ON THE GROUND
Nicholas D. Kristof – A New York Times Blog
March 15, 2010, 2:54 pm
A Play About Darfur
By NICHOLAS KRISTOF
My previous research assistant, Winter Miller, is and was a playwright. A very persistent one. She had done a fabulous job supporting my work, and she became increasingly interested in writing a play about Darfur — so she asked if she could come along on a trip to the Chad/Darfur border with me, back in 2006.
The one thing I was pretty sure of was that taking someone who didn’t really need to be there was not a good idea. I normally travel very light, darting in and out of such places with just a videographer. Taking Winter seemed a foolish idea.
But Winter wore me down and promised that if I just took her, she would write a brilliant play that would get people to care about Darfur, Sudan, genocide and anything else I cared about. So I agreed. We flew to Abeche, then drove to Adre on the Darfur border, then drove through a no-man’s-land along the border through Ade to Kiloy. It was an area that aid workers had pretty much abandoned, except for Doctors Without Borders, and the survivors had terrible stories to tell.
And, sure enough, Winter turned it into a terrific drama. It’s called In Darfur, and it explores questions of journalistic ethics, particularly the tradeoffs between a reporter’s obligation to cover a larger story and get word out, versus the obligation to the particular individual who may be placed at risk by that story. The tradeoffs are real and painful, and they make for a lovely play. It’s playing in Washington, beginning March 31, so check it out. Information is here.
And finally, this great review in today’s EXAMINER:
In 1980, Andy Warhol’s exhibit of 10 silk-screen portraits titled “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century” was received with scorn by many art critics and praise by the public who understood and appreciated it. Thirty years later, comic storyteller Josh Kornbluth takes up the issue of the once controversial exhibit and what it means — to him personally and to the larger community of art lovers.
Produced by Theater J, Kornbluth’s one-man show, “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” is in part a rambling discourse explaining how Kornbluth was introduced to the exhibit, how his stage show took shape, how Kornbluth navigates the world as a father, the son of a communist, an atheist-maybe-on-the-way-to-becoming-a-Jewish man. That part is all right. Kornbluth is an entertaining fellow whose low-key comedy is easy to take.
But far more interesting are Kornbluth’s revelations about Warhol, the development of his art and the seeds of the 1980 exhibit found in Warhol’s early life. Kornbluth’s Warhol is not the jet-setting Andy we know so well, the Warhol of the Velvet Underground, Factory and Studio 54 days. It’s his predecessor: a sensitive, sickly boy in Pittsburgh who often knelt to pray in a Byzantine-Catholic church rich with icons.
Kornbluth stands in front of a series of 10 large portraits, the faces of the people in “Ten Portraits,” all of whom altered the world in extraordinary ways: Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, George Gershwin, Martin Buber, Louis Brandeis, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and the Marx Brothers.
Scene designer Alexander V. Nichols uses huge projections spanning the back wall of the stage — two rows, five panels per row — each projection a paler version of one of Warhol’s portraits. In terms of color, the set is at odds with the original brilliant prints. Perhaps Kornbluth wanted to emphasize where Warhol began, with black and white photographs of his subjects. Or perhaps director David Dower thought vivid colors would draw too much attention from Kornbluth. Still, the genius of the portraits becomes clear as Kornbluth stops to evaluate the contributions of each monumental personality.
It’s impossible to talk about Warhol without discussing iconography and Kornbluth deals deftly with Warhol’s style, motives and achievements in the exhibit. Was it crass exploitation as the vitriolic critics wrote or can we believe Warhol himself, when he said he just liked the faces? As for the struggle to decide on which 10 to include in the show, Kornbluth re-creates with subtle humor the curious process by which Warhol’s subjects were chosen.
“Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?” lasts about 90 minutes. During that time, Dower has his actor move a few steps in one direction or another. But basically, Kornbluth stands center stage and talks. Not for a minute is it boring.
Best of all, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, the home of Theater J, is showing the original Warhol exhibit in its Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery. “Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century in Retrospect” will be on view through May 2. If Kornbluth doesn’t convince you that Warhol’s art is still provocative and powerful, the original portraits surely will.