Registered Critic: Eric A Gordon

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).
Sep

LATIN HISTORY FOR MORONS

In the end, what makes this a play, and not simply an entertainment from the high school or college history professor you never had but wish you did, is that Leguizamo structures it around his trying to reach through to his son (and marginally his daughter) about the dignity and richness of his paternal heritage (the mother is Jewish, so that’s a whole nother story.) In the acting out of his paternal, caring impulses, albeit in the clumsy, ineffectual way that “Dad” is now portrayed in our popular culture, this history lesson gradually catches up to you as a side-by-side coming of age story, not only for the kids but for the author himself as a now 50-year-old.

It also helps that Leguizamo doesn’t get everything quite right, the numbers don’t always add up, the facts are still a bit blurry, the spelling is off. It’s part of the bad-boy charm. This is a man on an urgent quixotic quest to study, learn, grow and teach, before it’s too late.

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Aug

The Producers

The real standout in every sense is Michael A. Shepperd, the man of many talents who also serves as artistic director of the company, in the role of Roger De Bris, the schlocky theatre director who makes everything he puts his hands on an ode to kitsch. “Keep it light, keep it bright, keep it gay” is his motto—which gives Celebration the raison d’être for taking this work into its repertoire. De Bris will surely make debris out of this crappy pro-fascist play—although Brooks’s choice of name for this character has another meaning. It’s no plot spoiler at this late date to reveal that he unexpectedly assumes the role of Adolf Hitler on opening night, making a flamboyant gay man with a bris—the Hebrew and Yiddish word for a ritual Jewish circumcision—a blatant contradiction of everything Aryan.

But Shepperd raises the absurdity level of the show even higher as a Black performer, confounding every possible dream on Liebkind’s part to restore the great Führer’s sadly tarnished reputation. Now this is truly blind casting, but of course deliberate and purposeful in Celebration’s conceit, introducing the theme of racism as the cherry on top of anti-Semitism. An absolutely brilliant touch—and when Mr. Shepperd peers out at you bug-eyed and mugs some of his lines like a blackface Al Jolson singing “Mammy,” the hilarity simply goes off the scale.

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Jul

American Saga - Gunshot Medley: Part 1

As the play unfolds to a near-constant barrage of fatal bullets, each one punching Betty (Mildred Marie Langford, memorable for her roles in the Antaeus Theatre’s Native Son) painfully in her gut, she is seen constantly cleaning and scrubbing not only the floorboards of her cabin but any little found object that crawls out of the earth to remind her of past tragedy—a cigarette package from the tobacco fields, the wrapper from a bag of Skittles that she’d like to see buried. But everything is soaked in the African-American blood that’s been interminably flowing since the first slaves arrived in what is today the U.S. of A. 400 years ago in 1619. I hate to sound overly pessimistic, but those stains are never going to come clean, and those reminders are never going to stay buried.

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Jul

The Skin of Our Teeth

The Skin of Our Teeth is in the end, and through all the disruptions in family life caused by external circumstantial crises, an affirmation of the we-have-no-choice-but-to-get through-this determination of human beings to hang in there against all odds. At different moments it assumes the air of a comic-book telegraph synopsis of human life, with a nod to the Biblical family of Adam and Eve and their violence-prone son Cain, and also to burlesque and a great deal of physical humor. Both Homer and Moses make guest cameo appearances. An audience quickly learns to accept the play on its own quirky terms and go along for the wild ride through myth and history.

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Jul

As the play unfolds to a near-constant barrage of fatal bullets, each one punching Betty (Mildred Marie Langford, memorable for her roles in the Antaeus Theatre’s Native Son) painfully in her gut, she is seen constantly cleaning and scrubbing not only the floorboards of her cabin but any little found object that crawls out of the earth to remind her of past tragedy—a cigarette package from the tobacco fields, the wrapper from a bag of Skittles that she’d like to see buried. But everything is soaked in the African-American blood that’s been interminably flowing since the first slaves arrived in what is today the U.S. of A. 400 years ago in 1619. I hate to sound overly pessimistic, but those stains are never going to come clean, and those reminders are never going to stay buried.

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Jul

Scraps

Inoa’s language is authentic and often raw, both lofty and nightmarish. Among her concerns is the value of work and education. Aisha is a much put-upon worker with a horrible lady boss, but she keeps her nose to the grindstone with a young son to support. Calvin is a serious student at Columbia trying to lift his prospects in life. These characters stand in contrast to Jean Baptiste and Adriana, who are beaten down by the feeling of abandonment society imposes on them. And by the way, as if life weren’t sad and crazy enough, now they’re seeing signs that, like Williamsburg and other nearby working-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy (who could have imagined it?) is now on the shortlist for gentrification.

“I hate white people,” Adriana says at one point, then softens it slightly. It takes an enormous sense of self-possession to overcome the disadvantages of being born Black in America. It would take an almost unimaginable leap of faith for people of color in this country to trust whites long enough to enter that broad democratic united front we need so desperately. Whites have a lot of self-examination to do before they (we, I should say) can prove our faithfulness to do the right thing.

