Saturday, August 10, 2019

America's terrorist underbelly exposed in Slaughter's THE LAST WIDOW and O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"

In Flannery O'Coonor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find, a criminal called The Misfit, a caricature of a good ol' boy gone bad, and his atavistic cohorts randomly capture a typical southern family. In this darkly satirical story, the criminals' shockingly casual killings are indelibly linked with the family's hypocritical values--illusions about class and virtue, racial prejudice, religious pretensions. This story, like Karin Slaughter's thriller, is about America's underbelly, where mainstream values have gone to seed, as the disaffected revel in demented revenge.

Karin Slaughter's THE LAST WIDOW (August 2019, HarperLuxe) begins in our time, July 7th, 2019 with the odd "random" kidnapping of a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control.  It's but a prologue to a bombing in Atlanta near Emory University; two major hospitals, the FBI headquarters, and CDC. The two actions are no coincidence and only the beginning.

Sara, a medical examiner, and her partner, Will, an investigator for the Georgia Bureau of  Investigation, rush to the scene that resembles our worst terrorist nightmares. What they eventually uncover is a deadly conspiracy, as savagely American as O'Connor's tale. This is literary territory but though Slaughter writes fast-paced bestsellers, THE LAST WIDOW crosses over to explore the origins of  radical right wing conspiracy against mainstream American life.

Dreiser's An American Tragedy traces evil action back to America's hyper valued ambition,  business success, high social status and prejudices against dreaded poverty and career failure. Like Dreiser, who was influenced by evolution, Slaughter's novel brought to mind the concept of the primitive "reptilian" part of our human brain, These are big themes in a page turner with believably noble characters amid monsters that unfortunately aren't too hard to believe.

In THE LAST WIDOW racism and xenophobia masquerade as patriotism. "Traditional" family values mask abuse of women and children. Through her protagonists' race to halt the death of thousands,  commercially cherished values; marriage,loyalty, fairness translate into their opposites. This is both a thriller and a novel of ideas in a high stakes situation, where nothing can be taken for what it seems.

I loved how Slaughter's lovers were both flawed and aware of their shortcomings. I found dyslexic Will, once an orphan on the streets, now an intrepid fighter for the helpless and Sara, born with a silver spoon, a doctor who saves lives and tracks criminals who take them--actually touching. The couple's differing kinds of intelligence, ambiguity about love and shared risk-taking are the heart of the  plot to find the terrorists. Stakes constantly ratchet up and when Sara is also kidnapped, Will becomes a one-man army to save her and America from a virulent home-grown  terrorism.

It was a pleasure to spend time with this couple, willing to put themselves on the line, pay the ultimate price--but not their loved partner! You want both to make it. This was an  "edge of your seat" thriller for me. With more sugar than Dreiser or O'Conner's endings,THE LAST WIDOW neatly ties up. But Slaughter doesn't back down from the hard truths of America's cultural underbelly. And her heroes don't easily recover from trauma. No one is unchanged nor the reality that this terror happens here.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Arthur Miller's rarely performed play, The Archbishop's Ceiling, goes behind a 1970s "iron curtain" to reveal control of information & writers.

The Archbishop's Ceiling by Arthur Miller, presented by Regeneration Theatre, is a play rarely done and this was the first New York production.  I thought I knew Miller's work but never heard of this  play set in the 1970's in an unnamed Eastern European country, where government controls  information and the freedom of writers.  In this behind the "Iron Curtain" drama, Miller, who lived through the McCarthy era, had insights into the clash between governments' need to control information and writers' need for free speech. This reverberates in 2019's chaotic "fake news" environment. Our former Cold War enemy's divide and conquer tactics, that influenced our 2016 elections, is a propaganda model used in the former soviet bloc and now imported abroad. History does repeat itself, though never in the same form.

Miller's play opens with Adrian and Maya having drinks in an elegant high ceilinged room in a bygone Imperial style. Maya (Kristen Gehling) is flirtatious but chooses her English carefully. They have a sexual history. Adrian (Levi Morger) is a famous American journalist she hasn't seen n years. Why now, she probes, though he's more interested in her relationship with Marcus (John Spano), who has the apartment. Are they just associates, business partners or more? It's a sparring match less about sex than information and the stakes are high.

The Archbishop's Ceiling  precedes the seismic shifts in political, economic and later information dissemination policies that began with Perestroika (1979) and Glasnost (1985).This is in the future  but Adrian, a Vietnam War era journalist (ended 1975) is a catalyst in this play. He remembers Marcus' apartment, as a meeting place for writers and knows that many were compromised afterward. He's also aware that Marcus enjoys privileges that indicate his "influence." with officials.  Is Maya also corrupt, selling out writers to advance herself, a realist working within the system, or simply a poet who likes to help writers?

When Adrian provokes her, suggesting he's writing a book about her and Marcus, Maya questions his purpose. In his work he pleases publishers and audiences, who want what "truth" he's selling. But does his freedom mean he's ignorant of consequences? Adrien's clear, freedom from government control is not negotiable. She says that Adrien doesn't understand anything

This is a multi-layered story but under the direction of Barnaby Edwards, who also produced, it's lucid. The high ceiling of the writers' club has limits; "bugs" that record voices for the authorities to review. Even Adrien with his foreign V.I.P. status, has limits. His words can cost him access or  jeopardize writers. Information is used to censor writers; punished with invisibility; loss of  the ability to write, publish, travel abroad, employment and education for their families, housing, and incarceration. Once the "bugs" are admitted (and also denied), action is deftly choreographed, as Adrian, Maya, Marcus, take others outside to discuss what is really going on.

