo and the cast in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Eventually, even Karimloo (who beautifully sings throughout and does a bang-up job in “Temporary Arrangement”), when Nick sings about his going off by himself to make money…has difficulty with latter scenes between himself and Feldstein. When Feldstein’s Fanny attempts to save their marriage by outtricking a trickster, his response to Fanny’s gambit is interesting, if not lackluster. Nick’s reckless gambling has placed him out of Fanny’s status and wealth. Feeling emasculated when his project goes bankrupt, he is driven back to his criminal ways to recoup, which he never can because he lands himself in jail. The urgency between them in the parting scenes right before his prison sentence and after fall flat. We don’t care all that much about her heartbreak because Feldstein’s Fanny doesn’t seem to either by the “Finale.”

Jared Grimes, Jane Lynch in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

The book has been revised by Harvey Fierstein to streamline Act II which is a fine change-up. Fierstein transfers “Who Taught Her Everything She Knows?” sung by Mrs. Brice (Jayne Lynch) and Eddie Ryan (Jared Grimes) to the second act. Both are super conveyors of good will and have a blast together during the number. Indeed, Lynch’s and Grimes’ numbers are noteworthy as they possess the stage with grace, aplomb and enjoyment that the audience appreciates.

(L to R): Peter Frances James, Jane Lynch, Jared Grimes, Beanie Feldstein, Ephie Aardema, Debra Cardona, Martin Moran, Toni DiBuono and the cast of Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

Jared Grimes’ tap is non pareil and brings down the house. Grimes is helped by tap choreographer, Ayodele Casel, who also succeeds in creating a number in which Feldstein shines with the ensemble (“Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”). Overall the choreography by Ellenore Scott is strongest and most fun in the Ziegfeld numbers supported by the extraordinary costumes by Susan Hilferty with her expansively winged butterflies, shimmering chorus (“Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”), bridal outfit in “His Love Makes Me Beautiful,” and in Fanny Brice’s outfits nearing the end of the production, reflecting the progressing years after the flashback ends. All are enhanced by the lighting design by Kevin Adams and Brian Ronan’s sound design.

Beanie Feldstein in Funny Girl (Matthew Murphy)

If you have not seen the West End revival of Funny Girl in the UK or at a regional theater, this production bears seeing for a number of reasons. Fierstein’s revised book is excellent and gives a lot of play to the characterization of Nick Arnstein. The entire company and the leads’ team work shines. The music is wonderful and the historic figure of Fanny Brice, a woman who made her career at a time when women had power in theater is something to be reminded of. Brice went on to more success in the entertainment industry in later years. Her life is one to remember.

Final mention must be made about the superb musical team. They include Michael Rafter’s music supervision and direction, Chris Walker’s orchestrations, Alan Williams’ dance, vocal and incidental music arrangements, Carmel Dean’s and David Dabbon’s additional arrangements, and Seymour Red Press’s and Kimberlee Wertz’s music coordination.

The show runs with one intermission. For tickets and times go to their website: https://funnygirlonbroadway.com/

‘Belfast Girls,’ a Powerful, Shining Work at the Irish Repertory Theatre

(L to R): Caroline Strange, Labhaoise Magee, Mary Mallen in Belfast Girls (Carole Rosegg)

The phenomenal Belfast Girls in its New York Premiere at Irish Repertory Theatre takes place in 1850 during Ireland’s “An Gorta Mor” (The Great Starvation) on the ship the Inchinnan. Five women who have struggled through the Great Famine are chosen to leave Ireland. The trip will take them to the colony of Australia to embark on a better life. With dreams and hopes, the women undergo a three month voyage and mentally prepare themselves for the desires of their heart. What they discover on their journey is a personal and historical truth that they must confront the moment they disembark.

With Nicola Murphy’s incisive direction, the effective and keenly crafted, functional design of women’s quarters below deck (Chika Shimizu) creates a sense of the confined space they endure. The superb cast transports the audience into the minds and hearts of the Belfast Girls, the most raucous, riotous and infamous of the women accepted into the Orphan Emigration Scheme. The Scheme established by Earl Henry Grey in the 1840s sent 4000 orphaned women from Ireland to Australia to relieve Ireland’s overcrowded workhouses and poorhouses from the ravages of the Great Famine.

(L to R): Mary Mallen, Aida Leventaki, Caroline Strange, Sarah Street, Labhaoise in Belfast Girls (Carole Rosegg)

Under the largesse of Grey’s Scheme we watch as five women from disparate Irish backgrounds bunk together on the Inchinnan and travel for three months down the coast of Africa and around Cape Horn to become “rich” farmers’ wives, servants and workers in Australia.

Jaki McCarrick’s exceptional play profoundly delves into the lives of these five women. All relate the horrors, and organized terrorism of British landlord evictions and burning of homes they’ve seen or experienced. Later in Act II as the truth is gradually revealed to be more terrible, it is mentioned that merchants made money from shipments of grain for export instead of feeding those starving when the crop failed in what has been identified as the Irish genocide. Each of the women at the outset are grateful to be fleeing “An Gorta Mor” raging in Belfast. However, a few regret leaving what has been their home for more than two decades. They are anxious to face the unknown.

The play opens as the women settle into their bunks and unpack their meager belongings. We watch as they change their street clothes to the blue uniform “orphan” dresses the matron and officials have given them to wear on their journey. Immediately, from their behavior and accents we understand these women are from different backgrounds, ages and environs.

(L to R): Mary Mallen, Labhaoise Magee in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

Judith Noone (Caroline Strange), a Jamaican mixed-race woman drips worldly experience. She exposes the fact that Ellen Clarke (Labhaoise Magee) and Hannah Gibney (the golden voiced Mary Mallen) are public women/prostitutes, despite their pretensions that they have lived otherwise. Importantly, with a sense of autonomy as sex workers, these three have staved off death and starvation where others, bound up by religion with no way out, died and were buried in mass graves. Of all of the five “orphans,” Caroline Strange’s Judith, is the most grounded, authentic and realistic. Blunt and directed, she is a natural leader who chides and commands the rest of the women, reminding them of their purpose to rise up from the lower classes to respectability and success, so they might forge a new identity with this incredible opportunity.

(L to R): Caroline Strange, Sarah Street in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

Gradually, as we watch their interactions and the dynamic of the group as they squabble, insult and demean each other with words and sometimes with blows, McCarrick reveals that each woman, save Judith, is unable to confront the dark hell of guilt and self-loathing within. It is obvious that they’ve had to compromise their autonomy, integrity, goodness and self-respect living a life of extreme self-loathing as men’s footstools. Clarke and Gibney are familiar with each other as they throw epithets and verbally attack each other’s vulnerability. Judith is no less insulting in reminding them that they must control themselves and not be physically easy with the deckhands and men on the ship because an unwanted pregnancy will destroy their chances to meet accessible men and marry. Clearly, Clarke, Gibney and Judith have shared understanding and experiences that have been traumatic and soul-crushing.

