Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

Hitler arrives at Frau Merschmeyer's home for the homeless in Vienna-on-the-Danube after having traveled all night in a crowded third-class carriage from Braunau-on-the Inn, that bucolic little town of his birth, "bordering two Germanic states, whose reunion by all available means is the towering task of all true patriots." He has an interview with the Academy Of Fine Arts and is hoping to achieve his fortune as an artist, "a vocation predestined by my considerable graphic talent." One of his roommates in the flophouse is an old, ugly, Jewish man named Shlomo Herzl, who sells Lutheran Bibles, has visitations with Fraulein Gretchen Maria Globuschek-Bornemissza-Eszterfalvy (the last virgin over fourteen in Vienna), and who helps Hitler prepare for his interview by trimming his mustache and helping him shine his shoes. Hitler is very grateful and tells Shlomo, "Jew, I appreciate your assistance. When my time has come I shall reward you suitably. I'll buy you an oven, so you'll be warm, and when you get old I'll find you a solution..." Shlomo later suggests Hitler go into politics and mentions he is writing an autobiography he might call Mein Kampf (i.e. My Struggle), a name Hitler likes. His other roommate is "Lobkowitz the Loon, a kookie kosher cook, defrocked some years ago by his boss Moskowitz for mixing cream cheese with boiled beef, an insult to Mosaic law." After being fired, he fell into a coma and when he came out of it ten days later, he was under the impression he was God. In our first introduction to him, he says, "I called out in the dark, from behind the burning bush, where art thou, Shlomo Herzl, to receive the glad tidings that I reduced the Ten Commandments to three, but adultery is still in; plus the good old evergreens: (A) One God Is Enough and That's Me. B) If You Cannot Honor Your Parents, Call Them At Least Once A Week. (C) Before You Covet Your Neighbor's Wife, Make Sure He's Smaller Than You."


The young Hitler is depicted as needy, unloved, and paranoid. He has no talent as an artist and is rejected from the Academy of Fine Arts. Baron von Kropf, with his "undulating hairdo, perfumed handkerchief in his breast pocket, a pearl stuck into a silk bow tie, dove-grey spats, this baronial rector-rectum, exuding decadence, dared to suggest that I become a house-painter." With Shlomo's help, Hitler does sell some watercolors on the street to get by. He jerked off like other boys but has had no sexual experiences, cannot laugh, and was never hugged or kissed by his mother. Hitler refers to sexual relations as "intercoursing" and Shlomo makes fun of him saying, "Oh my God, policemen, and horses I can somewhat abide but get me out of the clutches of this Tyrolean faggola." Just to make sure you have the worst possible opinion of the future Fuehrer, playwright George Tabori has Lobkowitz (God) gratuitously comment on Hitler in a manner intended to defame him. Lobkowitz says of Hitler, "He sleeps all day, his mouth open. He either snores, a terrible buzz saw snore or talks in his dreams, snorting shreds of maledictions. Also, he is a champion snot flinger: a snort, a scrabbling excavation, producing a caterpillar-sized piece of desiccated slime, contemplates upon it with the curiosity of an archeologist, rolls it into a neat ball, flicks it across space. One lands, bang, on the windowpane, another, in a wide arc, splash, between my eyes." In case you didn't get the playwright's point, Shlomo mentions that Hitler walks around with a smelly backside because his mother never taught him to properly clean himself. He also gratuitously writes the young Hitler as having chronic constipation and makes him a hypochondriac. Shlomo taunts Hitler by suggesting his surname is Jewish and that they are probably cousins. Hitler resists the suggestion telling Shlomo, "You must have water on the brain. My blood is pure as driven snow, issue of a stock that is hard as flint, fast as a whippet." Hitler reserves to himself the right to be the sole judge of what and who he considers to be foreign and that includes Shlomo - "your accent, for example, your entire demeanor, and especially your nose, not to mention your twisted tongue, which turns into a question what you obviously intend as a statement." Shlomo eventually becomes a slave/father figure to the young Hitler, who confesses he never really wished to be a painter. He explains that was just "a tactical device to fool the fools." What he really wants is "The world!" including New Zealand. Especially New Zealand!    

Gretchen, convincingly portrayed by Andrea Lynn Green, represents "innocence" in the play. Shlomo, the old, ugly Jew, is perceived by Hitler as being "a debaucher of innocence." Gretchen promises to stay with Shlomo and randomly gives him Mitzi, a chicken, to keep him company until she is of age. In the meantime, she picks specks off his forehead, hugs him, and clips his toenails. Shlomo Herzl, played to perfection by Jon Freda, unwittingly gives Hitler the confidence he needs to enter politics. Fearing there may be some embarrassing details about him in Shlomo's Mein Kampf, Hitler and his friends confront him demanding to see what he has written. Wielding a large knife, Hitler's friend Himmlisch (Jeff Burchfield) impliedly threatens Shlomo's physical well-being and foreshadows the future violence of the Third Reich by killing and dismembering the chicken in the process of making "a Mitzi Schnitzel in a delicious blood sauce." Cordis Heard makes an appearance as Frau Death. She plays the part in a laid back, low-key manner that makes her presence all the more chilling. For example, she explains to Shlomo, "I'm not interested in your friend as a corpse. As a corpse, as a victim, he is absolutely mediocre. But as a criminal, as a mass murderer, as an exterminating angel - a natural talent." Looking forward to the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Frau Death, Hitler says, "Madam, I shall not disappoint you!" As they are leaving, Hitler asks Frau Death if he can go get his toothbrush. She responds, "Yes, of course. There are plenty of teeth, hair, and gold fillings in the place we're going." Frau Death even has some final words for Shlomo telling him, "My poor Shlomo. If you knew what is to come! Fire will be set onto you. It will eat up every green and dry tree. Every face, from south to north, will be singed." Finally, G.W. Reed, who does a great job as Lobkowitz returns to the stage. Shlomo says, "Some God. Where have you been?" to which he responds, "I was here. I'm always here. Only you forgot to look (he sniffs at the pan that contained Mitzi). Smells good. Eat my son, not in hunger, but in the hope to ingest the martyr's strength you will need in all the years to come. You will need it."