Adrian, played astutely by Levi Morger, is a nervous mix of seasoned journalist and naive foreigner.  When his friend Sigmund (Michael Meth), a dissident writer, tells Adrian his book has been stolen by the police, he is  shocked police would go so far. Meth's pitch perfect as the "great writer," devestated at the loss; an investment of years of his life. Famous abroad and revered by his countrymen, Sigmund is officially nonexistent. Meth's sincerity and despair are poignant and believable.

His opposite, sophisticated Marcus, is ironically aware that the dissident, also a friend, is a true genius. Though an officially sanctioned writer, Marcus knows he's not in the same class. Spano makes him fascinating, as he switches masks. He's a supporter of writers, yet rep of the authorities. He's also a lover, who brings home from his travels abroad a "prize," a sexy Danish woman (Jessica Carollo), he expects to bed  He is also a "fixer" with an offer for Sigmund to recover his book Will Sigmund take it or Adrian's offer of comfortable American exile?  Prison is another choice.

Maya, in Kristen Gehling's surprising turnabout, shows it little matters how Adrian labels her. She's a patriot, concerned with saving her country's genius. Adrian's post Nam journalist, also wants to rescue Sigmund from government control. Are these two fellow-travellers? Miller's American writer is both a would-be savior and a man aware of his privilege and shortcomings. In The Archbishop's Ceiling Levi Morger's interpretation reveals self-doubt beneath his entitled pragmatism

The play questions characters' and audience assumptions. Can journalistic truth exist when the form requires simplifying complex reality? For instance, Marcus' luxurious life is based on accommodating those in power but he helps writers survive, can Adrien sell that story?  When corruption is commonly accepted, are truth and integrity threats to that order?  As the N.R.A. outspends arms control reforms, despite ongoing massacres in our schools and the testimony of victims. In 2019 we might ask how can truth and integrity have an affect on that order?

Arthur Miller's plays extoll the importance of freedom of speech but recognize the ability of power and greed to corrupt values. These plays respect human persistence, when faced with oppression. They are important, especially in our America, when universal values are routinely violated by the powerful for commercial or political advantage. The "new normal" is a cynical name for getting used to the abuse of power. I an glad there is a revival of interest in Miller's plays. It's great this one has been done now. I also would like to see Remarque's "Full Circle" some time soon.

The cast in Regeneration's production were all excellent. In some ways the hardest role may be Irina, the Danish musician Marcus brings home, thinking his apartment empty. She only speaks German and is at a loss about what is happening. Jessica Carollo's Irina reflected the high emotion in the room. She reacted to discussions, switching her position or expression. With varying difficulty, she managed her boredom and impatience, waiting for her lover's attentions. Loved her acceptance of confusion and conflict she couldn't understand. I feel her pain.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Up close and personal with Alice Neel. FREEDOM (David Zwirner Books)

"When you're an artist you're searching for freedom; you never find it,'cause there ain't any freedom. But at least you search for it. In fact, art could be called the search."

"Art is two things: a search for a road and a search for freedom. You know all these things in life keep crawling over you all the time, so it's very hard to feel free."

--Alice Neel

I met Alice Neel at her Whitney retrospective in 1974. A year out of art school, I was working for a  San Francisco paper actually called Art News. She offered to take me through the exhibition and made the point she wanted NO review about her work that ignored the life that made it. ( At this time, art criticism "deconstructed" art as separate from the artist). Alice pointed to a portrait of a guitar player and explained how she ran off with him to Spanish Harlem. He left her but she stayed because it was cheap and she had kids.

 Alice liked  painting neighbors, who worked hard to feed their kids.  She mentioned, almost in passing, how difficult it was to have a child die. The WPA saved her when she was broke. She had a job painting and regular money. Below some neighbors.

 Alice wasn't sentimental about mothers and their children. It was very difficult, as shown in these two early WPA works, a well-baby clinic, and a mother and children.

At her iconic portrait of Andy Warhol, she did a full stop, and in a hushed voice said his body was a map. The road she traced,  a finger above the canvas, was the scar where Valerie Solanos shot him. "Why would anyone want to hurt Andy?" she asked. He was shy but would come to her place to talk. He told her funny stories. But he was isolated, very alone. One could see that on his body.  She had painted a desert.

At the end of my tour, I thanked her and turned to leave. She almost whispered, close, "Make it when you're young. When I was 35, this show would have changed my life. Now it makes little difference. My life is made. But I come here every day. I like to see the reactions of people to my work." I looked down, her legs were swollen. The trek to the Whitney cost her something.

Ptredictably, my article was rejected as "too humanistic." The editor chastized me, "a person's subjective experience had litle to do with how the art was constructed." A dissenter to that mostly dead approach, I opened FREEDOM, a David Zwirner Book (published by D.A.P.) with great pleasure and curiosity about Alice's nudes. In her portraits clothes identify what's underneath. But they are stand-ins. I guessed the Warhol painting was no outlier. Neel made thick outlines to separate her sitters from their backgrounds. Body and psyche are continuous, despite the clothes. Warhol's head was somehow less animated than his exposed chest.

Figure drawing offers the chance to see the skin the person is dressed in. No wonder she preferred nudes. In the excellent intro to FREEDOM, daugher in law Ginny Neel talks of how Alice's art defied female steriotypes. Her  honesty about pregnancy and childbirth is still as rare as her open sexuality, She painted male bodies as men painted women. Take a look at her portrait of the the art critic John Perrault. She asked him to pose for the Whitney Show. Here is character and male beauty.