On the other hand Sarah Jane Wylie (Sarah Street, and the day I saw the production, Owen Laheen) is quiet and mild-mannered. She stays to herself, sews a bonnet and doesn’t interact or insult the others, initially. She shares that her brother has been in Australia for almost two years and has encouraged her with stories of success and the promise of a land of prosperity and goodness.

(L to R): Labhaoise Magee, Mary Mallen, Caroline Strange in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

Into their midst comes another girl whom they must make room for in their small living space before they sail. Molly Durcan (Aida Leventaki) is from Sligo. The others attempt to make her as comfortable as possible, though she is not in a bunk bed. They give her a piece of bread which she devours immediately; her frail and extremely thin body indicate the troubles she’s experienced. As they rearrange their living quarters, the ship is leaving port and a few go up to say goodbye to Ireland for the last time.

Judith forthrightly declaims she will never miss Belfast and plans to bury all of the memories in her new life and identity in Australia. She suggests the other women do the same. Hannah Gibney forgets her misery and is sentimental, putting “a false tint” on her life in Belfast. Judith confronts Hannah with the truth. She tells the others that her father sold her into prostitution for alcohol and must forget the terrors of a culture which provokes such behaviors. This revelation strips away Hannah’s pretense and denial. Judith encourages her and the others to redirect and focus on her new goals and new life in Australia. During the three month voyage, they must mentally prepare themselves with plans and goals for their future.

(L to R): Labhaoise Magee, Mary Mallen, Caroline Strange, Sarah Street, Aida Leventaki in Belfast Girls (Carole Rosegg)

Mallen’s and Strange’s performance of this scene make this into an important moment. Not only do we understand their mixed emotions, though the life they leave behind is full of misery. Nevertheless, it is the only life they have known. Now, they face uncertainty. They haven’t read any travelogs to understand what they will be up against because there are none. And indeed, Hannah can’t read. When the ship leaves port, there is no turning back.

McCarrick identifies the dangers of the emigrant experience which still pertains today (exploitation, uncertainty, loss of identity). She highlights two important conditions for these women. They have been prostitutes plying their trade and skills as the only skills they know. Secondly, they are third class citizens. Though Hannah speaks of the Englishman that she will marry, rejecting her own nationality, this fantasy is an extreme that the other women point out to her.

We realize these women are naive; they are not prepared for what is going to happen to them, floating on a “wing and a prayer.” That it will be anything but a bed of roses is inferred by the irony of Hannah’s hopes, the vacancy of the other women’s responses and the hidden clues in McCarrick’s writing.

(L to R): Labhaoise Magee, Mary Mallen, Sarah Street, Caroline Strange in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

What is clear is that each of them has already “jumped off the cliff into the unknown.” Hoping for something better is the tremendous risk they take, born out of courage to seek freedom from the enslavement of poverty, paternalism and oppression by the British in Ireland. However, will they be able to continue with the courage of their convictions in Australia?

When Molly sees a rat by her sleeping space in the middle of the night, other arrangements are made. Judith softens her persona and allows her to join her in her bunk away from the rat. Thus, begins a relationship between the two women which the others may or may not be aware of that blossoms into love and affection. The intimate scene between them is beautifully, tastefully directed by Murphy and the fight and intimacy director Leana Gardella.

(L to R): Aida Leventaki, Sarah Street in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

However, there is the danger that the Catholic judgments of the other women will censure and condemn the lovers. As it turns out Judith becomes Molly’s protector and Molly gives Judith her books, one of which includes the writings of Marx and Engels. Reading these, Judith begins to understand what Molly mentioned to them when she first arrived.

Women deserve their own rights and autonomy. In fact as Molly discusses her bold yearning to become an actress and play Puck, she also reveals that in other areas of Europe and the United States, women are gathering in groups and organizing for the right to vote. And women are speaking out against male chauvinism, paternalism, colonial oppression and exclusion which keeps women powerless. Judith’s knowledge grows and we understand that she and Molly have formed a close bond. At the least, the others begin a period of enlightened freedom they were never aware of before they boarded the Inchinnan.

However, in Act II all of what has been a hopeful blessing on the voyage as the women begin to grow their new, free identities, is upended during a roaring storm at sea. The storm’s effects are stylistically staged and shepherded by Murphy with the help of the movement director Erin O’Leary. As the women pray together for support during the frightening hurricane that threatens to swamp the ship and kill them, another storm breaks out among them. Tensions and tempers rage. An unimaginable lie is exposed. The revelation destroys and exposes all of their lies. Judith who has become her own person and lies for no one, attempts to ameliorate the emotional explosions of the women against each other to no avail.

This is no spoiler alert. Act II brings a magnificent resolution to the mysterious threads that have been left undone in Act I. The violence that occurs is shocking and believable. The sound and lighting designers (Caroline Eng, Michael O’Conner) do a wonderful job of striking our imaginations with the storm’s effects. They help to create the terror in the scene and the resulting aftermath.

(L to R): Aida Leventaki, Caroline Strange in Belfast Girls (Carol Rosegg)

By the conclusion Judith puts the mysterious pieces together of why Earl Henry Grey has created the Emigration Orphan Scheme with the clerics. The final blow of reality is made manifest which Judith and perhaps Sarah and Ellen understand, but Hannah is too broken to receive. Nevertheless, Judith affirms she will never give up on her hopes and new found self-empowerment on the Inchinnan. She is resolute and will continue to take care of Molly Durcan and nurture her with her love. Confronting her own lies and devastation, Sarah becomes more accepting and forgiving. However, it is Ellen who leaves us with the most vital of thoughts. “Who knows what dreams were born on the Inchinnan. If it’s not us who will have those freedoms you talked of…then maybe our daughters will…”

Belfast Girls is rich with history and incisive with characterizations that keep us engaged in this real drama of passion, anger at injustice and powerlessness and hope. The characters are portrayed with spot-on authenticity, by the wonderful ensemble. Kudos to Gregory Grene the music consultant who drew on the songs “Sliabb Gallion Brae,” “A Lark in the Clear Air,” “Mo Ghile Mear” and “Rare Willie,” all traditional Irish folksongs. Kudos to all the creative team and to China Lee, responsible for costume design and Rachael Geier for hair & wig design.

This is one to see, especially if you have Irish ancestors. If you don’t, but have ancestors who emigrated on ships that crossed the oceans to bring their progeny a better life in a more prosperous setting, the experience depicted in this production is directive and should draw you to learn more. For tickets and times to see Belfast Girls at the Irish Repertory Theatre go to their website: https://irishrep.org/

Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga in ‘Macbeth’ a Stark, Thematic Whirlwind to Chill and Confound

(L to R): Maria Dizzia, Daniel Craig, Amber Gray in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Intentional contradictions abound in the production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth currently enjoying a packed house in its limited run at the Longacre Theatre. Directed by Sam Gold, starring the inimitable Daniel Craig as the titular witch-doomed protagonist and superlative Ruth Negga as his feral, treachery-inspiring wife, the presentation is bold, daring, dramatic, enthralling, surprising, weird, completely irregular and defiant of critical examination.