The star of this production of Mein Kampf is Omri Kadim, a talented, charismatic actor who plays Hitler. His representation of the inexperienced young future Fuhrer raises possibilities left unaddressed in the script. Sure, there is some clever writing and some interesting monologues and dialogues, but in the end, other than the unconcealed hatred George Tabori exhibits towards Hitler, he really doesn't offer up a consistent premise or a thesis as to why and how Hitler turned out as he did. Were the elements of his dictatorial spirit and the potential for evil present in this young man from the beginning or might his exposure to different experiences have changed the course of his life. The presence of Lobkowitz and Shlomo in his room in the flophouse only reinforced his stereotypical and racial views towards Jews. But what if he, instead, was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts or fell under the influence of a rich, masculine acting gay man who provided Hitler with his first sexual experiences and some fun "intercoursing?" I can't help but think things might have turned out differently. Omri Kadim's magnificent performance gave me a lot to think about in what was, otherwise, a relatively mediocre play.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City by Christopher M. Struck

This review of George Tabori's Mein Kampf at Theater For The New City was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Mein Kampf
Written by George Tabori
Directed by Manfred Bormann
Theater For The New City
155 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
Reviewed 5/4/17

George Tabori's Mein Kampf represents the playwright's "darkly satirical" side. The irony of this poignant play about Hitler's youth in Vienna draws on Tabori's cleverly crafted circumstances to entice laughs despite the reality of how long past events once unfolded. The play paints Hitler as an incapable louse assisted in a flophouse (a residence for the poor) by an old and ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl, who inadvertently allows the creation of the future monster. While it is a little unsettling to recall how Tabori seems to portray Hitler as imminently damnable, reflecting on the play may be the only reason I find it discomforting. The themes are portrayed in a well-contrasted manner presenting the futility of one's attempts to be a good person. Despite the fact that it may be light on realism, how can one not pause to ponder? The seriousness of the subject of Hitler causes lingering fear and a bitter taste in hopefully everyone. Regardless, Jewish himself, George Tabori's comical version of Hitler's youth may have been an effective way of framing events in an effort to make it easier to cope with the reality of World War II's atrocities. Tabori presents the starkness of evil alongside humor possibly partially as a means of reconciliation and also as a forewarning even if the humor is mixed with unconcealed hate.


The play is split into two acts that explore the fragile thread we walk as humans in different ways by following the life of the old, ugly Jewish man, Shlomo Herzl (Jon Freda); more often called "Shlomo." Shlomo opens with an intense discussion about fulfilling God's purpose with Lobkowitz (G.W. Reed), a man who believes himself to be God (after an accident involving head trauma). This exchange presents Shlomo, a man who sells Bibles, as a person who spreads the word of God regardless of denomination. Shlomo also questions the exercise, pitches a story about his life as a pathological liar who doomed his father as "Mein Kampf." Here we meet the embodiment of evil, young Hitler (Omri Kadim), who steps in and says "that's it" to the name and surprising the other two who thought the conversation was private. At first, Hitler doesn't seem much more than a little arrogant. He and Shlomo argue about proper manners, and he concedes to re-enter the room after knocking. As the two characters grow closer together, however, Hitler grows more despotic as Shlomo assumes a fatherly role to the young would-be artist who likes painting the twilight. For example, before Hitler's interview for attending the Academy of Fine Arts, Shlomo shines Hitler's shoes for him because Hitler is despondent about being unable to fix the mistake of having used brown instead of black polish. Only Shlomo can't fix everything because when Hitler runs out of the house, he forgets his pants. If only it had been as simple as putting on pants!

Hitler seems every bit as corruptible, impressionable, and paranoid as he needs to be from the start of his time in Vienna. In contrast to this representation of budding evil, Shlomo interacts with another character in the first act who shirks the pursuit of wealth: the excellent Andrea Lynn Green's Gretchen. While Hitler appears flamboyant and filled with ambition, Gretchen lacks greed or desire. When Shlomo questions why it is that she entreats an ugly, old man like him to devote his life to her, she responds simply. Her wealthy parents committed suicide because their life was just too perfect, they were too beautiful and rich. As a result, she intends to be with him, because he is both ugly and poor. As a metaphor for goodness, it makes sense, but during the play, it does come off as more than a bit awkward and slightly fantastical especially when Gretchen cuts Shlomo's toenails. In addition, it does make me wonder if all beautiful people that are interested in money are evil. That being said, the scene closed the first act on a high note. The four main actors that appeared were all very good. Jon Freda and Omri Kadim had tremendous rapport, working well together as Shlomo and Hitler respectively. All four had to contend with numerous distractions such as sirens and dogs barking but never once flinched.

Unfortunately, act two disappointed because not only did it add new layers to the plot rather than closing threads, the acting didn't match the intensity of the piece. Cordis Heard as Frau Death had some difficulty with lines and timing which seemed to throw off Freda as Shlomo as well. In addition, Jeff Burchfield as Himmlisch, had slight difficulty maintaining composure while violently pulling apart a chicken. He contained his shaking as he wielded a sharp knife with what seemed like an actual, raw chicken, but it had me worried. It may have been a better decision to mime the chopping, but luckily no one was hurt and he completed his soliloquy. These factors contributed to distract from the momentum that the first act developed. The major threads did tie rather neatly when Shlomo continued his luckless dooming of the innocent such as when his lies as a child doomed his father. In act two, in an effort to be a good person, Shlomo diverts Frau Death's attention in an effort to stave off Hitler's death. Is Shlomo, therefore, the one responsible for the death of everyone in World War II or are we, the audience, at fault for not stepping in? Tabori seems to challenge the audience directly and subtly during act two by asking us why we didn't do anything to stop evil in its tracks. After saving Hitler from death, Shlomo remarks to Death that perhaps the purpose of poetry is to "chat up death and stall" which could stand as a metaphor for the human condition diverting its attention as time slips away. It's the second time that Shlomo makes reference to the purpose of poetry during the play, but he changes the meaning a third time after Hitler "goes into politics." With Hitler demonstrating to Shlomo the man that he will become, Shlomo states that the purpose of poetry may, therefore, be "the entertainment of the wicked."