Helen Molesworth's essay "Looking with and Looking at Alice Neel" gives an art historical context to the question, how does a woman paint a naked body when there's no tradition of the female "gaze?"When I was an art student in Philadelphia the blue laws were still in place. We had to draw male nudes with a brief hiding their genitals. Women were uncovered but not men. When the law was changed, we women were disconcerted. How were we to draw this body part we had never studied?  It was embarassing.

Alice's male nudes, like her females, are individuals instead of the usual idealized figures reflecting male fantasies. Ahough her lovers may be rendered erotic, sexually attractive, her emotions are not the subject of the portrait. Similarly, when a male is paired with a female nude, in the painting below,  the subjects are individuals while in relation with each other. They seem physically together and emotional worlds apart. 

Rare is the man, who paints women without their clothes  observing their emotions and character-instead of  how he feels about their looks. With Alice Neel's nudes the closest she comes to projection of her feelings seems to be in the pregnant ones. Neel who had 4 children, may have identified with the strange plasticity of the pregnant body. In her work, there are no idealized round beaming earth mothers.

Neel's pregnant nudes can appear uncomfortable, surprised, resigned. They are true to the odd truth of pregnancy--a strange being inside a woman's body. Perhaps Neel identified with the unguarded moment, feelings she might have shared. The children she paints are also individuals, not  appendanges of their mothers. Here is a portrait of her own daughter at 9. Also a set of twins with their mother and a boy baby--contented, curious,  male.

This book of nudes is unvarnished, inexplicably human and emotionally unafraid. The compassion and even occasional revulsion she paints is the perfect antidote to the distanced ironic even pornographic stances in some contemporary depictions of naked people.

In Alice Neel's work, eroticism is more complex, up close and personl, a rare female gaze. 
Recommended, especially if you have been  feeling distanced from the human condition.  
Perhaps estranged in a sea of cellphones 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Barbara Kahn's dark comedy WHERE DO ALL THE GHOSTS GO? Theater for the New City

WHERE DO ALL THE GHOSTS GOTheater for the New City (Written and directed by Barbara Kahn, ) opens with a rapier thrust by Sarah Bernhardt (Steph Van Vlack). a ghost in Napoleonic drag. She thinks herself condemned to solitude in the derelict hotel, until Marcel Duchamp with his transparent chessboard shows up. Played with droll astringency by David Leeper, his verbal provocations are interrupted by fellow ghouls Elizabeth Keckley, a  demure companion to Mary Todd Lincoln (Chloe Simone Crawford). Then Buffalo Bill Cody (Christopher Lowe) crashes into the room. When Duchamp purposes chess, you get that he and Cody may have been playing an infinite game. When the Baroness (Sarah Teed) floats through the room and Duchamp dramatically calls her a thief, it's but a ripple in her trajectory through time with a bright scarf.

It is a scarf, ostensibly lost, that brings Jos (Ashley Versher) and her wife, Frankie (Fleur Voorn) to return to the derelict hotel. A novelist who writes ghost stories, Jos is stuck on Chapter three. Is the scarf an excuse for something else missing?  Objectives, ghostly or human, are part of the vague atmosphere of the room, a former therapist's office  (kudos to Mark Marcante for lights and set).  Jos is able to see and hear the ghosts. Frankie, a scientist, is less than comfortable that Jo is talking with invisible people. Creeped out, she leaves and Jos quizzes the ghosts about what humans expect from ghosts. She also takes on the therapist's role listening to the indignities suffered by once famous beings now lonely and unrecognized.

All have connections to the hotel and their histories play a major role in this play. Haunted by past misfortunes and pleasures, creative work and major challenges, they navigate the halls of times past. Keckley, an African American, was seamstress and companion to Mary Lincoln, experiencing racism in accommodations and proud of how she faced it. Buffalo Bill, who employed American Indians, eternally mourns the death of Sitting Bull. Bernhardt, baptized Catholic, faced 19th century anti-semitism, after she acknowledged her heritage during the Dreyfus case. Duchamp pioneered a drag persona as a creation, declared toilets sculpture and exiled himself to Chess' pure abstraction.

The unearthly ringing of a telephone (Alexander Graham Bell's experiment), warns the ghosts of life outside and the imminent destruction of their home. Their  fears intensify, affecting the lights and Jos fears she will be plunged into darkness. When Frankie appears with her Ipad,  the living and the dead unite to find the ghosts' final resting places. In the process,the ghosts acknowledge the lesbian couple as social pioneers and lovers. In the light of Apple technology,will humans and ghosts outpace the wrecking ball?

Barbara Kahn calls this a dark comedy but it's "Topper" friendly, a valentine for souls lost and found. Kahn was inspired to write Where do all the Ghosts Go? after hearing about plans to demolish the St. Denis, a 165-year old building at the corner of East 11th St. and Broadway, south of Union Square. She has won numerous awards, including the Torch of Hope, the Robert Chesley Playwriting Award and the 2017 Acker Award for her work in downtown theater.

Kahn's historical plays include Verzet Amsterdam, The Three-Mile Limit, Ghost Light now and Then, Women of the Wind, Island Girls  and many more. Look for her next wise comedy.

. S.W.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Heroines named Alice, like no one you know, in THE PARAGON HOTEL and A HAIRPIECE NAMED DENIAL

The Paragon Hotel by Lindsay Faye (Putnam) and A Hairpiece Named Denial  (Pelekinesis) by S. Sal Hanna are very good novels with strange affect, where humor and identity take turns you can't anticipate. Stranger yet, both have heroines named Alice.