Yet, the critics have had a field day, a bit reminiscent of Peter O’Toole’s production of Macbeth (1980), that critics ridiculed immodestly. However, the audience found O’Toole and the cast mesmerizing, and packed the Old Vic each night. Gold’s Macbeth is packing the Longacre Theatre despite venom-tongued, snarky criticism.

Ruth Negga in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Macbeth theatrical productions have sprung up as star vehicles for Patrick Stewart, Alan Cummings, James McAvoy and Ethan Hawke to name a few. With each revival, each iteration of Macbeth, there have been intriguing conceptualizations. And this is as it should be, whether in modern dress, in an insane asylum or as this current production, on a stage stripped of showy spectacle, except for some of the Macbeth’s costumes, especially Lady Macbeth’s by Suttirat Larlarb. Gold’s bare stage, the back wall painted black, and Christine Jones’ minimalist set design (save the backdrop against which Macduff and Macbeth fight in the last scene), resemble a rehearsal space. There, the players strut and fret on the Longacre stage, for two hours and twenty minutes. Their discourse is audience directed interaction with resonant, beautifully delivered soliloquies by Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and others, i.e. Ross. Indeed, as Ross, Phillip James Brannon steals the scene where he describes the wanton blood-letting of Macduff’s family by Macbeth.

From the moment witches Maria Dizzia, Phillip James Brannon and Bobbi Mackenzie appear at their kitchen worktable and stovetop making preparations and cooking up their stew (which has a distinctive odor of root vegetables), in this pre-scene before the play, nothing is as what it seems (a key theme). The audience chats. The lights are on. Ushers seat audience members. Many ignore the casually dressed characters whose costumes have less distinction than the audience apparel. It is apparent that Gold is upending our expectations about Macbeth’s movers and shakers, the witches. These are homely, benign-looking creatures of no consequence, “cooking up a storm or two.”

(L to R): Danny Wolohan, Michael Patrick Thornton, Daniel Craig in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Along with the theme that everything is in reverse (fair is foul, foul is fair), and appearances are not to be trusted, the fog machine (carried by various players) symbolizes misdirection and gaslighting. The fog and mist serves a twofold purpose: to create scenes of foreboding and an atmosphere of doom because reality and truth are indecipherable to the players. Unpredictability is another theme this production brings in from beginning to end. Nothing is assured, no action of the characters is staid; only the lines spoken in various accents are dependably Shakespeare’s (though truncated) in this interpretation which doesn’t quite follow the play’s usual format and dialogue with precision.

Gold shepherds his actors to take liberties, break the fourth wall, at times appear to ad lib, use anachronisms and coy props, like a can of beer for a gallows laugh and employ the acutely strange. For example he has Paul Lazar in a switch off from his role of trusting King Duncan take off his bloody “fat” vest and strip down to his shorts to “become” the porter who receives Macduff (Grantham Coleman) and Lennox Michael Patrick Thornton. All is at the hazard and then it is not. There is comedy in the tragic and a hysterical mania flows throughout. If this is confounding, it is purposeful. The kingdom in chaos and confusion reigns everywhere. Without clarity and leadership Scotland falls prey to a treacherous usurper who transforms the realm to one of darkness, uncertainty, moral weakness, corruption and lies all of whose troubling turbulence will not be easily stemmed. The witches have generated all of these elements.

Daniel Craig and the company of Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

The witches cook; we ascertain their “agreement.” As they plot, we recognize that the events are being determined, unseen and unknown way before the witches manifest themselves on the heath. By the time they appear to Macbeth and Banquo (Amber Gray), they’ve completed the brew which the witches make Banquo and Macbeth drink, alluring their souls and psyches forever to their fates, ineluctable, irrevocable.

In dramatic irony with emphasis, Gold allows us to see the witches’ power and control. This is something that King James I would have believed, something that Shakespeare wrote for him. I never understood the extent of their power before, thinking they trick Macbeth with the power of suggestion. In Gold’s vision, the witches’ plot has been a while in the making, in another realm and beyond the awareness of all the characters. Thus, we are reminded that before majestic events occur, there are forces at work that may never be understood or gleaned. However, that doesn’t mean that because they are unknown, they don’t greatly influence the events. Gold emphasizes this notion with his pre-play action of the witches.

Amber Gray in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Additionally, before they state the over arching theme of this production “fair is foul and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air,” at the beginning of the play, out comes Michael Patrick Thornton in antic humor. He discusses the superstition about stating the name of Macbeth onstage, violating the dictum it must not be mentioned and should only be referred to as “The Scottish Play.” After getting audience laughs, Thornton gives an interesting discourse on, James I, King of England and Scotland, his obsession with witches and witch burnings, and Shakespeare’s writing three of his finest tragedies during The Bubonic Plague, where he and others in Europe had to “shelter in.” Macbeth was written during the Plague.

This and more Thornton relates effectively with humor, pacing and irony, addressing the audience as himself, though he later portrays Lennox, a murderer and the messenger of doom for Macbeth. The transition from Thornton in the present to the increasingly serious past events and spell-casting witches is masterfully seamless as we are taken to the hanging and death of a traitor who has admitted and repented his treason against the king, something Macbeth will never do.

The timeless currency of the play abides. Gold (as some critics suggested he should) doesn’t specifically reference the events going on globally (2022) via scenic design or props. He doesn’t need to; the parallels are manifest. The play’s greatness is in its revelation of the best and worst of human nature revealed in the dialogue, events and fine performances by Craig, Negga and the other leads.

Negga’s Lady Macbeth reveals her wicked heart’s desire in her soliloquies. These prepare us for the extent to which she must manipulate her husband by any means necessary, including insulting his manhood and demeaning his fears of failure and pangs of conscience. Not understanding that he is terrorized about the significance of his terrible deeds, she upbraids him for fleeing Duncan’s bedchamber carrying the bloody daggers with him which evidence his guilt. It is as if he begs to be caught and punished for what he’s done; the scene between Negga and Craig is effective and authentic.

Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

By this point the couple has become divided by intent and the consequence of their actions; Macbeth feels the dire results coming, Lady Macbeth does not let it impact her. The shift is clear and Gold never brings them together again with affection. In this first part Lady Macbeth swamps Macbeth’s nobility. She stirs up his acknowledged desire for the throne, despite his rational judgment that no good result will come of killing Duncan, his kinsman and his guest.