Considering the first iterations of Greek plays were considered forms of poems, have we the wicked, who only spectate as events unfold, been entertained? Yes. Overall, the cast and crew did a great job marred only slightly by some rough spots that made it difficult to fully appreciate the play's depth in the immediate aftermath of viewing it. I really liked the set design and for the most part, the acting was solid. The play contains a multitude of complex themes. While it doesn't seem to be concerned with discovering how it is that people become evil, it does present effective questioning of life and death and the meaning of life. If you come to understand how evil seeps in on men with even the purest and innocent of intentions, then you will be completely out of luck. If you're looking to be entertained by the hapless efforts of two strangers in Vienna with comedy that leans toward slapstick and the bonus of a resonantly original take on human existence, then Mein Kampf is definitely for you. See at Theater for the New City on May 14th, 3 p.m. or May 16-19th at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for students/seniors. They are available for purchase on the website, http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net. Enjoy!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Lauren Ferebee's The Reckless Season at TheaterLab NYC was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Reckless Season
Written by Lauren Ferebee
Directed by Dominic D'Andrea
TheaterLab NYC
357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, New York 10018
Reviewed 4/29/17

The Reckless Season stuck with me afterward in a different way than other plays I've seen recently. The production was solid all around, but it wasn't just those carefully orchestrated events on stage that kept me thinking about The Reckless Season. This play challenged me at a basic level to not fall into the same self-destructive cycles that the characters fell into, and I think it can affect anyone who views it in a similar way to a lesser or greater degree. Key characters delved into drug abuse to escape painful memories, and I internalized the message that drugs and alcohol aren't an escape - they're the curse. That internalization factor of potential viewers made the performances of the actors far more personal. The characters in The Reckless Season all had a nearly impossible time of dealing with normal life in different but related ways. As they continued to get in their own ways, the audience watched a loose social circle self-destruct. Seeing those escapist behaviors I sometimes recognize in me, my family and friends, reflected tenfold, tear apart the characters that acted on these impulses was a strong message.


The play develops in the aftermath of Terry (Trace Pope) and Simon's (Chase Burnett) mother's suicide. The mother, suffering from depression, loneliness, and drug abuse, kills herself with sleeping pills she bought from Flynn (Brian Morvant), a miscreant who targets veterans with pills and drugs that he offers as help to escape their nightmares. The two brothers are at odds from the start. At first glance, it seems like Simon, the soldier returning from the Middle East, is more put together than his video game obsessed younger brother, Terry. However, when confronted with the death of their mother and the reality of their estrangement, the illusory facade wipes away quickly. Terry works at a truck stop, has played the same unbeatable and outdated history game every day since his brother left for the army four years ago, and spends his late nights at that same truck stop when he feels alone. Trace Pope not only made it pretty convincing, he seemed like he had become the role. Chase Burnett was just as consumed by his character, Simon, who was somehow more socially disinclined than his younger brother. After seeing too much of the darker edge to warfare, his nightmares and the death of his mother trigger a quick descent into drugs and alcohol only stemmed by the voices of reason and anarchy that exist in the forms of Lisa (Amanda Tudor) and the aforementioned Flynn.

Lisa, another veteran with her own hangover from the war, works at the truck stop with Terry and recognizing his loneliness offers to accompany him to the cremation of Simon and Terry's mother. When she arrives, Simon confronts her, but he is given a taste of his own medicine as she grills him on abandoning his family and especially his younger brother Terry. Simon admits he could've done better, but as the two brothers attempt to reconcile through resuming domestic life, Simon begins to fall apart. While he makes valid attempts at resurrecting a relationship with his brother through having dinner at the table and watching him play his video game, he also literally smashes a beeping fire alarm with a hammer and walks around pulling gulps from the mouth of a bottle of vodka like a belligerent Russian on a drinking spree. We soon learn he also has been buying drugs from Flynn to help him sleep. As Simon descends, Terry begins to distance himself more, and when Terry goes to Lisa for friendship, he discovers what we already know: she too has been at the mercy of Flynn. While she was very good at giving advice, she couldn't follow it completely. Having become clean after becoming pregnant, one night when her husband is arrested, she calls Flynn up and we watch as she breaks her promises.

None of the characters is perfect. They are all having a hard time with themselves. However, Terry is technically clean of any direct guilt if your moral standards extend only so far as alcohol and drugs because he technically did nothing while his mother fell into oblivion. Flynn, in particular, struggles with the realization he isn't helping anyone as he always felt like he was one of the good guys. Terry lets him know no one really wants him around with a softly delivered line that leaves Flynn devastated, "You're the water" (and now I'm paraphrasing) that weighs down one's clothes after swimming in a lake. Flynn seeks out external validation for his existence from Simon and later Lisa who give him the message more directly. Simon literally knocks him unconscious when Flynn refuses to sell him drugs, and Lisa gets so agitated that her water breaks. Meanwhile, Terry is on a tear at this point, and when Simon asks him to go with him on an adventure to take their mother's ashes just about anywhere, Terry only replies, "I want you to leave." He only agrees to join when Simon promises that after the trip, he will never come back. This seems a little harsh from Terry who has been a non-participant in the relationship and didn't try to contact his brother throughout the war. We don't have a lot of time to mull it over though; the brother's soul searching adventure is interrupted by Flynn calling to ask Terry to come to the hospital at Lisa's request. As Lisa screams during childbirth and Terry argues with the doctors to see her despite not being kin, Simon drops the box with their mother's ashes spilling it all over the floor. Flynn tries to help him, but then Terry appears resulting in the final confrontation between brothers.