As The Paragon Hotel  opens, Alice, also known as Nobody, is a young flapper on the run from Prohibition Harlem's mafia gang wars. Wounded and bleeding heavily, she boards a train where Max, a concerned porter, spirits her to Portland's Paragon Hotel, the only hotel for African Americans in a white city. A very skilled African-American doctor saves her life but then Alice, who uses invisibility to survive,finds herself a prominent, unwanted guest. She has to convalesce and the hotel is a perfect hide-out, yet her presence generates outsize fear, unmitigated by the cash in her bag. Suspicious residents shun her until a protector emerges. The charismatic Blossom, a wordly caberet performer, invites her to her room, curious about Alice, guessing she's not easily shocked by secrets.

Before the novel is over, Alice and Blossom's strange histories unravel, along with the curious life of the hotel, which provides not just rooms but crucial refuge for "travellers." As Alice recovers from her injuries, so does her razor sharp sleuthing instincts. When a mulatto boy goes missing from the hotel, she joins the search and uncovers secrets--outrageous, forbidden, pathetic  and ultimately dangerous. The hotel becomes a catalyst for revelations hidden in Portland society, including a nascent Klu Klux Klan.

The dialogue is filmic with lush historic details and tantalizing mysteries. Through Alice/Nobody's almond shaped "sicilian eyes" I experienced Prohibition era New York, streets and clubs with entertainers, as well as the forbidden high life of a portland party barge. This novel puts you front and center from the first lines:

"Sitting against the pillows of a Pullman sleeper, bones clecking like the pistons of the metal beast speeding me Westward, I wonder if I'm going to die." Faye was nominated for an Edgar for Jane Steele, an earlier book. This one is certainly a contender.

 A Hairpiece Named Denial, begins in the 1980s in Kansas, with  "Alice, a writer of comic prose, printed on the title page of a manuscript: Guaranteed to make you laugh or your sense of humor back, she mailed the manuscript to an editor who, in her words, "misinterpreted the guarantee and set the manuscript back."

"Alice Princeton Goe and her husband Frank were a wealthy couple who had kept their fortune a private matter. No one in Samsville, their small town located on the wide-open, wind-ransacked plain of central Kansas, knew of the millions they had tucked away in a bank in the big city of Wichita..."

After Frank's death Alice decides to give away seven million dollars. She concocts a hilarious scheme and shares her ideas with her "deluxe cleaning lad," a young man who holds a B.A. in Philosophy and wears an Elvis pompadour hairpiece. The scheme, a kind of test of the "endowment" industry, involves two hapless financial officers at a small arts college.

Alice turns a linear process meant to end with her signature into a madcap circle. As traditional expectations are jettisoned for the absurd, Alice's brilliant nonsense reaches no foregone conclusion. Instead, her truth seeking missle results in a satisfying demise of expectations and role-playing. Her new college friends do prosper from Alice's adventure and she gets another bestselling novel. There is also much serious wisdom in the revelation of her life and what, in the end, has value.

Look for S. Sal Hanna's A Hairpiece Named Denial at Peleinesis and for previous books, The Gypsy Scholar and Beyond Winning, in university press sections.

I found this a very good book to read before bed. It amused me and gave me a comforting sense of the value of being a human being. Better than Netflix.


Monday, March 11, 2019

The Typewriter Underground's LA COMMEDIA, Tzara's DADA, D.U.M.B.'s egalitarian cry


Is this a put-on, precious satire, poetry, an infinite jest? Yes, as well as the first blast of  THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND, a movement both radical and retro, reactionary and progressive, profound and silly--Marc Zegans, poet and spoken word artist, began this movement after publishing a collection of verse, The Underwater Typewriter. The Typewriter Underground was originally inspired by an abandoned subway, boarded up and forgotten. Zegans imagined galleries, performance in such a space. His movement has attracted a group of like-minded artists making film, music, spoken word events. It's become an alt art movement.

In the FIRST FOLIO he teams with Eric Edelman, a retro collage artist, to introduce fictional author, Swizzle Felt and his group of bohemian drop-outs, such as Edamame Phelps (his personal librarian), Clytaemnestra Litotes, Manicotti Delacorte, Quarantine Ellipsis and my favorite Hyacinth Coyote. Their voices celebrate "the tangible, the analogue, the ephemeral, the particular, the mechanical--original products of the word by hand."

Here are stanzas from The Danger Meditations

Living in the Underground entailed risk,
Typists inhabited the rough margins
of the urban social infrastructure
forming circles in abandoned job shops
transportation tunnels and sub-basements
the roofs of tenements and corner bars
in the lowest rent corners they could find.

And they did not want to draw attention
so they blended with the irreputable
the sketchy, the seamy, the broken, the louche
Making themselves targets for shakedowns and more.
The true inhabitants became feral,
Masters and mistresses of feline stealth
Yet, flooding, power-outages, trespass
Theft and casual violence were always near

And much of the conversation:
"Did you hear that Lysander's notes were took
And burned as kindling for a warming fire?"
"Three pigeon coups ravaged in the past week."
"Can't wear my transcription drag on the street."
"The dome of our library is showing cracks."

"There's a shortage of black market ribbons.
And spools are being hoarded by chop shops."

What is the point?  Consider the dire politics; the looming destruction of the planet as a human habitat, the emergence of  American branded fascism in the White House, art as a luxury commodity, people aspiring to become"brands". There is a tyranny of technology and disenchantment, as privacy diminishes. Suppose a group of activists secretly returned to typewriters and created a 21st century underground, where print (vs a throwaway print out) and meanings are resurrected as a radical private recreation. THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND.