As Macbeth, Craig’s, doubt, confusion and fear before killing Duncan and his shock and horror afterward are straightforward and powerful. Likewise, Negga’s Lady Macbeth is steely as she mentally fashions his will and bends it to hers. Pointedly, after both are crowned, Craig’s Macbeth and Negga’s Lady Macbeth accurately reveal the dissolution of their self-respect and love for each other. Craig’s Macbeth becomes obsessed by the negative results his inner guilt has forewarned. After his crowning the witches’ prophecies “fog” his judgment provoking his jealousy that Banquo’s heirs will be on the throne and his will not. Lady Macbeth’s distraction grows after she chides Macbeth at the banquet, the last time they will be purposefully together. She is not apprehending Banquo’s ghost that plagues Macbeth’s mind because of the witches’ prophecy of Banquo’s heirs. At the end of Act I, the witches’ plot is in full force. It submerges any decency left in this once august couple, who now grow emotionally isolated from each other, locked in their own soulful torture chambers.

(L to R): Daniel Craig, Michael Patrick Thornton in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Gold’s direction of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at this juncture in their relationship (showing no affection only rancor), indicates that the regicide, whether they want to admit it or not, has been the defining movement of their lives. Everything afterward is a counting down to their deaths. Craig’s performance reveals scene by scene, soliloquy by soliloquy the evanescence of courage with wanton carelessness and cheek (one example is when he gets the beer and drinks it). After he witnesses Banquo’s ghost he admits he is “stepped in blood so far, should I wade no more, returning would be tedious go’er.” Thus, “blood will have blood;” he allows his unrestrained lust for power to expand its corruption and visits the witches for affirmation, which he is duped to believe they give him. But what seems fair, is really foul.

Interestingly, following Shakespeare, Gold and his creative team suggest that the seeds of evil are planted by spiritual forces way before Macbeth’s self-treachery and vengeful violent nature become visible. The corruption and wickedness blossom imperceptibly, then accrue with coverups and lies (symbolized by fog and mist). The more the despotic tyrant doesn’t achieve his goal, the more he furiously lusts to accomplish it with the “help” of the witches who give him an illusory prophecy that he is immortal. This sustains him unstopped by his countrymen, until Macduff (Grantham Coleman) kills him. Indeed, tyrants like Macbeth are never satisfied. When Banquo’s son Fleance (Emeka Guindo) escapes Macbeth’s killing, thwarted, Macbeth shifts his path. Murderous revenge becomes his goal.

(L to R): Ruth Negga, Amber Gray in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

Craig manifests Macbeth’s transitions, superbly moving from guilt in refusing to go back to the King’s chamber to smear the chamberlains with Duncan’s blood, to raging at the audacity of Banquo’s ghost coming out from and around the banquet table, returning again and again in a scene that is chillingly effective. And when he attempts to secure his kingdom and learns that Malcolm and Macduff left for England to conspire against him, he has no compunctions about wiping out innocent Macduff’s family in revenge (another powerful scene). He has lost it; logically his blood-lust and terrorism only will inflame his enemies even more and give them license to turn his own subjects against him.

Indeed, blood will have blood, the recurring theme. Negga’s nightmare isolation is acutely staged and rendered as Lady Macbeth envisions blood stains that can never be cleansed from her hand…soul. In this version, Gold and the actors helped me better understand Shakespeare’s behind the scenes look into the human mind, soul and heart of a serial murderer and political tyrant and his unwitting, power-hungry ambitious wife. With brilliance Gold and the actors relay the process of how the wicked couple are snared by conscience then incited by megalomania to never repent. They select the path of emotional self-violation and we get to watch them unravel.

(L to R): Phillip James Brannon, Bobbi Mackenzie, Maria Dizzia in Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

After the bloody combat between Macduff (Grantham Coleman) and Daniel Craig’s Macbeth renders Macduff victorious, Macduff defers to Malcolm (Asia Kate Dillon) as the King of Scotland. In conclusion she takes the power her father rightly bestowed upon her in the play’s beginning.

SPOILER ALERT. Gold truncates Malcolm’s dialogue so she doesn’t invite Macduff and the other thanes to Scone for her crowning. Interestingly, the play continues as an epilogue of irony. The actors put off their roles, fling themselves on the floor, take a well deserved break, and pass around bowls of “gruel” to each other that the witches prepared (offstage). The cast eats their portions silently as the audience watches, (it looks unappetizing). As they eat Bobbi Mackenzie (a witch and Macduff’s slaughtered child) soothingly, lyrically sings Gaeynn Lea’s originally composed song for Macbeth, “Perfect.” The last lines are:

“Tragedy’s viewed through its own lens; but just out of frame sits an old friend, watching our choices play out in the end, returning each other to where we began. Wish I had known it wasn’t meant to be, wasn’t meant to be perfect.”

Daniel Craig and the company of Macbeth (Joan Marcus)

This may be interpreted in many ways; an ironic apology for what we’ve witnessed as Macbeth’s failure that turned out badly. Indeed, as an “every person” such horrific behaviors can’t “be” perfect, ever. On the other hand it is humanity’s evolutionary process to continue and since we all are mortal, attempting to live forever, as Banquo and Macbeth attempted, the song/play speaks to human foibles. The message emphasizes imperfection, life’s disjointedness and entropy. Every murderous, cataclysmic, bloody, debacle where a despotic nature’s worst impulses for power, regency, a new Russian empire are allowed to be acted out, it is not meant to be…perfect and will not be. Thus, the despot needs to give it up sooner rather than later and save lives in the process. In another interpretation the actors wind down in their community with each other as they seal their commitment to take up their parts and “die another day.”

Shakespeare affirms the sanctity of life and the balance of evil and good in the thoughts of the noble, courageous yet monstrous Macbeth and his Lady as they bring about their own retribution and justice. Their own being effects their demise: Lady Macbeth commits suicide; Macbeth by giving himself over to the process of evil after his regicide. In reality, we can never know the inner thoughts of a Vladimir Putin or Stalin or Hitler. We can only guess at their fears, paranoias and heart’s desires. In Macbeth we have the luxury of understanding the tragedy of their rise and fall.

This is a unique production thanks to Gold, the cast, the superbly effective lighting design by Jane Cox, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, special effects by Jeremy Chernick and projection design by Jeanette Ol-suck Yew. Also, the original music by Gaelynn Lea is amazing. For atmospheric effects I particularly enjoyed the crashing revelations (i.e. lighting, sound, etc.) when the ambiguity of the witches’ prophecies clarify (i.e. how Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane). Additionally, kudos to Sam Pinkleton’s movement. Coupled with lighting, sound and special effects the chilling atmosphere of opaqueness and obscurity with the fog machines (which signified the theme of cover ups, lies, obfuscation of “truth”) was strengthened. David S. Leong’s direction of the violence was effected believably in service to the theme of blood will have blood.