My overall reaction to this play is that it is worth seeing, but I am a little skeptical of some of the writing and of the characterizations. Having met veterans of almost every war the United States has fought in since 1941, I've never met any so incapable of dealing with their experiences. The Vietnam veterans in my family just never talked about it, but none of them slipped so far into cheap coping mechanisms like drugs. However, I don't think any of the veterans of Iraq I have met saw any live combat. So maybe these are realistic depictions of what it is like to come back from active combat where you have to be on edge constantly. I can't give you a definitive answer on that but it seems a little misguided to associate all combat veterans with such direct inability to cope with life afterward. The play, as I said, put things into perspective though. If a soldier faced with the lingering memory of death can sound like a misanthropic whiner, I should be able to handle a lighter load without spending my nights nursing glasses of whiskey and wine. If you can get passed the fact these people's mental fortitude sometimes feels like it has the viscosity of glass, then you'll easily be able to enjoy this play. While I do think it gets a little long and some of the dialogue seems redundant between Simon and Lisa, the acting, writing, and set design are exquisite. I recommend you see it.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Blake Zolfo in 25!: A Premature Retrospective at The Metropolitan Room by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Blake Zolfo in 25!: A Premature Retrospective at The Metropolitan Room was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

25: A Premature Retrospective
Starring Blake Zolfo
Musical Director: Steve Schalchlin
Director: Andy Gale
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
New York, New York 10010
Reviewed 4/21/17

In his new show entitled 25!: A Premature Retrospective, Blake Zolfo showcased an impressive amount of variety in his voice while skillfully relating his own story to the audience in an artful and humble manner. Well-dressed, funny, and with an accompanist and piano to his right, Blake looked as comfortable on stage at The Metropolitan Room as if he was reclining on a beach with a martini glass tilting in the sun. Blake's "premature retrospective" evidenced both remarkable maturity and prescience. He remarked that his hard work has paid off in different ways than he imagined and related an important truth. While he may have once thought he could have it all at once, he is much more comfortable putting in the work to take it day-by-day at 25 than he was a mere decade ago when he thought he might have been further along in his career. Through brief interludes and often comical lyrics, the audience learned about the things that have driven this young performer to continue to perfect his craft.


About half of the songs Blake performed were written by Blake's accompanist, Steve Schalchlin, and these were some of the most heart-warming and personal. One of the best was a song called "Keep Me Guessing." This funny and cute tune was used to tell the story of one of Blake's past relationships. Through a variety of charming and comedic experiences, Blake learned it was important to him to be kept on his toes. Blake's ability to make stylistic jumps by performing various types of songs kept us "guessing" as to what might come next.

From the very start, Blake had us intrigued. The pair began the performance with "Only Kind Of Music" (Schalchlin), a wonderful duet which featured a surprise instrumental solo. Setting us up for smiles, Blake pulled out a plastic Kazoo. Throughout the night, he showed a consistent ability to adjust his pitch to the needs of the song. He often harmonized well with Steve when needed and broke away with melodic lyrics and robust vocalizations. The tone of the show settled in as light-hearted with Blake performing a fun song called "Triple Threat" (Schalchlin/Shapiro) about being an actor, dancer, and singer just like everyone else in New York. His humility and self-deprecating humor were never too demeaning and were offset by his easy confidence and charming smile.

Blake did also step away from the more humorous part of the show at times to communicate important messages. The first of these was about keeping one's head up despite obstacles. He finished the first short collection of songs with a sonorous version of The Beatles' "I Will" that stood out as particularly well-done. These small song sets were split by interludes about what he had learned from the experience and how it related to the next group of songs. For example, after performing "What's The Point?" (Kander/Pierce), a song and quick tap dance from his recent role in an Off-Broadway play, Kid Victory, he shared that while he learned he typically indulged in relentless preparation, he needed to simply take the risk. 

This lesson related well to searching for love in New York, and Blake combined the two for a great collection of songs that included my favorite performance of his from the night: J.D. Souther's "Faithless Love." Blake truly displayed the range of his vocal abilities with this song. It showed his depth, and the song fit nicely within the story of the show as if it was the climax. I do hope he performs more like it in the future. He followed this up with more musical-like songs as well as one by Jule Styne entitled "Make Someone Happy," which he explained is his main mission on stage and with new relationships.

All in all, I must say I am looking forward to the types of things that might be included in a future retrospective by this young and talented performer. He had an easy ability to communicate his story in a relatable way and his timing was impeccable. I think Blake would do well in additional musical roles and hopefully, when he is ready to share more important life lessons, he will have too many musicals and lessons to choose from. Thank you for a fun night at the Met Room Blake, and I'm looking forward to the next one! Blake Zolfo's 25!: A Premature Retrospective will return to The Metropolitan Room on May 25, 2017 and June 22, 2017. Both shows are at 7 p.m. and have a $20.00 cover and $25.00 food/drink minimum. To make reservations, go to www.MetropolitanRoom.com or call 212-206-0440.

Applause! Applause! Review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Margaret's War
Written by Wolstan W. Brown
Directed by Suzanne Viverito
The Shelter Rock Players of UUCSR
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
48 Shelter Rock Road
Manhasset, New York 11030
Reviewed 4/29/17

I attended the world premiere of Wolstan W. Brown's new play Margaret's War, a Holocaust Rescue Drama inspired by the real-life efforts of Marguerite Pohek to help Jews leave Austria in 1939. On March 12, 1938, German troops entered Austria and annexed it in what has been called the Anschluss. This action was overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Austrians. As for Austrian Jews, their support was a little less enthusiastic. In the play, Margaret Polanksi (Karin Lyngstad-Hughes) is a Unitarian Minister and a Professor of Sociology at the University of Philadelphia who has volunteered to work at the Society of Friends Service Committee office in Vienna. She arrives in June 1939 and helps those who wish to leave Austria to get visas to travel elsewhere. It is prior to the commencement of World War II, so Jews are still permitted to travel outside the country so long as they take no more than 500 marks with them. To help Jews without proper documentation, the Society of Friends Service Committee employs official and unofficial procedures, forges documents, helps clients obtain new identities, and in the case of Gail Simmons (Diane Mansell), Margaret's lesbian partner, and professional colleague, even helps a client, Frida Katzenberg (Carol McHugh), hide valuables in her body cavities. Not only is Frida arrested but she turns around and fingers Gail not only for helping her hide the smuggled goods but for also, allegedly, fingering her. Captain Pelhortz (Michael Harrison Carlin), the Nazi bureaucrat in charge knows what the Society of Friends Service Committee is up to and explains to Margaret her friend Gail faces 2 years in prison for aiding and abetting the smuggling and 10 years in prison for sexual abuse. Margaret acts stupid telling Captain Pelhortz she can't understand how adult women could engage in "sexual abuse" with one another. He tries to trade the well-being of her friend Gail for Margaret's "cooperation" in revealing the details of the "services" they provide but Margaret turns the tables on Captain Pelhortz by using a doctored photograph to convince him she and Gail are "good friends" of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The bluff works for the time being and Gail is released.