Alternative movements are, I believe, a necessary corrective for mainstream culture.  In 1912, during  WW1, in Zurich Tristan Tzara (poet, essayist, performance artist--and literary iconoclast) founded the DADA movement inspired by his contempt for bourgois values and traditional attitudes toward art. Tsara's manifestos and "Lampisteries"created with artist Picabia, led the way for surrealists. The question of what's real or of value was a corrective for their time and continues inours.

As a lover of art movements, in the spring of 1980, in the dawn of the Reagan era, and serious corporate commodification of art, I was involved with D.U.M.B. Magazine (Down Under Manhattan Bridge) an art-lit zine (only a debut issue) along with The Portable Lower East Side. D.U.M.B's founder Dan Freeman got commercially viable and valued artists, like Alex Katz and Red Grooms,  to contribute art to be shown alongside unknown artists and writers. Egalitarian art was a corrective for the oppressive emphasis on making salable name-brand art. It was about the work.

Most alt art movements are short-lived, a finger in the cultural dike. Dixon Place, originating from that alt burst in the 80s, is an outlier, a space that presents performance, theater, visual art, writing by knowns and unknowns--it's about the work. I cheer on The Typewriter Underground as they connect with like-minded artists, writers, performers nationwide. Today more than ever we need an alt underground, below the radar, avoiding commodification of art and people, the brave denizens of THE TYPEWRITER UNDERGROUND.

Swizzle Felt's Folio has a retro decorative feel, different from Tzara's bold graphic manifestos or the 80s zines. Could you say the retro style is decadent, like the symbolists-decadents of another alt cultural moment? Yes, except Edelman's collages conjure a steam punkish reality. Can it survive in this era of corporate domination, when tech giants move fast to co-opt brands?  Even Banksy's maneuvers have been co-opted, despite his vigilance.  Is the obviously retro Luddite



Monday, February 25, 2019

NEWS! 12/19-22nd at IRT Theater, ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by Susan I. Weinstein

ETHER will be presented 12/19-22nd at IRT Theater
More information to come.

ETHER: The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini and Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle, ACT 1, was
 presented in a staged reading on April 12th at 7:30 in Dixon Place. Frenemies Houdini and Doyle, stuck in competing versions of reality, make a dire metaphysical bet. 1st Act of 2 Act play about Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's rivalry, continued in the afterlife, where they and their wives seek the final resolution. The play's based on their letters and  here is presented with limited visuals.. The full show, an ongoing exploration, may be presented December at I.R.T. theater. If interested in this play, leave a comment here. Thanks for your interest.

ETHER staged reading went very well despite our missing visuals and audio. Honors to director Sara Minisquero and cast- Owen Hayden, Geoff Moonen, Chelsea Rodriguez, Lauren Elizabeth. Video of the first act shows characterizations. Link to video below.

Susan I. Weinstein (playwright) In 2018, her play The Wapshot Whatever: The Secret Lives of Computer Programs was produced at Dixon Place mainstage. Her plays have had performances and readings at A.C.T., The Public Theater, Harold Clurman Theater, Toykraft (Bunraku adaptation of Anderson's The Little Mermaid.) Her full profile at The Dramatists Guild, where she is a member. Her novels include The Anarchist's Girlfriend, Paradise Gardens, Tales of the MerFamily Onyx (Pelekinesis).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Edward Einhorn's brilliant play, THE NEUROLOGY OF THE SOUL-Neuroscience is the nexus for love, art & brand marketing

Written and Directed By Edward Einhorn  UNTITLED THEATRE CO.

February 8 - March 2, 2019  

at A.R.T./New York’s 
Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre
502 W. 53rd Street (at 10th Ave)

A new play examining the nexus between neuroscience, marketing, art, and love.

With: Ashley Griffin*, Mick O’Brien*, Yvonne Roen*, Matthew Trumbull*

*Indicates member of Actor's Equity Association

Thu - Sat at 8pm
Sun Feb 10 and 24 at 5pm; Tue Feb 12 and 26 at 7pm

Here's the story. Amy, a lapsed artist and one-time artist's model, is married to Stephen, a neuroscientist investigating how emotions affect the brain. As the play opens, she's not been his only subject but his favorite, as he investigates the neurological impact of their relationship--their love.
He speaks and she's not to answer. His words are a stimulus for her brain to register emotion. And when she's had enough she can exit by squeezing a bulb.

As the story evolves, Stephen is offered a high paying job in neuro-marketing in New York. The company owner, Mark, sees the research not just as an extension of how psychology is used but the potential of a whole brave new world of induced responses with the "flea driving the dog." But Amy, the artist, now poses a challenge--other ideas of  motivation. And so, as Stephen takes the job with Amy his only subject (not quite as mute as was Pygmalion's Galatea), a not quite conventional love triangle develops. And what about Stephen's theory?

This play takes on notions of"progress and success, but more original is how it juxtaposes data with the human soul, the idea of the artist as truth seeker with the static male gaze of the "beloved" in the arts. This ambitious play, delivered on much of this with clarity and humor. Below is some of the dialogue.

Don't miss this play. It needs to be extended. Although the cast was excellent, Ashley Griffin's AMY was quite a stand-out, as she cautiously walked a line between loyalty to her husband's research and  his use of her and an awakening to her own the potential as an artist.

enters. AMY is back in the MRI machine.)

These images may be art one day, so try to think like Van Gogh! On second thought, don’t do
that. I like you with both your ears.

(He laughs at his own joke. Which falls dead of
course…AMY can’t respond, even if she wanted

OK, this time, as I explained, I am going to mix different types of phrases together, and I’m
going to see if there’s a difference between your neural reactions. Squeeze the thingy if you’re

(AMY squeezes it.)
Great. Let’s go. I love you.
I like you.
I don’t like you.
I hate you.
I’m reminded of some early relationships I had. Before I met Stephen, of course. Or rather, most
of them were before I met Stephen.
I have no feelings about you whatsoever.
Stephen and I weren’t exclusive. Well, he was. I wasn’t. He wanted to be.
I am indifferent.
I…didn’t know what I wanted. There was one guy, Mack…he goes by Mack, short for…my
God, I don’t remember. McKenzie? Something Irish. Have I really forgotten his real name? I
have. I guess I have.
You turn me on.
Mack was an artist too. But he was—his art was terrible. Sold well. He knew how to sell. He’s
the only one, actually, the only one I know from those days, who’s actually making a living from
his art. If you can call it art. Landscapes that look good in your living room, that you don’t have
to think too long about. Nobody could stand him. Not even me.
I want to fuck you.
Maybe it was jealousy. Why should he be successful, with his awful, clichéd seascapes or
flowers or whatever while I was totally unsuccessful with my awful, clichéd, half naked women.
God, he turned me on.
I long for you.
I told you I like you.
I don’t like you.
I hate you.

(Transition to MARK at the Digital Leadership
Summit again.)
Let’s go back to the concept of love. Because that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the Holy Grail. If you
can make your customer love you, you have it made. They will stick with you, with your brand,
forever. Or at least until they fall in love with another.
(Slide: a wedding)

It’s all about cognitive framework. The situation in which you encounter a brand affects the way
you think about it, just in the way that the situation you encounter a person affects the way think
about him or her. Let me tell you the story about a marriage. My marriage, in fact. I met my
wife in college. Well, she was in college. I was her TA. I know, scandalous, except that it
happens all the time. She was very beautiful, and very smart, and to be honest, I don’t think she
would have given me a second glance if we had met in a coffeehouse. Or on the street. Or
maybe even through a friend. But I was her teacher. I was smarter than her, at least about the
class I was teaching. I was more powerful than her. And for her, that was the right cognitive
framework. That is what made her notice whatever my good qualities might have been, what
made her overlook my bad ones. Now in my case, the marriage didn’t last. In my case, once the
framework changed, so did the love. She saw me differently. So it’s a challenge, and the
challenge is twofold. Win the love. Keep the love. It’s a challenge in any circumstance, but
when you can look inside someone’s brain and see when the love is waning…well, that gives
you an edge, doesn’t it?


Tuesday, February 5, 2019


4/21, New York Times Book Review on NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT. Quite an even-handed look.
CONGRATS to Purdue University Press and Julien Gorbach!!

Congratulations to Julien Gorbach on the publication of NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT on
March 15, 2019. A wonderful in-dept look at a man whose career spanned reporting on corruption on Chicago, writing Broadway hits like Front Page in NY, as a famous wit of the Algonquin Roundtable, winning an Emmyfor the invention of the modern gangster movie in Hollywood, where he wrote Scarface and Notorious, Hecht organized entertainers to save Europe's Jews and later joined forces with notorious gangster Mickey Cohen to fight for a Jewish stsate. Writer, thinker, famous in his time, offers wisdom for ours in this perceptive book.

From Hecht's message to the world at this time
"During the Second World War, we witnessed mass man’s capacity for genocide.The war ended with the atom bomb. Through the late 20th century, we were caught in the thrall of a nuclear arms race, remaining fifteen minutes from global nuclear holocaust.
Now, in addition to “loose nukes,” we are steadily, but relentlessly, driving a global mass extinction event, exhausting our basic resources, so that scarcity and mass migration will  increasingly stoke global conflict."
Algonquin Roundtable
toast by Julien Gorbach to the spirit of Ben Hecht, 3/9

HECHT RECEIVES OSCAR FOR 1st modern Gangster movie.
Hecht's Underworld is considered the first modern gangster movie. Though it opened with modest hopes, it garnered massive box-office success, and Hecht would receive an Oscar for best original story at the first Academy Awards ceremony, on May 16, 1929. “Here’s to crime,” wrote a reviewer for Motion Picture Classic.“Ever since Underworld came through with flying colors, most every producer including its particular sponsor, Paramount, has been trying to duplicate it.”
In Hecht’s follow-up, Scarface, written after the stock market crash, he would push into far darker territory, appealing to a more sophisticated, or more jaundiced, audience. The differences between the two films reflect the contrasts between Hecht’s worldview before and after his experience in Germany, as well as the changes wrought by Prohibition in Chicago. While Underworld had portrayed the gritty era of the First Ward and the Gangsters’ Ball, Scarface depicted corporate criminal syndicates that had developed in response to the Volstead Act, engulfing the power structures of the city.
The result was a culture and politics suffused with crime. Scarface capitalized on the cult of personality around Al Capone, notorious for a ruthlessness that was a mix of icy calculation and ferocity. The film capitalized, as well, on the public’s appetite for violence. Its gangsters were not merely thugs but veterans of a world war, armed with its firepower and trained in military tactics. In short, whether consciously or not, Hecht’s terrifying vision of Scarface protagonist Tony Camonte and his mob was in many ways suggestive of Hitler and the Nazis, just when Hitler was poised to seize power. Like the Nazis, Camonte was a creature of the world war, born of that combination of mad viciousness and modern efficiency. Like Hitler, Camonte is a media obsession with a genius for manipulating public opinion.
But ironically, as a powerful figure who challenges the state, Camonte would also endure as Hecht’s iconic outlaw, the fearsome and fearless type Hecht would one day turn to for help when the Jews were in need. In both roles this American movie gangster, like his real-life German counterpart, personified all that had gone wrong in the world. Underworld had struck a chord because Hecht understood America’s fascination with the soul of the racketeer. His own Menckenesque contempt for hypocritical puritan morality had put him at the center of a revolution in morals and manners under way in the 1920s. Gone was the gentility of the Victorian age. After the war, a new, modern urban culture. (Below scene from Underworld)

