Back from San Francisco – A Big New Week Begins

A lot’s on the plate for the new week as we move to a designer run of EITHER OR on Wednesday. Helen Hayes Awards are tonight and I’ve decided not to go; many on staff ARE going – we’ll look forward to Hannah’s posting of the event tomorrow. I’m sleeping in tonight, as today I’m in slow-mo recovery mode having taken the red-eye in from California 6 hours ago. Now for a brief wrap up from the successful trip:

As last entry’s addendum suggests, it started out not so auspiciously. Got bumped off my United Airlines 10:30 AM flight. United is fraying at the edges, pilot slow-downs all over the place, cancelled flights littering the schedule. In the end, I got rebooked to a 2:30 pm flight and got a Free Ticket for my troubles. Read two scripts on the flight out and saw two movies too (the Hilary Swank FREEDOM WRITERS film and Will Smith in THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS set, beautifully, in San Francisco in the early 80s). Was picked up at the airport by a lovely ACT-staffer and brought directly to The Marsh Theater in the Mission District and caught much of the 2nd act of Dan Hoyle’s TINGS DEY HAPPEN. I had no idea that the performer playing some 40 Nigerians and other assorted international aid and development workers would be a young white boy. Somehow the pre-show publicity led me to believe he’d be black African. Hoyle, a protégé of wonderful Theater J friend and performance artist Charlie Varon, is a terrific New Generation performer who’s really more of a kindred member of the Danny Hoch school of hip-hop performance art; white boys with especially keen ears for the patois of Black African expression; in Hoch’s case, he’s drawing from Jewish-American-Cuban roots and a total immersion in Hip-Hop; in Hoyle’s case, he’s traveled all over the world as a Fulbright Scholar and spent months in Nigeria and the Niger Delta coming to know the area, its oil politics, and the workers of Chevron corporation pretty intimately. The results are a very impressive hit show that’s in its 4th month of sold-out performances at the fabled Marsh Theatre. Both The Marsh and Dan Hoyle are worth checking out in much greater detail on their websites, http://www.danhoyle.net and http://www.themarsh.org

Had dinner with Charlie Varon and got updates on his wonderful work-in-progress RABBI SAM which we hope to present in our new Incubator series this coming winter, perhaps, as we continued to brainstorm, with Woolly Mammoth. Howard Shalwitz had also recently been out to SF and Howard’s the one who introduced me to Charlie and his terrific THE PEOPLE’S VIOLIN which was a follow up to the smash hit presented by Woolly during the mid-90s, RUSH LIMBAUGH IN NIGHT SCHOOL.

Oy, I’m running out of time here writing about all this – Who’s got time to read it, right? But it’s worth it as a record, I’m sure. So I’ll just buzz through.

Aaron Davidman directed a fine revisionist production of DEATH OF SALESMAN at Traveling Jewish Theatre, although the revisionist aspect of it – the outing of the Loman family as a quintessentially Jewish family – is perhaps the least interesting aspect of the production. Perhaps that’s because Willy and Linda Loman affect an obvious Brooklyn “wilt” (a combination between a whine and a lilt) and are Jewish-sounding but not quite dynamic enough in their presentation to make the Jewish behavior and rhythms interesting-sounding. I like much more the sons and their aggressive interactive dynamic; these are Brooklyn boys who are muscular and don’t affect any Jewish dialect or behavior, the conceit probably being that the sons have assimilated much more into their environment than the more Jewishly-inflected parents. This inconsistency between the rendering of the parents and children is, for me, the weak-spot in the production. But I so admire the work of Corey Fischer who plays Willy Loman and he is a charismatic performer. Ultimately, I’m not persuaded that his Willy is a Great Willy, and I’ve seen Great Willys – like Dustin Hoffman’s and Brian Dennehy’s. But overall, I think Aaron Davidman’s production is lean, mean, beautifully orchestrated with on-stage cello underscoring by an extraordinary musician, Jessica Ivry. On Broadway, the Dustin Hoffman production had a first act of 90 minutes. Davidman’s production runs a well-paced 70 minutes. Gotta appreciate that. Among many other innovative staging elements, including having parts of the audience flank the stage.

Aaron and I have drinks after as we discuss his work-in-progress. Let’s put it this way: It’s very much IN-PROGRESS. We discuss Aaron’s recent interview of Judea Pearl, the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl. Pearl is upset that his son’s name will be brought up in a piece that also discusses Rachel Corrie. He sees no equivalence. As we write to him, the piece suggests radical differences between Daniel Pearl and Rachel Corrie, in the ways they lived and died, even as they both perished within a year of each other, idealistic and bright young Americans caught in the crossfire of hate in the Middle East.

The performance piece promises a taking stock of the many recent controversies that have divided Americans and American Jews as representations of young Americans killed in the Middle East create charged political and cultural symbols. Our TJ Program Committee Co-Chair Stephen Stern maintains that “We don’t argue that Daniel Pearl and Rachel Corrie (or their actions) are comparable in themselves (people will make all kinds of judgments, some of which may or may not appall). It is the personal human situation in which Americans in different places for different reasons in the Middle East and Islamic world “get themselves in over their heads” where they cannot protect their own lives that speaks poignantly, as well as the levels of incredible local human suffering that both Pearl and Corrie witness through their comparatively privileged American eyes.”

Judea Pearl remains unconvinced by our assurances that we’ll both do right by our presentation of Daniel Pearl’s life and death and he does not accept our invitation to discuss the work as well as the work of his friend, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, with whom he’s traveled the country speaking of the Abrahamic tradition that unites Muslims and Jews. There may be further updates on this front, but for now it’s a troubled zone; our play—the promise of its presentation in Washington—is causing the Pearl family a tremendous amount of pain.

A new question: Should we reach out to Cindy and Craig Corrie and invite them to attend Aaron Davidman’s piece? More on this in the weeks to come.

Finally, let’s cut to Sunday, a matinee performance of the world premiere of AFTER THE WAR by Philip Kan Gotanda with a panel discussion at 5 pm entitled “Hometowns/Theater Towns.”

My journal is littered with notes taken during the show and the spirited discussion after; a discussion that included ACT artistic director Carey Perloff, Alley Theatre of Houston’s artistic director Gregory Boyd, Campo Santo and Intersection artistic director Sean San Jose, and myself. We talk for 70 minutes. I can’t reconstruct the conversation here, and who’d want me to? I was really pleased with it – can we leave it at that for now – and I liked what I had to say about the ties between the Japanese-American experience and the Jewish-American experience and how those narratives get dealt with quite differently on our stages. Phillip’s play is a kind of half-century’s later update of Israel Zangwill’s turn of the Century melodrama, THE MELTING POT (the play that coined the phrase). I’m asked about the politics of making theater about a community for that community and the provocative programming that we’ve done at Theater J. If anyone wants a further detailing of my remarks on this and other subjects that came up, just let me know in the comments section and I’ll respond with more notes in a follow up comment. For now, suffice to say the panel impressed and I made some new friends.

I had wonderful meals with my relatives throughout the day and was so happy to have started and ended my Sunday with wonderful talks with my brother-in-law Stevo and later, on a lovely ride to the airport, with my excellent cousin Mark, quite a writer in his own right, though he writes about what I only wish I could write about: High School Sports! And he’s got his own blog which I’m just dying to get to where he talks about other cultural detritus; movies, TV shows, and the Golden State Warriors!

I think it’s time for me to get to work. Let’s hope everyone has fun tonight at the Helen Hayes Awards. Me, I’ll be grilling with the family on the porch, safe from the howling Nor’easter.