At this point in 1939, only 37 Jewish men have gone missing and most of those were arrested for speaking against Hitler or against the Anschluss. Gretta Schuler's husband, a High School teacher, was arrested for speaking against Herr Hitler. His arrest left his wife Gretta (Katina Mitchell) and his daughter Bette (Sylvia Mitchell) in a dire financial situation, eventually leading to Gretta abandoning her daughter at the office of the Society of Friends Service Committee. Lesbian partners and unmarried women are not permitted to adopt children in America so Margaret and her supervisor Oscar Smith (Robert Nuxoll) engage in a forgery flurry to allow Margaret to take Bette to America as a tourist but with the true intention of bringing her up as her own child. Of course, Gail objects that Margaret made such a life-changing decision without even consulting her but when Margaret makes it clear she is not putting Bette up for adoption, Gail is forced to accept the circumstances. They seem pleased to imagine they may wake up in the morning discovering Bette sleeping in their bed with them. Despite the fact that they took Bette out of Austria without the required permission of her father, they pledge to Bette they will never give her up even if her parents show up and want her back. Sounds like child abduction and human trafficking to me but it appears all felonies, forgeries, and falsifications can be forgiven so long as everything is done in service of a good cause. Michael Harrison Carlin doubled as Peter Reilly, Hank Arond was the American Immigration Inspector, and Gerald Matusiewicz played the Nazi Guard. 

Suzanne Viverito was the Director of Margaret's War. My introduction to her was when I observed her yelling at Wolstan W. Brown, the playwright, and producer, for letting audience members into the Worship Room ten minutes earlier than she would have liked. Everyone felt quite uncomfortable witnessing this unprofessional outburst. Ms. Viverito told Mr. Brown that if he ever has another play produced here that he is not to let anyone in until she says so. Staff offered to ask the audience members to leave but she then revealed that everything was set up anyway and there was no need to ask anyone to get up out of their seats. So what was the point of the tirade other than for her to assert power and control over a fellow human being. As for her directorial decisions, I think Ms. Viverito could have made better use of video clips to provide more atmosphere and historical grounding for this play. As for the cast, they were far from seasoned professionals and there were many missed lines but overall, the play was well-served by their performances. The play was performed in two acts and there was a fine display of free food (i.e. cookies, fruit) for audience members to nibble on during intermission. The main point of the play can be summed up in the following statement Gail Simmons said to Margaret Polanski, "You didn't get everyone but you did get one!" Net proceeds from the two performances of Margaret's War were donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Wolstan W. Brown's Margaret's War at Unitarian Universalist Congregation At Shelter Rock was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Margaret's War
Written by Wolstan W. Brown
Directed by Suzanne Viverito
The Shelter Rock Players of UUCSR
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock
48 Shelter Rock Road
Manhasset, New York 11030
Reviewed 4/29/17

Margaret's War is a new play by Wolstan W. Brown, a promising new playwright who has gone from having his plays being given Table Readings at The Northport Players to having one performed by the Shelter Rock Players of UUCSR. Having only started his writing career after retirement, the author is to be congratulated for writing a play that envelopes the audience. As the play progresses the audience becomes more interested in the outcome and there is a happy denouement but in an unexpected way. The action of the play speeds up in the five-month period that is examined in the life of Margaret Polanski, a member of the UUCSR, between June and October 1939 as World War II approached and broke out.


Although the Nazi bureaucracy's intention of persecuting and expelling the Jews is depicted, the American bureaucracy is let off too easily. There is mention of the possible passage of a bill that would have allowed more Jewish Children to obtain visas to come to the United States in excess of existing immigration quotas but that bill did not pass in time to do any good. As the scholarship of Arthur D. Morse in "While Six Million Died" and the research of Jerald Auerbach demonstrates, "Roosevelt's anti-Semitism did not cause the Holocaust. But his indifference to the annihilation of European Jewry contributed to its horrific consequences." The United States State Department was a stronghold of anti-Semitism which erected a paper blockade so the existing quotas for immigration from Germany and Austria were actually underused in the Holocaust era.

Margaret Polanski, played ably by Karin Lyngstad-Hughes, arrived in Vienna to volunteer to help at the Society of Friends Service Committee. She is counseled by Oscar Smith, a wise and experienced professional, played most effectively by Robert Nuxoll. Margaret must follow bureaucratic procedures very carefully in order to do good without giving the Nazis an excuse to arrest or expel her. Margaret is a quick learner. She handles the case of Gretta Schuler and her daughter Bette, portrayed well by Katina Mitchell and Sylvia Mitchell, respectively, in a sensitive, calm, and humane manner as they seek to obtain visas to leave the country. It is mentioned her husband has been arrested and placed in the Dachau Concentration Camp. However, this is most unlikely. Dachau was located in Bavaria near Munich. He was probably being held in a local concentration camp near Vienna. Margaret explained the child may have to obtain parental permission to go to the USA by herself in the hopeful event Congress passes the bill currently being held up in committee. Although the mother is most reluctant to give this permission, she gives into the inevitability as her family's situation worsens. 

Margaret is joined in Vienna by Gail Simmons (played by Diane Mansell), her friend and colleague from the University of Philadelphia (it should have been called Philadelphia University). They are happy to see each other. Her friend gave the excuse for the visit being that she was unable to contact her by telephone. But it is unlikely Gail would empty their joint savings account on such a flimsy excuse. It is later revealed Gail is on assignment to write a journalistic article on the reaction of local Austrians to the Anschluss. She expresses her complete lack of fear of Nazis and ignores Margaret's instructions not to open the door of the Society of Friends Service Committee while Margaret, Oscar, and Peter Reilly (Oscar's Assistant) are out to lunch but Gail ignores the advice and is arrested by the Nazis after she tries to help Frida Katzenberg (played by Carol McHugh) smuggle jewelry out the country hidden in her private parts. Not only does Frau Katzenberg give Gail up to the Nazis but she also makes the accusation that Gail touched her inappropriately. Margaret is able to rescue her friend by bluffing the Nazi Captain Pelhortz, convincingly portrayed by Michael H. Carlin, and the Guard, Gerry Matusiewicz, by falsely claiming she and Gail are close friends of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She produces a photograph as proof. 