This Macbeth will not be duplicated in your lifetime with this community of individuals. It is an incredible experience. For tickets and times go to the website: https://macbethbroadway.com/

Andrey Kurkov, Renowned Ukrainian Novelist a Mentor for our Media and a “Free Press” (Part 2)

President of PEN Ukraine, Andrey Kurkov author of 19 novels and 20 movie and TV scripts is perhaps the best-known Ukrainian writer outside his own country. He is the author of the best-selling Death and the Peguin. Recently, I heard him speak at the PEN AMERICA World Voices Festival. (see part 1)

PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov spoke at the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture at the PEN America World Voices Festival

When Kurkov was 2-years old, Kurkov’s family moved to Kyiv where he lived and grew up under the USSR communist party during the time of the Cold War. That was a time of the Berlin Wall with Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev after Stalin died. Unbelievably, oppressed, propagandized, impoverished Russians wept to see Stalin go (according to Kurkov). Globally, it was a tense time of escalation of nuclear weapons, of shelter drills in U.S. classrooms, of the McCarthy debacle exploited by a sick alcoholic senator and his wicked puppet lawyer, of the erection of the Berlin Wall dividing the city of Berlin into East and West, of the Cuban missile crisis, and of improvident nuclear proliferation. Then thankfully, the iron curtain melted and tensions relaxed with Glasnost during the influence of Soviet politician Mikhail Gorbachev.

Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev ruled the communist party of Russia after Stalin died (courtesy of the site)

Glasnost reflected a commitment of the Mikhail Gorbachev administration, allowing Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and potential solutions. Gorbachev allowed a process of democratization that eventually destabilized Communist control and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union along with other factors, one of them the Chernobyl disaster. In 1986 Kyiv, USSR was impacted, as the nuclear power plant is located in the northern Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, 90 kilometres north of Kyiv. The Kremlin’s lies about the danger to the populace finally were revealed as an embarrassment and failure of the technologically backward USSR. Over the years since Stalin died, the USSR relied more on its propaganda to keep it up with the West then technological advancement a situation that persists today. Oppression of the populace is extremely costly, when an open system curtailing corruption and rewarding research, development and progress is invariably prosperity producing to the culture and society.

The Berlin Wall dividing East Berlin controlled by the Stasi (secret police) in the communist controlled government of East Germany and democratic West Germany (courtesy of the site)
The pulling down of the Berlin Wall, a significant day for the West and Russia (courtesy of the site)

When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the handwriting was on the crumbling wall that East Germans and Europeans took chunks of as souvenirs. One imagines that Kurkov and Ukrainians were as thrilled as Vladimir Putin was devastated, something Putin has admitted to and to which can be attributed his fury at failing to do the impossible, bring back a new Russian regime with his futile war against the democracy loving Ukraine.

When Gorbachev won the Novel Peace Prize in 1990 for his great leadership in bringing an end to the Cold War and signaling Russia would agree to peace, the USSR, like Humpty Dumpty fell. Ukraine officially declared itself an independent country on 24 August 1991 and proclaimed it would no longer follow the laws of USSR and would only follow the laws of Ukraine SSR. At that point in time, Kurkov was 31-years old and free to write as he pleased. Ukraine became “the space of my personal freedom.” Subsequently, he has worked as a writer for 30 years “without censorship, without political control, without pressure.”

PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov speaking at the World Voices Festival about Arthur Miller and Ukrainian freedoms (Carole Di Tosti)

To that end, he has embraced his freedom and his responsibility to speak out about Putin and Putin’s aggressor machinations in Ukraine. The Ukrainians since Euromaiden have rejected Putin’s puppets and rejected his hope to resurrect a Putin regime of which he expects Ukraine will become Russian, adhering to Ukrainian cultural and historical extinction.

Putin’s War in Ukraine is unfathomable without viewing it as a last push toward effecting a regime change by his own mandates, not God’s. Putin is not a religious man; he is a despotic hypocrite who worships himself. Review his behavior and his co-optation of the Russian Orthodox Church, appointing former KGB Patriarch Krill. Another Putin puppet, Krill gave a twenty minute justification for Putin’s War (and atrocities) to Pope Francis who would have none of it. Pope Francis called out Patriarch Krill and told him not to be “Putin’s altar boy.” With few exceptions clerics have called out Patriarch Krill and Putin. The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Istanbul (Constantinople) Turkey, Patriarch Bartholomew has also called out Krill and Putin.

(L to R): Andrey Kurkov, Gary Shteyngart at the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture and Q and A, PEN AMERICA World Voices Festival (Carole Di Tosti)

Kurkov has been moved to write and give interviews about Putin’s War, and he has stated that because circumstances are so incredible, he can only bring himself to write non fiction. His latest work that he wrote before February 24, 2022, the date of infamy in the lives of Ukrainians, is a novel. Grey Bees takes place in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine which contained a “grey zone” a no man’s land between Russian backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers where a few civilians lived their lives without electricity, water, etc. The circumstances returned these individuals back to uncivilized times before technology and industrialization created the rat wheel everyone wanted to jump off. In Kurkov’s novel, the grey zone is without rat wheels, a limbo of existence that has disappeared since Putin’s War and the shelling of cities in Ukraine’s South and East and the declarations of these regions to be separate Republics from Ukraine supported by Putin.

In the rest of the country Ukrainians are fighting for every patch of their soil until they are free. This is what Kurkov writes about to inform the West and encourage Ukrainians that they will win.

Selected to give a speech as this year’s Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, Kurkov afterward engaged in a Q and A with Soviet-born American writer Gary Shteyngart. Both in the speech and during the Q and A, Kurkov’s humor came to the fore. He spoke with authenticity about the truth, and Ukrainians. He said that the truth just is. What we attribute to it, whether it be inconvenient or ugly is ascribed by the individual viewing what is.

Recording Bucha (courtesy of the site)

Execution style killings in Bucha? Mass graves? Rapes, the bodies of burned women? These are the effects of Putin’s “special operations,” his euphemism for war. To Ukrainians and the West and NATO countries these constitute war crimes. But for Putin to claim it never happened, that bodies are not in mass graves, nor women raped and their bodies burned? That is not truth. Those are lies of omission. One asks, “Why lie?” The answer is political. Like Donald Trump Putin refuses to be associated with the guilt or fear of his actions. He is not accountable. Lies which are cover ups exist so the audience, the Russian people, do not see what is. Indeed, Putin fears if they do see what is, they will demand he be ousted. To fear it in Putin’s mind makes it so, and thus, making it so, he has blanked out independent news stations, TV channels except all the news that’s “fit to hear” which is state media lies; that is Putin’s truth. None of the brutality is happening.

PEN Ukraine President Andrey Kurkov speaking at the World Voices Festival about Arthur Miller and Ukrainian freedoms (Carole Di Tosti)

To counteract this narrative of his war’s none existence and reframing the war atrocities so he will not be held accountable, everything Ukrainians and the West see and hear about this war is chronicled. The truth is recorded. What is, must be shown, discussed, revealed as it is. Ukrainians are documenting the war crimes as they find them. They are telling the truth. During his speech/lecture, Kurkov spoke about the Ukrainian will

“Ukrainians are determined to win,” Kurkov said, “to defend the sovereign right to life in their own free and democratic country. Ukrainians in this war are united not only by a common enemy, but also by a common European vision of the future of their state. Ukraine doesn’t really have a choice. It will either win and remain an independent state, or, as President Putin wants, become part of the new Soviet Union or the new Russian empire.