Excerpt from THE NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT, Hollywood, his "El Dorado"

While the rest of the country was plummeting into the Depression, Ben Hecht had reached what he called “the new El Dorado.” Hollywood, which asked of writers merely their hearts and souls as the price of admission,would drive the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald to a “crack-up.”2 But there was a bright side. Hecht was ensconced during those early years on the Youngworth Ranch, a “wooden castle” and avocado farm overlooking MGM’s back lots in Culver City, and his guests for a typical night of
drinking might include the movie star Jean Harlow, soon-to-be princess of Austria Nora Gregor, director Howard Hawks, Harpo Marx, Dashiell Hammett, composer George Antheil, Charles MacArthur, and other fellow writers.
“The sun shone,” Hecht wrote. “The dinner parties looked like stage sets. International beauties sat in candle-lit café nooks, holding hands with undersized magnates. Novelists, poets and playwrights staggered bibulously in and out of swimming pools. Floperoo actors and actresses
from New York, ex-waitresses, elevator girls, light o’ loves, high school graduates with the right-size boobies all met their Good Fairy and were given seats on the royal bandwagon. And out of the hotel suites, brothels
and casinos came a noise of life undaunted such as not been heard since the Forty-niners drank themselves to death looking for nuggets.”
On the Hollywood payroll, one joined the most accomplished writers and artists of a generation. But in the heyday of the studio system, writers were paid Excerpt from The Notorious Ben Hecht--Hollywood, "the New Eldorado"more money than they had ever seen before but found themselves workers on a factory line. Here perfectionism was anathema, and an author could expect the writing conferences and other machinations of film production
to perversely salvage his or her worst ideas while shearing off the best.
“Your writing stinks,” observed MacArthur, “but you meet the people you want to be in a room with.” With fat rolls of cash, studio bosses summoned the highest class of talent if only for the sense of culture it gave them and for the feeling of superiority that came from telling such people what to do. Hecht had originally been summoned in 1926, by a cable from Herman Mankiewicz that would live on in Hollywood legend: “WILL YOU ACCEPT THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS PER WEEK TO WORK FOR PARAMOUNT PICTURES? ALL EXPENSES PAID.
Mankiewicz, who would one day script the classic newspaper film Citizen Kane (1941), was another half ne’er-do-well, half prodigy within Hecht’s close circle of friends in New York. Along with both Hecht and
MacArthur, he was by the mid-1920s a member of the Algonquin Round Table, an exclusive clique of newspaper columnists, playwrights, theater producers, and critics who met at least once a week for lunch at New York City’s Algonquin Hotel. Forever compensating for his weaknesses for drinking, gambling, and a lack of self-discipline, Mankiewicz possessed a whiplash wit that was a match for even the famously gifted Dorothy Parker.

The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist

Julien Gorbach. Purdue Univ., $32.95 trade paper (484p) ISBN 978-1-55753-865-9
This meticulously researched biography from Gorbach, an assistant communications professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, focuses on two aspects of writer Ben Hecht (1894–1964): his remarkable versatility—he produced journalism, novels, criticism, screenplays, plays, and memoirs—and his vocal support, prior to Israel’s founding, for a Jewish homeland. Gorbach argues that the seeds of Hecht’s success lay in his experiences as a reporter in 1910s and ’20s Chicago, which informed his cynical worldview and much of his best-known work, including the 1928 Broadway smash The Front Page and the 1932 film Scarface. In Hollywood, Hecht was astoundingly productive (of his more than 60 screenplays, “over half were written in two weeks or less”). This sheer output came to be seen by critics as a sign of his “shallowness and dissolute talent.” While Gorbach feels Hecht’s literary legacy is overdue for reevaluation, he admits a troubling shadow is cast by some of Hecht’s political activities, including his public advocacy of reprisals against the British soldiers occupying what was then known as Palestine. Suggesting that Hecht’s self-conscious persona as a “tough Jew” equally shaped his literary output and political ideology, Gorbach leaves readers with a richly provocative and original take on an influential writer. (Mar.)
The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Militant Zionist

HECHT the Newspaperman. Excerpt catches the flavor of this reporter days. "Front Page" looked back from his perch as a New York playwright--before Hollywood's siren song.

Over the next three years, it would take a series of exposés in the Lancet, a British journal, to break arguably the biggest story in the city’s history: the disgusting and dangerous conditions in the stockyards, which became the focus of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel The Jungle.Chicago’s newspapermen reflected the character of the city itself.

For a reporter who spent days and nights dashing between crime scenes, trolley car and machinery accidents, and the city morgue, Chicago in the throes
of its industrial boom was a raw and brutal place. Doug Fetherling puts it well in his biography of Hecht: “Chicago seemed a prairie Gomorrah where homicide was the logical solution to arguments and chicanery a natural force in the administration of justice. Streets were torn down and new ones erected, gang bosses were murdered to be supplanted by their killers, a dozen railways brought an influx of immigrants never matched by the number of people heading out. . . .