Mrs. Schuler abandons her child Bette outside the door of the Society of Friends Service Committee and Margaret steps forward to take personal responsibility for the care of the child. She eventually takes her to the United States where she will raise her as her own daughter. Margaret convinces Oscar Smith, the manager, to help her forge the papers necessary to accomplish this task. Back then, it was quite bold of her to step forward as a single lady to take responsibility for an abandoned child and to be permitted to more or less adopt her.

It is at this point that we see Margaret's transformation from loving humanity in the abstract to loving a single human being, Bette, in the concrete. Margaret's War in the title implies not only a war with the bureaucracy but with her own nature and even with the relationship with her friend Gail Simmons, who turns out to be her partner. Margaret makes it clear her continued relationship with Gail is contingent on her accepting Bette as their new child, and that continued objection by Gail will result in Margaret leaving with Bette. Margaret is able to win over Gail and to convince Bette to accept the new status quo. The unexpected development is that Margaret and Gail are lesbians informally adopting a child. Had this play been written and performed in 1990, when real life Margaret died, this would have been quite controversial. However, it is a sign of our society's advancement that this is no big deal today.

The costume design by Diane Mansell and Jo Rymer helps us travel back in time to 1939. The lighting, music and set design are simple but effective in staging the various scenes. Some live music by Barry Nobel on piano and Hank Arond on violin put us in the mood in advance of the show. Suzanne Viverito, the director, is to be congratulated for taking full advantage of the script and enabling the actors to give such good performances. The play gives us insight into the life of Margaret Polanski (Marguerite Pohek - 1904-1990), who rose to the occasion to become a true humanitarian instead of a mere do-gooder. I felt the standout performance of Karin Lyngstad-Hughes as Margaret Polanski was the linchpin that held everything together. 

Margaret's War is a well-done drama definitely worth seeing. It was a delightful surprise to have refreshments served during intermission. In addition, the net proceeds from the show were donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Max Baker's The Conspiracists at The IRT Theater by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Max Baker's The Conspiracists at The IRT Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Conspiracists
Written & Directed by Max Baker
The IRT Theater
154 Christopher Street, Suite 3-B
New York, New York 10014
Reviewed 4/22/17

What would happen if you put a bunch of crazy conspiracy theorists in a church basement and they disagreed on the true conspiracy? Absurdity perhaps and The Conspiracists, a quirky, funny, and surprisingly dark play that showcases playwright Max Baker's ability to create tangibly deep characterizations. This helped to provide for a uniqueness to the experience that a viewer may be interested in for just the experience. However, despite the upside of a few laughs, the intriguing concept falls prey to awkward arguments and a lack of cohesive direction which can create a lot of confusion. If you try to follow the plot, then you may miss the jokes. The stilted narrative thread follows a strange sequence of events through three alternate realities (also different acts of the play). What's unclear is whether the actions in one reality always affect the other realities or if the sequences are happening simultaneously. The true boon, however, is that the play helps us to reflect upon different aspects of our own lives and circumstances to deconstruct what conspiracy theories truly are.


Each act starts out the same way. Win, played by Ian Poake and the leader of the Conspiracy Support Group, enters in a flurry and says, "Hi" to Jo (Ricki Lynee), who is sitting in a chair preparing an experiment. Win sets up the room and says a few things like, "I never remember how many chairs to set up" even though we quickly learn there are only five returning members of the support group. He is followed by Emmett (Arthur Kriklivy) and Dee Dee (Sofiya Cheyenne). After Emmett changes his chair out due to a mark on the one Win set up for him despite there being a plethora of available chairs, Dee Dee arrives spouting a spree of complaints. Why didn't Emmett hold the door? Where is her prayer stool, which she uses to place her feet? Once they've all sat down, Jo's alarm goes off and the chaos ensues. Jo is about to conduct an experiment at the same time the Hadron Collider in Switzerland will force a collision between sub-atomic particles. She places a favorite doll of hers in a suitcase, hooks it up to a phone, and dictates this to a silver tape recorder noting that the other three attendees are "witnesses." At this point, things deviate from scene to scene.

In the first act, actress Lisa Jill Anderson appears as a neurotic schizophrenic named Madonna, who believes she can talk to inanimate objects by tapping into their "feelings." Lisa absolutely stuns the audience with an exceptional demonstration of crazy. At first, she is mild-mannered and compliant to the rules of the group, but when Brooke (played by Alice Johnson) begins to complain about being locked in the bathroom, Madonna goes insane believing she is being talked to by a despondent ghost. She chants that she is the Goddess Madonna while performing a dance with a small statue that looked like a Golden Globe Award. The other characters are as stunned as we are and in attempting to calm Madonna down, we get some pretty funny lines about dealing with the mentally unstable. This is coming from Conspiracy Theorists who believe Lizard people control the world and that we are living in a simulation of our own advanced race. I remember thinking to myself, "O.K., what just happened and where do we go from here?"

In the second and third act, Lisa appears as two different versions of the newcomer to the support group - Steve, a standoffish conspiracy theorist expert, and Hilda, a bubbly girlfriend of Emmett he met through an online dating app. Each of these characters is so different from the meek Madonna that it's incredible to think Lisa was able to prepare to perform three roles in one. In fact, while Lisa's performance was above noteworthy, all the actors seemed to be really well cast for their parts. I found Lisa's performance of Steve in the second act particularly funny and dark. She comments on various aspects of conspiracy theories like a pseudo expert and eventually suggests that "hope" may be the true conspiracy. Each act definitely takes a unique spin on the quest for answers as the conspiracy theorists slowly unravel and retreat into their own ideas.

While Lisa demands a lot of attention, she also plays catalyst to how the discussion of the group develops. Once her character enters, the group's discussion takes off. Unfortunately, for Win, and fortunately for the audience, Hilda (3rd act Lisa), presses him to seek what he really wants. This happens to be Brooke, who he has been harboring a crush for. He gives an engaging but desperate confession of love, and she, of course, denies his pathetic overture. It's one of the funniest moments of the play and starkly real. This soliloquy-like confession of love tops off a strong performance by Ian Poake. Sofiya Cheyenne, Dee Dee, also had a strong performance delivering some ridiculous lines without even the hint of a smile like her description of our real-life Presidential election as being a race between "a Reptilian Shape-Shifter" and a "Snake-Oil Salesman." Without leaving the church basement, the group seems to cover almost all of the dominant conspiracies and even Santa isn't safe from the targeting. In addition, while there is no consistent narrative thread, the play returns to Jo's experiment after the discussions between each character. She ends the act by pulling out what has become of the doll in the box leaving us guessing whether actions in this reality or the next affected the contents.