Familiar with Arthur Miller’s work, Kurkov referred to the American playwright’s defense of free speech, free expression and the freedom to write when Miller served as president of PEN America from 1965 to 1969 and through his life.

“Arthur Miller has not been with us for 17 years, but his voice continues to resound in the world and continues to turn the thoughts of hundreds of thousands, and maybe millions of people back to the search for truth and justice. Because truth and justice cannot be separated. They are interconnected. A person who experiences the sharp pain of injustice, in whatever way, can become a champion of truth. Such a person is usually ready to fight for this truth and, if necessary, to die for it.”

Kurkov spoke the names of 20 journalists including those of US news organizations, who have been killed since Putin’s War. According to Kurkov: “Journalism remains one of the most dangerous professions, and during the war, it becomes even more dangerous. The inscription ‘press’ on a bulletproof vest or helmet is to the Russian military, like a red rag to bull.”

The map of Ukraine

He also paid tribute to the Ukrainian citizen journalists who are being persecuted and imprisoned in Crimea and Russia, with criminal cases fabricated against them. And Kurkov spoke of the distinction between the Russians and Ukrainians.

“Ukrainians do not accept diktats or restrictions on their rights, especially the right to freedom of speech or freedom of religion. For Ukrainians, freedom has always been more important than money, more important than living standards, more important than stability. In fact, there has never been stability in Ukraine precisely because freedom was a priority. Unlike the Russians, for whom it seems, stability is more important than freedom and all individual freedoms and rights.”

Kurkov’s message to writers in the US, is that they must chronicle the truth. Kurkov, in measuring Ukrainian journalist’s intent, and comparing it to ours suggests the imperative is to get as much of the truth down as possible.

“Ukrainian writers, regardless of the language they write in, will never give up the freedom to write what they think and what they consider important. Ukrainians, writers or non- writers, cannot and will not learn to live without freedom. Without the freedoms that are included in the mandatory and inviolable ‘list’ of human rights.”

MENTORING KURKOV AS JOURNALISTS IN THE US

We can learn from Kurkov’s mentoring which cuts through the bullshit and runs to the heart of ideals of democracy. These ideals are being threatened by a party indulgently accepting fabrications because it garners them power and money. The MAGA party have been elected to positions in a democratic government. but to “tickle” the ears of the extremist right wing criminal supporters, they decry those very positions in an act of irrationality. To state that Biden lost and then not resign in protest is an example of the craven hypocrisy and untruth of QAnon Republicans like Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, Kevin McCarthy and many in the Republican conference. If Biden is not president, then how can they be a part of a government that is a fraud? They can and will because they benefit from it by mouthing words (Biden lost) they don’t believe, and collecting their salaries and donations and kickbacks to run again and grift the American people some more.

If they really believe Biden lost and Trump won, en masse, they would have resigned and have been protesting ever since January 6, 2020, like Ukrainians did in the Euromaidan (See the film Winter on Fire). But these QAnon terrorists are happy to talk the talk and run away like cowards from the legitimate and authentic behaviors which would signal to the American people that fraud was committed. They can’t, they won’t. Instead, they will probably end up in jail or censured for lying on their oath of office, participating in the January 6th insurrection and not willingly resigning in protest or sacrificing their careers to alert the American people of the fraud. They won’t because they won’t sacrifice anything for the American people. Biden won; they know it and yet they complain like babies so they can collect their dark money donations and kickbacks and work to undermine democracy which is the mission of their new oath to communism, oppression, Putin/Trump and other foreign adversaries, who pay them to overthrow democracy in the US.

QAnon anti-democracy congressmen (i.e. Mo Brooks, Paul Gosar among them) who voted against the constitution to overturn the election; Trump/Putin styled communism at work (courtesy of the site)

Has any QAnon Republican official resigned in protest with the courage of their convictions protesting the 2020 election? Look at the actions of the two prosecutors in the NY DA Alvin Bragg’s office, well reputed and respected individuals (Careynne, Mark Pomerantz). They investigated Donald Trump and they urged Bragg to indict Trump before the grand jury’s session expired because there was enough evidence to INDICT TRUMP FOR FRAUD and other financial crimes. (see this site) Bragg sat on the fence. They resigned, throwing away their careers. Why would anyone throw away their career because they simply disagreed with their boss?

Their career toss indicates the extent of the moral imperative involved as servants of the people to identify and whistle blow corruption is going on, Bragg’s corruption. In effect they would rather be employed elsewhere than work under a weak/corrupt DA. In his resignation letter, Pomerantz called Bragg’s decision “misguided and completely contrary to the public interest. Since then, Bragg has lied, saying the case was ongoing. But it has quietly been made to go away, so we hear nothing about it.

Former Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo would have spoken out against Alvin Bragg. He was railroaded out of office (courtesy of the site)

If the New York Post was up to its true mettle, it would do an investigation of this. The public welcomes investigative journalism. Oh, you say it’s an ultra right wing Putin-style communist Murdock paper that supports, lies for, and protects Trump? Then forget any investigative journalism, except into Hillary’s emails…they are still looking for cannibalism and her blood sucking or Cuomo’s sex crimes talked about by liars and Republican/Democratic shills. OK, then why isn’t the New York Times, or WaPo, or any other paper investigating, or Letitia James? Or the Attorney for the Southern District of New York? This is corruption in plain site; two prosecutors resigned in protest. This cannot be ignored. Bragg must be investigated if the case against Trump went away like pundits have suggested. Who is his boss? If it were Governor Andrew Cuomo, there would be an investigation. With the current governor. Forget it. She is busy giving money and jobs to her upstate constituency and preparing to run for governor.

Thus, the QAnon Republicans stay in their jobs, lie on their oaths and serve not the American people, but Donald Trump. So does Alvin Bragg, so does Hochel, so does the “FREE PRESS.” All are slaves to Trump, pretending they are uninvolved. QAnon Republicans refused to impeach traitorous Trump for leading an insurrection as president because like Putin, he can’t brook the truth. As a president who was supposed to uphold the constitution and people’s rights he swamped those rights to take them all for himself. Destroying votes by wiping out Biden’s win and declaring himself winner, vitiates the majority of the voters. For him it is an inconvenient truth that over 60% despise him and voted for Biden in a landslide and popular vote of nearly 8 million.

Joe Biden’s presidency doesn’t poll well, but is preferred to Trump/Putin’s human rights oppressions, lies, NEWSPEAK, COVID BOTCH JOB, tax breaks for billionaires costing American taxpayers 2 trillion dollars added to the debt and wiped from the US treasury, a key cause of inflation.

Currently, though the populace are not enamored of Joe Biden, they prefer Biden’s leadership to Trump’s negligent, botch job with COVID, his self-serving golf trips spending more than 130 million of taxpayer money, his abusing the treasury corruptly with giving jobs to friends and contracts to donors of his coffers, his lack of decency, his uplifting white supremacists as very fine people and his order of the military to tear gas and rubber bullet peaceful protestors at Lafayette Square after hiding in the basement for fear of his life hearing there was a BLM protest at Lafayette Square. With Trump comes communist oppressor and Stalinist channeling Putin, failure and incompetence.

Mike Flynn, Trump’s man to “lock Hillary up” shaking hands with Putin at the RT gala (courtesy of the site)

Trump’s attempt to disenfranchise the landsliding votes of the majority of Biden voters is an act of a treason, perhaps if the DOJ investigates the evidence provided to it by the January 6th commission. In Russia, disenfranchising the Russian people? That is normal behavior for their Stalinist communist despot Putin. It is easy for him to put in puppet candidates, remove dangerous candidates like Alexi Navalny and put in himself and declare himself a winner in a sham election or leader of Russia until 2036. For Rudy Guiliani to suggest to Trump, to just declare that he won and persist until they terrorize the voting public or continually demanding Georgia Secretary of State find the 11,000 votes and give them to him to win Georgia’s electoral votes? Well, that is an act of Putin styling Stalinist communism and terrorism. To oppose Trump? Off to jail which he threatens if Republicans WIN THE HOUSE. And for lackeys to pile on and persist in the lie when they all know it is a lie? That is another act of Putin styled communism and Stalin’s terrorism.

Insurrectionists ordered by Trump to the Capitol brought this to “hang Mike Pence,” (courtesy of the site)

What Stalin and Putin say is truth, is truth, despite its being a lie. The same oppression goes for Trump. Trump is continuing with this communist styled oppression by telling “his” candidate (Oz supports Trump’s lies) Memet Oz who is running in a tight race for Republican governor just to declare that he has won. Declare now, count the votes later, or make them disappear. This is what Trump did with the 2020 election. Before the mail ballots were counted, he declared himself victor. We were all supposed to go home, though the mail in ballots had not been counted. This is communism. This is Putinism. This is Stalinism.

Alexi Navalny videotaped for Rain TV Vladimir Putin’s mansions that rivaled Michael Jackson’s Neverland. Putin threw him in jail. Since Putin’s war on Ukrain Rain TV (Optomistic Channel) is no more. They fled Russia rather than be jailed (courtesy of the site)

It has been the rule of communists (for a while the oligarchs, which are now being sanctioned) to be guaranteed their mansions and high living lifestyles. Meanwhile, the Russian people barely scraped out an existence; the sharing was all on the side of the impoverished. The members of the communist party lived with all the technological advantages of the west that they could purchase from the West. They shared nothing. Hypocrites, self-serving, liars. The average poor person in the US has more than the middle class Russian. I know. I have spoken to individuals who came from Russia after the USSR crumbled. The government provided housing and they could get food, but little else. It is why the Russian soldiers are “acting crazy” stealing Ukrainian toilets, washing machines, etc. Meanwhile, when those living in the former USSR came to NYC, they had to hustle. They weren’t used to it.

QAon Republicans call this breaking into the Capitol to wreck it for Trump political discourse; COMMUNIST NEWSPEAK IN ACTION (courtesy of the site)

Under Putin’s direction, declaring he won, though he hadn’t, Trump expected his lackeys to wipe out Biden’s landslide victory, rename and reframe it, and cover it up by any means necessary. In other words, he expects them to do as he says just like Putin and Stalin communism expects of their lackeys. In a conspiracy Trump fomented an insurrection with members of congress like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Green, Mark Meadows, his family, willing outsiders like Ali Alexander, Steve Bannon, Rudy Guiliani and Justice Clarence Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, supporter Clarence Thomas, Elise Stefanik of New York and Doug Mastriano to name a few. Trump watched TV with happiness as the KKK and white supremacists and militia men defecated, broke windows, stole beat up and gassed Capitol police and swarmed throughout the building ranging to “hang Mike Pence” and “get” Nancy Pelosi. To say they wrecked the Capitol is an understatement. Capitol police, members of Congress and their aides have PTSD to this day.

Zelensky leads courageously and calls Putin down for his war crimes, atrocities and genocide of Ukrainians. Some QAnon Republicans voted against aiding Ukraine; communists supporting Putin’s genocide. (courtesy of the site)

In Kurkov’s Ukraine, in Zelensky’s Ukraine, such actions by a president of a democracy are monstrous, because they are not freedom-loving. To proclaim such lies as truth is criminal, is unjust, is communist. Such lies by one occupying the highest position in government run against the oath of office the president is supposed to uphold along with the constitution. Trump’s lies become NEWSPEAK (out of George Orwell’s novel 1984 (which is about Big Brother COMMUNISM AND OPPRESSION). Newspeak is controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary designed to limit the individual’s ability to think and articulate “subversive” anti-Trump thoughts. All of the Hillary cannibal memes in the smear campaign were example of Newspeak. Other examples of Newspeak chanted often by Trump, his son Don Jr., Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, Michael Flynn Jr. are “lock her up,” “we’re building the wall,” etc.

Putin at the RT Gala with compromats who threw the 2016 election with Putin, note Jill Stein and Michael Flynn. Flynn used NEWSPEAK to smear Hillary Clinton as did Steve Breitbart Bannon, criminals Trump pardoned (courtesy of the site)

Bannon made a lot of money on the “building the wall” NEWSPEAK meme. There was a collection for the wall and MAGAS were duped by their own xenophobia giving hundreds of dollars as Bannon took the money and used it for his luxuries. Such is the Putin/Stalinist/Trumpist communist grift; communist fraud. Stalin proclaimed abstemiousness and lived in an incredible mansion. Putin’s is even more luxurious and there are many more of them that dot Russia. Bannon a proclaimed Leninist is a joke. He is a thief, a liar, a criminal who got caught and belongs in jail, but crooked, criminal Trump pardoned him. Another communist tactic that Putin uses all the time. Pardon criminals, jail protestors or innocents, and kill journalists. Communism. It is what it is. We see what it is. We can’t lie about it. The QAnon party has become the party of Putinist/Stalinist/Trumpist communism.

To not record this truth, to run from this truth as Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell and the QAnon communist party do is a violation of their constitutional oaths. They are acting like Stalinist/Putin communists. They will not resign because they have lost their freedom to say “no” to Donald Trump. So they sit, in a grey zone as Trump’s slaves. They can’t serve two masters, be his slaves and be servants of the citizens in a leadership position anywhere in our government. So they are his slaves and serve him and they get paid their salaries by the American people for their treason, unjustly and unethically. They should have their salaries removed for serving a man who is out of office and his own unofficial head of the party of Putin and himself, the head of the QAnon Communist, anti-democracy party of terrorists and racists.