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Jul

The Caucasian Chalk Circle

With eventual peace in Europe and the world well within reach in 1944, Brecht and other intellectuals and leaders were starting to re-imagine the world that would emerge out of the war. In the United States, the New Bill of Rights promulgated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt envisioned a kind of social democracy, with guaranteed social and economic rights, that unfortunately, owing to his death in April 1945, would not get off the ground under the more conservative Harry Truman.

In the East, the Soviets envisioned a buffer zone of friendly socialist states from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that would protect the vast flat steppes of Russia from further invasion from the West. Those new socialist nations—Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and others—would do away with the privileged nobility and the capitalist classes that had kept those countries in conditions of poverty and backwardness for centuries. In deference to the disproportional suffering of the Soviets during the war, the West—at least for the time being—agreed to this principle, while committing to rebuilding Western Europe again on a capitalist foundation.

So the question in 1944 was much broader than the fate of one child, or even the fate of some privately owned farm land. It was, Now that we have defeated fascism—the most extreme form of capitalism—what kind of world do we want to build out of its ashes?

sweet

Jul

Anne, A New Play

In celebration of what would have been her 90th birthday this month (June 12), the Simon Wiesenthal Center presents the U.S. premiere of Anne, A New Play, a fresh interpretation of the diary written by Dutch playwrights Jessica Durlacher and Leon de Winter. In this version, the authors reframe Anne’s story through an unconventional lens: The budding writer and memoirist did not die of typhus at 15, but is seated at a Paris bistro table, hungry but safe as the world recovers from war and loss. A man watches her intently writing and introduces himself as a publisher who would like to see her manuscript when it is ready. For the next fast-paced 80 minutes we see her story enacted in her mind as she relates it to the publisher who, unseen by anyone else, remans onstage amidst her characters.

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Jun

Ready Steady Yeti Go

The title Ready Steady Yeti Go refers to the catch phrase the kids utter when they’re about to set up a new scene, suggesting, as the 95 to 100-minute play progresses, that with each new set-up they have the chance to rewrite, revise and correct the historical record. Playwright David Jacobi’s conceit could be compared to the way, with each racist incident that occurs in America, the country has the chance to achieve understanding and resolution, but the historical loop of racism keeps on spinning. Sometimes, like now, it’s barely noticed or even lamented: There were “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville, said our president.

So while this loop of national racial trauma keeps whirling around from one generation to the next, we see in Jacobi’s characters a study in the nonlinear complexity of personality, projected back into the past, perhaps as far back as slavery times, and forward into the ongoing and the future.

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May

Daniel's Husband

What we are left with is a PSA for marriage on practical, if not on romantic or moral grounds. Not that I don't agree with that message, I do, I do, but that can't be all a play is about. It's basically a highly sophisticated piece of agit-prop, a form that definitely has its place in the world, but is not emotionally complete. Nevertheless, the play is so well acted, and the theme is so important, that it does deserve to be seen.

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May

DR. NYMPHO VS. THE SEX ZOMBIES

Only one of the actors, Jeff Sumner, who plays the evil scientist Jerry, an eager patient of Dr. Tad's proctology practice, is a member of Actors' Equity, which I believe says something: The whole production has a kind of garage-show feel to it. The songs are unmemorable, the story a pulpy post-modern soap opera, the dancing exceptional, especially for the small space, but repetitive.

Nevertheless, for an entertaining, bacchanalian night out on the town, maybe with your bestie beside you and a drink in your hand, and if you give free rein to your suspension of disbelief, hey, go for it. (My companion's advice. She thinks I was trying to take the whole thing far too seriously.)

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Apr

Diana of Dobson's

Move over, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw! A new contemporary of yours has come to town and she is kicking butt!

In an exceedingly rare revival, in a mostly “partner-cast” production with two ensembles, the “Kettles” and the “Pots,” the Antaeus Theatre Company presents the 1908 romantic comedy Diana of Dobson's by British feminist and suffragist (and friend of GBS) Cicely Hamilton.

It was the unexpected hit of the 1908 London season, skewering the war between the sexes and positioning its author amongst the highest rungs of class-conscious writers (that you probably never heard of). After its moment in the spotlight it unfairly fell out of view—no doubt because it was written by a woman.

All hail the ambitious Antaeus for digging up this absolute gem. I hope the delicious reviews it receives inspires companies everywhere in the English-speaking world to sink their tough Actors' Equity proletarian hands into this sizzling hot property that positively burns up the stage with wit, sagacity, satire and class.

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Apr

FALSETTOS

Love, found and lost, rediscovered and new, enters our lives, and we wake up one day realizing we never set ourselves up to feel so deeply about the people in our lives. Even the grief that life brings just affirms our deepest humanity, and we wouldn't have it otherwise. These eternal themes live on in Falsettos, whose only dated feature may be its dependency on an overfamiliar brand of self-deprecating Jewish humor (but there wouldn't be a show without it).

All art requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief, and Falsettos presents no exception to the rule. One trust that is dramatically broken is that Mendel the sketchy psychiatrist starts a liaison with Marvin's ex Trina, and Jason is shunted back and forth between these two odd couples. Yet this is maybe the real point: While our sense of identification bends toward Marvin, Jason is truly the central figure around whom all revolves. It is his coming-of-age story, symbolized by the bar mitzvah he imaginatively carries off in his own original fashion, that provides us the comfort of knowing that people, kids included, can be petty resilient if they need to be

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Apr

The Niceties

Like it or not, liberals and leftists need each other. The Left cannot achieve any of the demands it puts forward without liberal support, which may be reticent but more deeply guarantees permanent acceptance—even by conservatives who once were in opposition (see Social Security, Medicare, voting rights, same-gender marriage); and the liberals need the Left to legitimize their claim to represent the working class in its wide diversity.

Few people like to think of themselves as a bad person. Many people in these “woke” times want to behave well, though it's not always self-evident what such behavior asks of them. Action has to be placed in the framework of long-term strategy of winning ever more people to your side—not alienating them! Big mistake of the Weatherpeople of my generation! Some patience and a little ironic humor (qualities V.I. Lenin cited as requisites for the revolutionary) are needed.

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Apr

Birdland Blue

Birdland Blue belongs to a genre of theatre that I believe we're seeing more and more of these days. Maybe there's a name for it already, but I'd call it “slice of life” theatre. Not much actually happens, but a period is opened up for us and characters are introduced as personality portraits, without there necessarily being a clear narrative that brings them together dramatically. The passage of time alone and the piling up of a succession of interactions and conversations do not a play make, at least not one that observes the conventional formulas. One could argue that, hey, where does Waiting for Godot go—one of the seminal plays by Samuel Beckett that defined the theatre of the absurd and existentialist eras—but Beckett is an outlier that few have tried to imitate and build on.

What do the characters in Birdland Blue want, and how successful are they in achieving it? Perhaps the best one might answer is, They want to be left alone to develop their art free of commercial exploitation and police racketeering and to be rewarded commensurate to the public's taste. Their other wants are socially determined—women, fancy cars, induced highs, and ostentatious display of money. Again, this might be the casual locker room puffery men talk about, but it doesn't lift these musicians up into the pantheon of great theatrical characters.

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Apr

The Mother of Henry

Community history is a worthy subject for a play, and The Mother of Henry properly emphasizes how people are moved to change within that community. As Connie becomes more conscious about the war, she concludes, “You can't just sit around and do nothing.”

While not groundbreaking theatre, it does relate an important and effective story that a lot of people can relate to. Hearing the classic protest songs of the period sung by La Virgen de Guadalupe—well, that is special. What's goin' on? The times they are a-changing.

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Apr

ROTTERDAM

If transitioning from one gender to another is the central subject matter of the play, it is not the theme. These characters really need to understand their own motivations, their sincerity, the lies and misrepresentations they put forward, their inability to articulate clearly what it is they want, and their avoidance of risk, which manifests itself in their all too transparent use of polite convention to paper over what they or others might find uncomfortable or hurtful. No one here gets away unscathed, especially as alcohol, hashish and unaccustomed hormones start kicking in.

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Apr

Faith Healer

Faith Healer is a masterpiece of theatrical trompe l'oeil, a landmark in the rich Irish canon, but without really accomplished actors it would be an intolerable bore. Fortunately, we have a cast that can hold their own against the formidable odds that Friel has placed before them. The playwright almost dares the actors (and the director) to make this work.

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Mar

ROALD DAHL'S MATILDA THE MUSICAL

This way of looking at life is the 180-degree opposite to the musical's opening number “Miracle,” which celebrates and honors every child as a person of magical possibility. I remember one of my grandfather Israel Gordon's snide observations when he remarked that “Every parent thinks their kid is a genius. So where do all the dumbbells come from?”

Genius or dumbbell: the very opposites represented by Matilda and her brother Michael. Yet, whatever capabilities people have—limitless or limited as the case may be—shouldn't each person be given the best chances in life, the broadest opportunities to discover what they're good at and to be recognized for it?

The much vaunted theory of meritocracy, as we have been seeing it play out in the current college admission scandal, is faulty even if practiced ethically, because first you have to look at the system of spoils for the wealthy and privileged that trumps all else. How many “Matildas” are wasting away, their minds and talents not only unseen but even disparaged and punished, in underfunded, understaffed schools everywhere in the world? Success in life only for those who strive and continually sharpen their brains is a cruel myth: The homemaker with no larger ambitions and the immigrant janitor are also entitled, by nothing more than the virtue of their humanity, to a decent standard of living.

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Mar

The Wolves

There is a Great Purpose here somewhere, and no one can fault the actors for their extraordinarily energetic dedication to trying to make this work. I don't envy the director, who had the complicated job of keeping the volatile pin-ball dialogue moving along coherently while soccer balls are being kicked around. The Wolves is not so much a play, but a slice of life, a collective atmosphere and environmental snapshot of girls' sports. But almost all of that Great Purpose is overwhelmed by far too much hyperactivity both physical and verbal, sweat and busy-ness, and wasted time that fails to contribute to the drama.

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ADS
  • Fefu and her Friends at the Odyssey Theatre
  • DIRTY TRICKS w/ The New Bad Boys of Magic
  • Give Up the Ghost at the First Christian Church of Whittier

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