At times this play was emotionally confronting such as when Steve (Lisa Anderson) addresses the pointlessness of existence. Often these revelations are slightly disturbing. Thankfully, the dark, irreverent humor did not dip into the obscene or grow to the point of overwhelming despair. Although, I do wonder if overwhelming despair would have given the play a more substantial feeling. Overall, I did like the play and would suggest it to a friend looking for weird or who is tired of watching reruns of a show that follows the Friends model. On the negative side, the play did seem like one of those stories wherein the end, the meaning is that there is no meaning. Whoa, so profound. Still, it was funny and the actors executed their lines well. 

I'm a huge fan of dark humor, and if you admire amusingly frank and sometimes uncomfortable comedy like that seen in South Park and the Fallout series games, then you'll probably enjoy The Conspiracists. Still, it wasn't so funny that my sides were splitting, and sometimes I was the only one chuckling at a particularly dark revelation of the absurdity of the search for meaning in things or life. If that is your thing, then this play if for you. If not, I'd suggest rethinking your decision to see The Conspiracists, which runs at The IRT Theater through May 7, 2017. Tickets can be purchased at www.stablecableabco.org for $18.00 or at the door for $20.00.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Ragtime at The Gallery Players by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Ragtime at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Ragtime
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Novel "Ragtime" by E.L. Doctorow
Produced by Jonathan-Bruce King
Director: Mark Harborth
Music Director: Leslie Wickham
Choreographer: Ryan Hendricks
Production Stage Manager: Liza Penney
Scenic Designer: Collin Eastwood
Costume Designers: Jerry Mittelhausere & Carol Strandburg
Lighting Design: Scott Andrew Cally
Fight Director: Joseph Travers
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 4/23/17

The basis of the Ragtime story involves three groups - Blacks from Harlem, Middle-Class Whites from New Rochelle, and Jewish Immigrants living and trying to survive on the Lower East Side. They live separately but the early 20th Century has brought in with it a new music, which appears destined to upset the old order. Political turmoil, labor unrest, and the boiling over of the melting pot seem to foreshadow conflicts that may be inevitable - at least according to E.L. Doctorow, whose novel the musical is based on. Edgar, the little boy, also seems to know the future and that World War I is coming. It doesn't matter how many times Edgar tells Houdini to "Warn The Duke" because events in history appear to be destined to occur in Doctorow's view, and as Mother says, "All the signs were there for anyone who wished to see them." 


Connecting the events and groups are celebrities and personalities of the era, including Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, and Emma Goldman. Racism, violence, and injustice are everywhere. Willie Conklin, a firefighter jealous of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a black man who owns a brand new Ford Model T, demands a toll of $25.00 and then proceeds to trash the car when Coalhouse goes off to find a policeman. Willie says Coalhouse is "a man to be pitied" because he is "a nigger who doesn't know he's a nigger." However, later in the play, Coalhouse's Renegades in Harlem similarly refuse to let white Younger Brother pass on his way to offer his support to Coalhouse. They, too, demand money from him, say he's "a cracker who doesn't know he's a cracker," and suggest they should've "beat his ass." Finally, when immigrant Tateh rejects an offer to sell his daughter for cash, he exhibits a violent rage and might have killed the man who made the offer had not a policeman intervened. People are not all that different when it comes right down to it. I guess it is comforting to know "we didn't start the fire" and that "it was always burning since the world's been turning." Journey on!

The house on Broadview Avenue in New Rochelle was built as a sanctuary where the lives of those living in the community did not involve interactions with Negroes. But when Father leaves on a one-year expedition leaving Mother in charge ("Nothing much changes in a year. The world will not spin off its axis."), a lot changes when Mother takes responsibility for Sarah, an African-American woman who buried her newborn child in her garden. On a whim, she takes in Sarah and her child and lets Coalhouse Walker Jr., the baby's father, "court" Sarah for many months, which directly leads to the tragic events that are to follow. You have to understand that Mother was changing and was recognizing she had wishes and desires of her own. She started to make decisions, including that she would, under no circumstances, give up the baby for adoption. Sarah is killed. Coalhouse becomes a murderer and a fugitive and Father is rightfully upset with Mother for "opening the door to such chaos and pain." But Father is forced to change too and his struggle is equally painful. When on the expedition, Father refused to shake the hand of a black first mate, but in the end, when Coalhouse Walker Jr. thanks him for his "kindness to our family," Father says, "You're welcome" and shakes his hand. When Father first experiences the New Music and the winds of change, he wonders "when did they change the song?" and "why can't I sing this tune?" He is as disturbed by the decline in civilization and good societal manners (especially after bringing his son to a Giants game at the Polo Grounds) as Grandfather is (who only seeks "peace and quiet").

One of the funnier lines is when Evelyn Nesbit says, "I'm not an actress. I'm a personality." Her rejection of Younger Brother ("I could never love someone as Poor or as Thin or as Nice as you.") sets him off looking for a new purpose in life. Unfortunately, he becomes radicalized and helps Coalhouse "blow things up." Houdini's sage advice is "to break those chains with all you possess." In the case of Tateh that means finding a place to live free of "tenement stench" and "dirty immigrant streets." For Coalhouse, it's seeking revenge and justice against those who wronged him and although he will go off the deep end and be wronged again, he eventually listens to Booker T. Washington and tells his followers to "Go out and tell our story. Make them hear you!" As for Mother, once Father dies on the RMS Lusitania, and after a proper period of mourning, she is free to follow her own heart. She accepts Tateh's proposal to marry and the new American Family of Tateh and his daughter, Mother and her son Edgar, & Little Coalhouse, take off to California hoping "to arrive on the Wings of a Dream."