Republican Liz Cheney has called out Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for his craven and backward support of Trump/Putin’s communism, voting to impeach Trump for which she was punished, ordered by Trump (courtesy of the site)

Chained to Trump/Putin and like-minded corporates, it is a truth that these QAnon communist party members can’t govern. To expect them to govern, compromise, or lead is preposterous. They must be removed by the DOJ. The line must be drawn. And Trump for leading others to overthrow an election must go to jail. It is unprecedented, but so was the insurrection by a president who refused to agree to a peaceful transfer of power. He claimed he won and fired Chris Krebs (Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency for the US Department of Homeland Security) for saying it was the most secure election in the history of the nation. Trump FIRED HIM. Just like communistic Stalin or Putin would do.

A flag used by QAnon Trumpers (courtesy of the site)

Krebs and Barr said there was no fraud committed. Barr got fired too. Krebs is a hero for chronicling the truth. Trump and his lackeys committed a monstrous, anti-democracy, anti-patriotic fraud. If I wanted Putin styled communism where there are no freedoms of speech, assembly, press or the right for every citizen to have the vote fairly counted as Krebs and Barr said occurred, I would ask to go and live in Russia or North Korea or China where my vote as a citizen means nothing. But to have Donald Trump declare my vote is nothing because he is a MAGALOMANIACAL LOSER? And he can’t bear the truth? I’m with Kurkov and the Ukrainian people.

(L to R): Andrey Kurkov, Gary Shteyngart at the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture and Q and A, PEN AMERICA World Voices Festival (Carole Di Tosti)

I repeat what Kurkov said during the lecture, “Ukrainians, writers or non- writers, cannot and will not learn to live without freedom. Without the freedoms that are included in the mandatory and inviolable ‘list’ of human rights.” Our constitution upholds human rights. But under QAnon communistic Putin styled oppression and terrorism that Trump has insinuated with his enabling of white supremacists, our constitution is threatened, our human rights are threatened. And I call on the old Republican party to say NO to this monstrous bullying that is communistic, Putin-styled communistic and oppressive under Trump. Say NO to Trump. Say it loud so that the citizens of this nation can hear it from coast to coast. There is no place for communism, anti-democracy, anti-constitution white supremacist domestic terrorism in the US. No MAGALOMANIAC who declares he runs his own elections should be anywhere near any government position. He does not deserve one nickel from US citizens. Stop the GQP grift!

All of the “Republican” conference must say no. They must state why they stand for freedom. They must loudly oppose the NEWSPEAK LIES of Doug Mastriano and others like Elise Stefanik who say they are “patriots” and say they “stand” on the constitution, but support the insurrection and the overthrow of the constitution. Anti-democracy un patriots, they trample the constitution; that’s how they “stand” on it.

Both Stefanik and Mastriano and the others who proclaim they know more than Chris Krebs and William Barr are monstrous liars out of Stalinist communism;. Indeed, the 14th amendment forbids them holding office. The constitution does not allow them to overthrow an election and run for a government position. They are communists, then; they use NEWSPEAK to lie on the constitution and dupe citizens. Forbidden to run, as Hochal should remove Stefanik. Anyone in the QAnon party who supports such communistic Putin tactics must be called down by their own party, as liars and a Trump/Putin communist oppressors of freedoms written in the constitution. They all are anti-democracy. That means they are Putin styled oppressors. How many times have I repeated this?

Daily, QAnon Trump/Putin terrorist communist compromats live untruths, act untruths, speak untruths and violate the human rights of the citizens to be spoken to truthfully. They make citizens their whipping posts out of resentment. Instead of working with Democrats to benefit all Americans, like Stalinists Putin/Trump they benefit themselves. Consider dark money Citizens United donor dollars and dark money kickbacks. How do these politicians arrive in Washington from the middle class and end up with fat wallets and bank accounts? Mitch McConnell isn’t just wealthy because he married wealth.

Insurrections summoned by Trump to the Capitol doing their communist duty to overthrow democracy and the 2020 election (courtesy of the site)

The QAnon communists consider no-Trumpers to be combatants, and fight against them. Trump is against all who stood against him on January 6th. He is planning revenge against anyone who would manifest, investigate and speak out that he is a loser and always was a loser of 2020 and most probably without Putin’s illegal help in 2016, a loser against Hillary Clinton. In both elections he was unable to win the popular vote. The majority of citizens are against him because they recognize a criminal, liar and thug is not a good leader.

Of course, Cambridge Analytica owner Robert Mercer and Bannon and Jared Kushner had calculated what was needed to win the electoral college in 2016. Trump won that by a small number of votes in the swing states. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton won by the largest margin of voters in the popular vote ever in a presidential election at that time. Considering that Putin hated her and prevented her win and contributed greatly in the smear campaign against her, that she even got the popular vote is to her credit and not spoken about enough in the white male dominated and owned media.

Fox News contributed greatly to spreading misinformation during the 2016 election. Truth is not a mission of Fox, banned in most NATO countries

Read up on the 2016 election and watch the film The Great Hack. Trump had to rely on Robert Mercer who wanted to make the government vitiate his 7.5 billion tax bill so he, through his company Cambridge Analytica with the help of Steve Bannon, effected a conspiracy to elect Trump. They, with FB data, Wiki leak emails of Hillary Clinton’s recipes spun into Hillary’s eating children and sucking their blood (taken from the Stalin effected starvation of Ukrainians in the Holodomor in 1932-33), millions of Putin bots of Russian Military Intel, Putin compromised Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and other targeted social media sites, were able to clamp more votes in swing states to gain the electoral college. However, the amount to effect the electoral college win is negligible. If Jill Stein did not run, Hillary would have won. Check out the photos of Jill Stein sitting at the same table as Putin and Michael Flynn at the RT Gala.

Considering that all the machinations and money the Trump campaign took (dark money is not recorded) would run a small country, Hillary winning the popular vote is a testament to her mission and the respect the majority of citizens had for her. If any election was stolen, it wasn’t the election of 2020. Putin and American conspirators and Mercer’s Cambridge Analytica, et. al. stole the 2016 election from Hillary. Trump lied, helped by a Putin’s Russian military intel, Mercer/Bannon and an incredibly dirty communistic-lying, NEWSPEAK smear campaign stoked by white supremacist terrorists, MAGAS and bots. These un- American, un-patriotic “Americans” trampled the majority of the 2016 citizen voters and the constitution with a foreign adversary, endangering our national security. (They still try to but it is near impossible with Putin’s war.)

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot is dedicated to activism against Putin’s lies, oppressions, Ukrainian genocide and puppet government of Belarus

Kurkov and the Ukrainians know the power of saying “I am free.” Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul and the rest of the communistic Republicans do not. In this article I hold the QAnon communistic white supremacist Republican Party to account: Stop being slaves to Trump and Trumpers. Say “no” to Donald Trump and his obeisance to Putin and white supremacist domestic terrorists. Be brave like the Ukrainians. Slava Ukraini! Slava freedom from communistic oppression Trump/Putin style.

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