Eric A. Gordon, writes for People's World (peoplesworld.org). He has written for dozens of local, national, and international publications, mostly about art, music, culture, religion and politics. His undergraduate degree is from Yale and his doctorate in history is from Tulane. He was director of the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring in Southern California from 1995 to 2010. Eric is the author of "Mark the Music: The Life and Work of Marc Blitzstein," and co-author of "Ballad of an American: The Autobiography of Earl Robinson." A book he translated from Portuguese ("Waving to the Train and Other Stories," by Hadasa Cytrynowicz) appeared in 2013. In 2015 he executive produced "City of the Future," a CD of Soviet Yiddish music from the 1930s. He is the former Southern California Chapter Chair of the National Writers Union (Local 1981 UAW/AFL-CIO).

Animal Farm

It is thoroughly engaging, highly creative, musically charming, and overall a profound educational excursion to “actually existing socialism” in “rural England” “once upon a time.

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PARADE

Anaheim’s Chance Theater gave this show a stunning, innovative production (scenic design by Fred Kinney) on bare wooden planks in a staging involving little more than tables and chairs in constant motion. Costuming by Elizabeth Cox brought out the class disparities of a deeply racist society given to populist appeals against outsiders who besmirch our Southern womanhood. Confederate flags are prominently waving. It has become one of the great American social commentary musicals, a powerful story not just of prejudice and discrimination, but also of feminist emergence as Leo’s wife Lucille (Erica Schaeffer) rises to her husband’s defense, even as he tried to discourage her from asserting herself so visibly (typical man’s “I can handle this” pride).

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The Merchant of Venice

This review also covers "Parade" at the Chance Theater in Anaheim: Two successive nights of theatergoing, two Jews lynched, one by law, the other by rope: William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1597) and the American musical Parade (1998), book by Alfred Uhry, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, which take us back to Atlanta, Ga., in 1913, when Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jew making his life with his new Southern-born wife Lucille, was put on trial for the murder of a 13-year-old girl.

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The Cake

Della is, of course, the central character who must decide, thinking for herself out of her own experience for maybe the first time in her life, to bake or not to bake. Rupp is pure genius at evolving this wacky character into surreal believability. It is to the playwright’s credit that all of her characters are congenitally flawed. Yes, we the audience undoubtedly enter the theatre with preconceived notions of right and wrong, but the characters meant to embody these principles are not necessarily so likable. Della is not the only one with “issues.” Actually, one of the issues is the wisdom of spending so much money on a wedding at all.

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The Pride

The play smolders with weighty observations about human character, tossed off in fluent and witty dialogue by actors whose magnificent training is on full display. Always, just out of reach, that better day seems to be within grasp. As each scene changes, arriving characters look piercingly at the ones leaving, as if to ask, Don’t I know you from somewhere? or, Remember that face, you might see it again sometime.

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Les Blancs

For several reasons this is an experience theatergoers should not miss. It is the final work of one of our great American playwrights, who reportedly considered this her most important play. And it is so powerfully staged and acted. Rogue Machine Theatre has given it its full due. This is a rare and memorable experience.

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ARCHDUKE

But these verbal and sight gags long exceed their welcome. As for the Captain’s overheated speeches about Serbian nationalism and the suffocating grip of Austro-Hungary, these are also made darkly comic, a premonition of Hitler who would emerge in the next decade. It’s okay to dabble with history as your starting point for drama. Hey, Shakespeare did that all the time. And don’t get me started on opera librettists. Archduke may be the playwright’s statement on the ways people are recruited for terrorism, the excesses of nationalism and ethnic chauvinism, the folly of war, all these ideas. But please let us not accept that this play has much to do with the causes and origins of WWI, which happened, after all, not that long ago! Here are a couple of reasons why not.

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The Sweetheart Deal

I saw this play on Sunday—Mother’s Day—and the audience was way too sparse, I hope only because of the holiday. It’s an excellent production that should be widely seen, especially by those, young and otherwise, who are not so familiar with this era. Even for those who do know this history, it’s a good drama, mostly well told and performed.

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In fact, there is little that is truly erotic in the show: Everyone is in this play for their own amoral, self-interested reasons, either to satisfy pure lust, to escape boredom or simply to be naughty, or to secure some form of social status. As The Husband states to his Young Wife in a moment of unrehearsed candor, “Sometimes I like to forget that I love you…. Forgetting helps to keep the romance new.” In the end, this is a sad, caustic view of romance, warm bodies wrapping themselves in each other’s arms only to be emotionally bruised. Such bitter honesty is far removed from the bubble-gum romance that passes for love in popular music. It seems closer to the contemporary casual dating scene that prides itself on no-strings-attached atomization.

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KISS

It’s all very mysterious, but not in an Orientalist sort of way; Calderón is too worldly for that. The mystery—personal, political and theatrical—is how much of our lives is mediated in ways we don’t even recognize any more: The TV we watch, the papers we read, the gossip we hear, the veracity we expect from our friends, lovers and colleagues. What can we trust? What do we understand, and how do we know it?

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