[Hecht’s] rhythms were those of the train wheels, factory whistles, gunfire and later the jazz music of a city which was, just then, exactly what [Carl] Sandburg said it was: hogbutcher, freight-handler, builder of railroads.” Or as Hecht would recall: “Trains were wrecked, hotels burned down, factories blew up. A man killed his wife in their Sedgwick Avenue flat, cut off her head and made a tobacco jar of its skull. . . . The headlines of murder, rape and swindle were ribbons around a Maypole. The Elevated squealed Hosannahs in the sooty air. The city turned like a wheel."

About the Early-Roaring 20's Hecht, who had multiple hits on Broadway including "Front Page." He resided at the Algonquin Hotel with the literary Round Table. For the curious...The Legendary Algonquin Round Table! Here "the Vicious Circle" where this infamous gang of whiplash wits gathered each week for lunch during the Roaring Twenties. 

The Round Tablers, who transformed American theater, comedy and the portrayal of journalism in popular culture, besides HECHT included Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross (founder of The New Yorker) and Robert Benchley; columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun; critic Alexander Woollcott; comedian Harpo Marx; and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, and Robert Sherwood. Algonquinite Edna Ferber called them “The Poison Squad,” and wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.”

NOTORIOUS BEN HECHT was launched!  March 15 the book is published. Want one in advance. paper

Ben Hecht’s world, dominated by a madman and the response of the Big 3 Allies. 
the “Shakespeare of Hollywood,” was prescient about the annhilation of Europe’s Jews and an activist for survival. Propaganda, fanning hate and division, disruption as progress? This was his world also….. 

This book in paper  has just arrived in the Purdue University Press warehouse.

The Notorious Ben Hecht, a new biography from Purdue University Press, is the
FIRST Extensive bio of Hecht, who defined his age and is again new in our time.

Ben Hecht is Hollywood’s most legendary screenwriter, but he is arguably more significant as the man who shattered the American media silence about the Nazi slaughter of European Jews. He started as a crime reporter on Chicago's gritty streets before becoming famous as a Broadway playwright with his classic newspaper comedy The Front Page. As a screenwriter, Hecht defined Hollywood’s Golden Age with scripts that included Scarface, Gone with the Wind, and Notorious.

A ferocious wit with a genius for spectacle and controversy, Hecht responded to the rise of Hitler with a massive publicity campaign that awoke the American public to the Holocaust. Soon afterward, he earned infamy when he embraced the label of Jewish “terrorist” and joined with the gangster Mickey Cohen to smuggle weapons to Palestine in the fight for a Jewish state. Julien Gorbach's biography, The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Writer and Military Zionist (Purdue University Press, March 2019), investigates the life and multifaceted character of this storytelling virtuoso and provocateur.

Pauline Kael, revered film critic for The New Yorker, credited Hecht with having written half the entertaining films Hollywood ever produced. Ironically, Hecht’s commercial success, as the author of many movie melodramas, damaged his literary reputation.

“He also operated in so many genres that one life—no matter how colorful, no matter how full—barely seems to have encompassed what he achieved, in journalism, in literature, on the screen, and in polemics,” said noted historian Stephen Whitfield. “Yet until now—that is, until the publication of Julien Gorbach’s lively biographical study—Hecht has eluded the grasp of scholarship. The Notorious Ben Hecht is thus a welcome corrective.”

Hecht’s importance as a versatile modern writer does not diminish the role he played in history. Born shortly before the start of the twentieth century, he came of age with the advent of mass communication, and his story vividly illustrates how mass media changed the character of our culture. But, he was among the most prominent and influential disputants in a clash of political ideas that came with the rise of Nazism, the Holocaust, and the birth of Israel.

During the 1930s, his grim view of what he called “the soul of man” allowed him to see, with far greater clarity than most, the horror at the world’s doorstep. He offered a warning, not just to the people of his day, we would do well to rediscover Ben Hecht in this time.

Advance Praise for The Notorious Ben Hecht

"Gorbach’s work accomplishes what a good biography should: It focuses on an important and interesting figure; describes a little-explored aspect of his life that affected world events; makes a larger point about the society in which he lived; and does it in a clear, coherent, and captivating fashion. The importance of Ben Hecht lies in its major theme: Hecht’s willingness to stand out as a Jew and advocate for Jewish causes when most successful Jews of his generation sublimated their ethnic identity. Hecht and the Irgun advocated increasingly extreme and violent measures. To Hecht and the Irgun, the murder of six million Jews while the world watched proved they could not count on the international community."

—Laurel Leff, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, and Stotsky Professor of
Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, Northeastern University; Author, Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

"Julien Gorbach has done more than anyone before to shine a light into the darkness of the connections between Chicago’s underworld and its rawboned journalism. While previous celebrations of Chicago’s dailies during the age of newspapers’ ascendancy made sport of recklessness, fabrication, and violence, Gorbach has revealed the ‘devil’s bargain’ struck most notably by Ben Hecht, whose own life touches the 52 lightheartedness of The Front Page only tangentially. Hecht publicly laughed at journalism while obscuring its worst secrets."

—Dr. Michael Sweeney, Editor, Journalism History;
Associate Director for Graduate Studies, Ohio University

The Notorious Ben Hecht: Iconoclastic Zionist and Militant Zionist
Purdue University Press, March 2019

Author Julien Gorbach spent most of his ten years as a daily newspaper reporter on the police beat, covering drive-by shootings and murder trials, and publishing an investigative series on killings that remained unsolved because gangs had intimidated witnesses into silence. As a freelancer, he contributed to the Boston Phoenix, Time Out New York, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and the New Orleans Gambit, among other publications. He covered Hurricane Katrina for the Boston Globe. Currently, Gorbach is an Asst. Professor at the University of Hawaii.