This Gallery Players production of Ragtime features an extraordinarily talented cast. Most impressive was Alex Bird, who is charismatic and believable as Younger Brother. James Zannelli brought power and stage presence to his role as Tateh (think Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof). Elyse Beyer was sexy and appealing as Evelyn Nesbit - The Girl On The Swing! She appeared to be having great fun portraying this sexy goddess. Heather Koren successfully exhibited the complexity of the conflicts Mother faced throughout the show. Finally, Marcus Jordan as Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Renee Steadman as Sarah made a believable couple and had a good rapport with one another. I could feel Sarah's pain and Coalhouse's outrage as a result of their fine acting. On the negative side, Andrew Horton as Booker T. Washington misspoke a line or two, and Jay Braver was unremarkable as J.P. Morgan. Annie Sherman had the potential to be a dynamic Emma Goldman, but for whatever reason, we could hardly hear her lines. I was told by the producer she was "very sick" but not hearing what she was saying (and I sat in the third row) took away from my enjoyment of the show. The musical features 37 actors and some excellent choreography thanks to Ryan Hendricks. Mark Harborth, the Director, also deserves praise for his contribution to the final product.

It is not every day you get to experience such a fine production of Ragtime. I highly recommend you catch it at The Gallery Players sometime before May 14, 2017. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at www.GalleryPlayers.com. For more information, call 212-352-3101.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Ragtime at The Gallery Players by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of Ragtime at The Gallery Players was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Ragtime
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Novel "Ragtime" by E.L. Doctorow
Produced by Jonathan-Bruce King
Director: Mark Harborth
Music Director: Leslie Wickham
Choreographer: Ryan Hendricks
Production Stage Manager: Liza Penney
Scenic Designer: Collin Eastwood
Costume Designers: Jerry Mittelhausere & Carol Strandburg
Lighting Design: Scott Andrew Cally
Fight Director: Joseph Travers
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11215
Reviewed 4/23/17

Neither reading the book nor seeing the movie based on the book left an impression on my mind but seeing the musical affected me greatly. First of all, it was a pleasure to see an ensemble of actors who emoted so well. I thought all the roles in this Gallery Players' production of Ragtime were perfectly cast, even the minor ones. As for the major roles, I thought Booker T. Washington, played by Andrew Horton; the Little Boy Edgar, played by Jonah Mussolino; Tateh, played by James Zannelli; and Coalhouse Walker Jr., played by Marcus A. Jordan, stood out. Mark Harborth as the director deserves full credit for realizing the potential of the actors while Jonathan-Bruce King should receive acclaim for putting the production together. 
The scenic design by Collin Eastwood made the changes of scenes effortless. I especially liked the piano with the seat attached as Coalhouse was wheeled around. The period costumes by Jerry Mittelhausere and Carol Strandburg made the pre-World War I era come alive before our eyes. When there was a discussion of the play afterward by the actors, it was striking to see how they looked dressed in modern clothes in comparison with the clothes of a much earlier generation. The lighting design by Scott Andrew Cally highlighted the action and transition between the scenes. The choreography by Ryan Hendricks moved things along and the fight direction by Joseph Travers made the fight sequences look amazingly realistic. 

The opening sequence shows us the "good old days" as the blacks, whites, and immigrants celebrate their own unique lifestyles separate and apart from "the others" - but things are far from harmonious. The theme would be the fracturing of the American Dream as we see several events occur that interact and intertwine with one another. We have two dysfunctional families: one black and one white, a broken immigrant family, labor activism, and racial strife as well as celebrities of the era making an appearance - Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini, in particular. After much bloodshed and emotional suffering, there is a happy resolution for some of the characters. Individuals from three, very different cultural backgrounds, meld into the dream American family of the future where black and white, immigrant and native-born, all get along as one, big happy family and walk off into the sunset together. 

The most poignant scene is when Edgar attends a Yankees baseball game with his father. He achieves the thrill of a lifetime when he catches a ball. However, the effort by his father to Americanize his son into America's pastime is a big fail because all the attendees are busy cursing, spitting, and fighting each other not only verbally, but literally. The game is a metaphor for America coming apart.

Annie Sherman was just plain magnetic as Emma Goldman despite her having a bad cold/laryngitis. She had a most expressive face, especially her eyes which perfectly conveyed the radicalism of Emma Goldman's personality and message. She gave the best stage performance I have ever seen. While it was hard to hear her, even in the second row, she was most eloquent even when her lips moved but no sound came out. During "The Night That Emma Goldman Spoke At Union Square," I was moved by her idealism and hope that America could become a better country. Radicalized by the racism he experienced in New Rochelle, Coalhouse abandoned his belief justice could be attained in America by following the rules and instead sought revenge against those who had caused him harm. The most dramatic scene in the play was the assassination of an unarmed Coalhouse who had been promised his day in Court if he surrendered. The book by Terrence McNally minces no words. It captures the spirit of the time and moves the play along.

The scene I felt was not as good as it could have been was the one where Coalhouse confronted Irish immigrants in New Rochelle who were manning the volunteer Fire Department. Firefighters, dismayed at seeing a black man owning a Model-T, demand a $25.00 toll and deface the car when Coalhouse goes to seek the aid of the police. They spoke the words of racism but their hearts were not in it. Perhaps this is because the actors have no experience observing this degree of racism in real life. This is understandable and speaks volumes regarding the true state of race relations in our country. We have achieved much progress towards harmony even though we still have more to achieve. 

After the play, there was talk-back during which many of the actors and a few of the behind-the-scenes staff participated. I gained much insight into how the actors felt regarding their respective roles. The discussion was less academic than it was political. Leftists tried to politicize the play by arguing that the decision to perform Ragtime, made a year before, was somehow the perfect play to perform in response to Donald Trump becoming President. The progressives dominating the discussion still have no clue how oppressive the off-track, radical, progressive, politically correct agenda had become and how it pushed normal, decent, moderate Americans to vote for Trump. They would be shocked by how many secret Trump supporters were sitting in the audience, all of whom would deplore the racism and injustice depicted in this play.

I very much enjoyed this production of Ragtime, which runs through May 14, 2017. The Gallery Players did a magnificent job. You will do yourself a real favor by seeing it. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at www.GalleryPlayers.com. For more information, call 212-352-3101.