Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

Watch on the Rhine- Bette Davis and Paul Lukas, 1943

**********************

In Praise of the Fighters

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.

There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.

There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.

But there are those who struggle all their lives:

These are the indispensable ones.

Bertolt Brecht, The Mother,  1930

********************

I came across this short poem/song taken from the play The Mother written by Bertolt Brecht and was reminded of one of my favorite movies, Watch on the Rhine, which featured one such indispensable fighter. I was reminded, as well, of the path we are hurtling down as a nation, especially in the light of the events here of the last few days and weeks. The transformation is accelerating as all guide rails that have protected us in the past are smashed aside. The parallels between what is happening here at the moment and the formation of other authoritarian/fascist regimes in the past century are haunting.

But this short verse and this movie favorite of mine remind us that in almost all of these other regimes, they have been opposed and often defeated by people of great strength and resolve. They were Anti-Fascists or Freedom Fighters who put aside concerns for their personal benefit or safety and devoted their lives to opposing, in every possible manner, the cruelty of fascist rule.

You might read this and shake your head and think that this is an overstatement of what is taking place, that things are not so dire as I might see them and that we are light-years away from fascism.

I hope you’re right.

But I remind you that in all of these past regimes there were large numbers of their citizens who thought just that same thing, that such a thing was inconceivable. It can’t happen here. But authoritarianism creeps up on you, taking hold little by little. Then, when there is a window of opportunity for it to impose its total will on the citizenry, it accelerates at a pace that exceeds the ability of normal response to restrain it.

It may be too late beyond that point but for these people who stand in brave opposition. The fighters.

I urge you to see Watch on the Rhine if you get a chance or at least read the original play. The film was made in 1943, adapted for the screen by Dashiell Hammett from the prize-winning play written by his wife, Lillian Hellman. It concerns a well-heeled family in the Northern Virginia area across the Potomac from Washington whose daughter ( played beautifully by Bette Davis ) returns home from a war-torn Europe for the first time in many years with her husband and children. It is set, and was written, in the year or so before before our entry into World War II.

Her husband is a German freedom fighter named Kurt Muller who is a fugitive leader in the underground movement against the Nazis. He is played by Paul Lukas in a magnificent performance, one that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor that year over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and Gary Cooper in For Whom the Bells Toll. Yes, it was that good.

His Muller is the common man who finds himself in the role of the selfless hero willing to give up everything– his career, his family, his life– in order to stand against evil. Muller did not seek this task but knows that it is one he must shoulder. His words are simple, direct and powerful.

Lukas, who also originated the part on the Broadway stage, is brilliant. Whenever I see this movie, I am haunted for weeks afterwards by Lukas’ performance. The power of it thrills me but I find myself questioning my own strength and beliefs as a human. Thankfully, to this point, I have never been put into a situation like that faced by Kurt Muller and hopefully never will.

But would I be able to stand with even a fraction of the grace and courage of Lukas’ character?

I really don’t know.

There is a different first line of Brecht’s song at the top of the page taken from another translation of the verse from its original German: Those who are weak don’t fight.

I sincerely hope I don’t fall into that category if the situation ever presents itself at my door.

And I worry that it is coming up my walkway even as I write this.

 

Read Full Post »

Tracy Letts , Benjamin Walker and Annette Bening in “All My Sons”


**************************

“Mother: What more can we be?

Chris: You can be better! Once and for all you can know there’s a universe of people outside and you’re responsible to it and, unless you know that, you threw away your son because that’s how he died.” 

Arthur Miller, All My Sons

*************************

I had the good fortune to take in the current Broadway production of the Arthur Miller play All My Sons yesterday. A powerful, beautifully crafted  play with memorable  performances made it one of those moments when I truly appreciate the shared experience of live theater. There’s something hopeful, even with a darkly set play that bares our faults and inadequacies, in sitting in a theater filled with people who you can feel being moved by the material and the performances. I woke up this morning thinking about this play which is a pretty indicator of how well it hit the mark for me.

Written in 1947 and set in the aftermath of World War II, it’s a drama that maintains its impact and relevance. Times may have changed some things, but the unbrave new world it presented then are recognizable in these times as well. The conflict between those who fail to accept responsibility for their actions in the name of self-preservation and those willing to sacrifice and hold themselves accountable is as cogent now as it was then.

