As MADOFF Closes, and PARADE Opens, AFTER THE FALL Begins Rehearsals (& Jennifer Mendenhall has something to say about it – She calls her latest post “Ignorance is Bliss”)

(from Associate Artist in Residence, Jennifer Mendenhall)

Ignorance is bliss. Until it’s not. Then comes guilt, recrimination, and feeling like a fool.

I just closed Imagining Madoff, in which I played The Secretary who is, in the playwright Deb Margolin’s words, “bloated with remorse”. She questions how she could have been so blind to the activity on the floor below hers in the building where Bernie Madoff conducted his infamous Ponzi scheme, stealing 65 billion dollars and ruining so many people’s lives and financial security. She feels guilty about the man in Europe who, after losing all his clients’ money, jumped out of a window to his death. “I feel I played a part. I had a small part”.

Tonight we read After The Fall on the first day of our rehearsal process. I play Holga, a German woman who, once she became aware of the concentration camps, worked as a courier for the men who were planning Hitler’s assassination. She says to Quentin: “It was my country – longer, perhaps, than it should have been. But I didn’t know. And now I don’t know how I could not have known”.

The moment that those words came out of my mouth, I gasped, Ari laughed, and Jose Carresquillo (our director) lifted his hands in a gesture of “how is this possible?”

Two women, years apart, guilty of the same crime: ignorance. We are all in some way guilty of choosing to remain ignorant of certain things. There is so much that we have no control of. It becomes an unbearable task to move forward with one’s life, knowing that one cannot change an evil of which one is aware. So we choose. We do the best we can. We are as honest as we can be. And we turn a blind eye when it all becomes too much.

I spend an inordinate amount of time on facebook, because that is where I get the news that’s not in the Washington Post, which I read daily. One story that you won’t see much about in mainstream media is “Occupy Wall Street”. This is an anti-corporation, anti-Wall Street protest now in its second week. People are gathering peacefully but vocally to protest the choke hold of corporations on wealth and politics in America. Protesters are young and old – there’s a group of septuagenarians called Raging Grannies – white, black and brown, urban and from the suburbs, and from other states as well.

The NYPD has responded with aggression, using pepper spray on protestors who are standing still, behind police barricades. There is a clip of an officer slamming a young man’s head into a parked car. Police have been filmed hand cuffing the grannies, pressing old necks to the pavement and holding them there under uniformed knees.

Say what you will about the content of the protest: you may not think that the divide between rich and poor has become untenable, and you may not feel that the political process in this country is unhealthy and unfair. You might believe that the protesters are wrong to target Wall Street, with its hedge fund traders and their billion dollar bonuses, banks we bailed out which have reported their highest profits in years, and the whole corporation kingdom, whose CEOs donate millions to politicians (can you say Koch brothers?)

But the issue of police aggression should definitely be publicized in our mainstream media, and those officers should be held accountable for violating our right, as citizens of a free country, to express our opinion peaceably without fear of violent reprisal.

Laurence O’Donnell of msnbc filmed a “The Last Word” segment on police brutality, which includes detailed clips of the scene on Wall Street. He is scathing in his report, condemning the American police force in general, not just the NYPD. He refers back to Rodney King’s beating in LA, which could not be covered up because a civilian had captured it on film. Many of us were shocked, O’Donnell says, but not black Americans: “there’s a Rodney King every day in this country, and black America has always known that”.

Occupy Wall Street, and the police brutality occurring in New York City, is barely being reported in the mainstream press, and you don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to think it’s because Wall Street owns the mainstream press.

I do not want to say what my characters do: how could I not have known? It is always easier to believe what the reigning powers would like you to think. And the oppressed are usually portrayed in negative terms, which makes dismissing them that much more justifiable.

Until it’s not.


2 thoughts on “As MADOFF Closes, and PARADE Opens, AFTER THE FALL Begins Rehearsals (& Jennifer Mendenhall has something to say about it – She calls her latest post “Ignorance is Bliss”)

  1. This from Karen Malpede, director/playwright, is circulating “out there” from and about the Wall Street demonstrations (and perhaps with some hints of readings Theater J might do…):

    “I’m standing with Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK, Ynestra King who organized the two women’s marches on the Pentagon in the early 1980ies, and the first eco-feminist conference, Women and Life on Earth, in 1980; and Ahmad and Ann Shirazi, an Iranian-Jewish couple, veterans of every antiwar, and free Palestine march of this the last twenty years. A few hundred feet away the core members of Occupy Wall St. are in the midst of their 15th General Meeting since their occupation began eight days ago. And I’m thinking of Em Jo Basshe. He was a progressive playwright who wrote a dynamic epic play about Jewish immigrants to the lower east side called The Centuries. “Bread for the living. Shrouds for the dead,” are the opening lines. His play was produced in 1927 by the anarchist New Playwrights Theater, a collective including John Howard Lawson and John Dos Passos, and funded by Jewish financier Otto Kahn. (I have just benefited from George Soros funding for my new play, “Another Life,” about our torture program and post-9/11 madness.) Basshe’s play had a cast of 35 actors playing the entire Lower East Side. He later went to Hollywood to write films and then was black listed by HUAC and the McCarthyites. He spent the final twenty years of his life in a depressive stupor on his living room couch. His wife told me he “sat up” when the Free Speech Movement erupted in Berkeley in 1964. Basshe was magically restored when he heard Mario Savio fight for the right to shout “fuck you,” out loud. The New Left had risen from the ashes of the Old. And then he was content to die.

    So we in our small group are speaking about the young. Behind us, the General Meeting grinds on. They are using a “people’s microphone” in the plaza where no sound equipment is allowed. A speaker says three words, which a core among the crowd repeats and so the rest of us can hear. Everything takes twice as long. ‘I’m thinking of Athens,” says Medea, “how did they do it?” I say, “Their only question was, ‘should we invade.’” Ynestra says, “the microphone is a strategic invention.” But we are happy in our little group of veteran protesters, though we lack the patience of the young for this General Assembly and its endless community-minded minutia. The woman who announces the post-meeting meeting of the “non-male identified” occupiers of the square, follows this by saying, “you can be in a male body as long as you are not 100 % male identified,” and the man who tells us what the woman with pendulous bare breasts wants to say because she has taken a vow of silence, and the young women in hijabs, and the young (mostly) white men and women with their dreads and tattoos, all this would have been impossible but for the New Left, the Black Power and the Feminist movements that happened before these young ones were born.

    Our New Left devolved into Weatherman fantasies of violent revolution, yet what remains forty years later are these new committed pacifists, reminding each other in their General Assembly to take their vitamins, stay hydrated and recycle. They are gentle, non-hierarchical, non-doctrinaire, completely committed to non-violence. There are egos to be seen, but, so far, so good, there are no internecine fights for dominance, no purges, no betrayals. They paint signs with individualistic, often witty, always acute and encompassing sayings: “if you lost your house, Wall Street stole it from you,” and they have a bucket collecting money for their “adopt a puppy fund.” Yesterday, a score of them were brutally beaten and maced by New York City cops as they walked up Fifth Ave. obstructing traffic without a permit. Today, they speak of a committee that is reaching out to local businesses to establish good working relationships. They say that Wall St. workers are coming surreptitiously to support them with funds. Free pizzas are being delivered. After the General Assembly, if it ever ends, there will be a collective meal.

    I say to Ynestra, “Everything we fought for is here, now, today.” The antimilitarism, the nonviolence, the feminism so accepted you simply see these young men and women working together as equals without a second thought, the anti-capitalist, pro-democratic socialist analysis, the anarchism, their concern for nature, and animals, for the immediate ecology of this place and the larger implications for the planet.

    So, I feel like Em Jo Basshe, woken from a long dark sleep by the sudden emergence of these committed, radical young. I wonder that they seem to have adopted as given the lessons we struggled so, often with such acrimony, to learn ourselves. I marvel that from all our madness, they seem to have kept the good parts. A gentle strength pervades their occupation. “They are so sweet,” we say to one another standing in our elders’ tiny circle. “Where did they come from?” How, without a draft, did they get here, so resolutely antiwar? Well, there are no jobs. They went to school, graduated into the empty prospects of the decaying empire. They looked around: whatever had been promised them was moot. They target Wall St. because, of course, it is the brutality of unchecked, late free-market capitalist economy, brought even lower by the wars, that mars their future. And they carry in the marrow of their bones, an Old Left, a New Left and whatever they have yet make of this, their one idealistic youthful energetic wish to change the world: a New New Left. A Newer Left. At last. Rise from your stupor, your cynicism, your despair, as Basshe did, sit up and join them there. They are our legacy, our children, and they are very much themselves.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I actually walked right into this on the way to my office on Saturday and it was mind blowing – plus wondering if the people screaming about expenditures really would think it was worth the cost of hundreds of police…and thank you all for IMAGINING MADOFF – it was wonderful (and karmic) to finally have it be there.

    Morgan Jenness
    Agent for Deb Margolin

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