There were lines, such as the exchange between the mother, Kate and her remaining son, Chris, (played masterfully by Annette Bening and Benjamin Walker) that leapt off the stage for me. But the moment that I felt was the most memorable came without words. It was at the pivotal point where the father, Joe (in a tremendous performance from Tracy Letts), silently reads the letter from his MIA son that sets the course for the final act. I don’t know how long he read in silence. It might have only fifteen seconds or so but it felt like it a minute or more. The silence of the theater was absolute as though everyone there was holding their breath in anticipation of his response.

It was a great moment from what I feel was great performance. Glad to have taken a short break to have experienced it. Makes me want to do better, be better.

So, this Sunday musical selection came about as we were waiting for our car to be brought around. Sitting in the lobby and  Sly and the Family Stone’s Sing a Simple Song was playing in the background. I felt my head boobing to the beat and I look across the lobby and see another guy sand wife both reflexively moving up and down on the balls of their feet to the beat. Thought that maybe the world would be a better place with Sly being played more. Give a listen and have a good day.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Took a day or two to shoot into NYC.  We packed a lot into a very short time and quickly fled the throngs that packed the streets and parks of the city. Hit and run.

Neue Galerie - Gustav Klimt Portait of Adele Bloch-BauerWe first ran up through Central Park  to the Neue Galerie, a small museum just above the Metroplitan Museum that features German and Austrian Modern art.  It’s a beautiful collection situated in a beautiful 5th Avenue mansion which makes for intimate, if sometimes crowded, viewing of the art.  If you’re in NYC, the Neue Galerie is worth a visit if only to see this piece even though there is much, much more to see there.

It has a memorable group of Germanic paintings and drawings from the likes of Klimt, Schiele, Kirchner, Beckman and many others.  But undoubtedly, the crown jewel of their collection is the  Portrait of Adele-Bloch Bauer by artist Gustav Klimt, the $135 million masterpiece with the fabled past that spawned last year’s film, Woman in Gold.

The lighting in the room with this painting is a flat and even light that dampens the gold’s glimmer, making it less shimmering than you may have seen it in photos.  But even that can’t diminish this stunning piece which is evidenced by the flocks of people that surround it, a long with a docent who monopolized the piece for about 30 minutes.

That was all the time we had for museum hopping and it was on to the theater.  We were meeting our neighbor and friend Bill’s English class from our local high school the next day for a matinee of the Eugene O’Neill landmark drama Long Day’s Journey into Night so we figured that we needed something a bit less weighty and dark to counter the dose of O’Neill that was to come.  We hit the musical  Something Rotten which tells the story of two playwright brothers struggling to outdo William Shakespeare, who is wonderfully portrayed by Tony-winner Christian Borle as a rockstar who is idolized by the masses in Elizabethan England.

Very high energy, very funny and a really great cast.

The next day’s performance continued that theme, if you substitute the word dark for funny.  The revival of O’Neill’s biographical masterpiece features a tremendous cast with Jessica Lange, Gabriel Byrne, Michael Shannon and John Gallagher, Jr. and they did not disappoint in any way.  You could sense their total engagement with the material which is really needed for a production that runs over 3 1/2 hours and features very dark and probing dialogue between the small cast.  In lesser hands, it could be a tortuous 3 1/2 hours but they made the time pass easily for the viewer.  Great, great show.

Bill’s students seemed to understand the significance of what they were seeing which is a great thing to witness.  Many kudos to Bill for exposing these kids to this part of the world.  And if you get a chance and like the idea of seeing great actors doing great material, check out this show before it ends its short run at the end of June.

All in all, a good couple of days in the city.  That being said, there is nothing better than that time approaching home when the traffic that snarls the city has fallen away and all you can see ahead of you is a single pair of taillights far in the distance and the outline of darkened hills set against the clear night sky.  No crowds, no traffic, no noise– home is near.

Okay, for this Sunday’s music, here is a little sample from Something Rotten.  It is the real theme of the whole show.  It’s God, I Hate Shakespeare sung by Brain d’Arcy James.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: