Oh My God! You Mean Hamlet Dies?!

On the Stratford Festival Theatre Website:

“This production contains references to death and dying that some people may find distressing”.

You have got to be kidding.

You mean the theatre company that has regularly presented “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” and “Richard II” and “Henry IV” etc., for more than 50 years, has suddenly decided that audiences need to be warned that some characters in the play they are watching might get killed?

Is there a risk that some people might spend $130 on tickets and travel all the way to Stratford and then accidentally stumble into Macbeth offing King Duncan, or Hamlet offing Polonius, or Ophelia offing herself?

“Some” people? But not “all” people. Me, for example: I think I might enjoy seeing Othello or Lear bite the dust.

I would prefer not to be warned.

But seriously: have the promotional team at Stratford Festival Theatre lost their minds?  Do they imagine some theatre-goer rushing out of the theatre weeping and traumatized because they didn’t know Banquo was going to get killed and are shocked that a play at a Shakespearean festival theatre would have death in it?

Look, folks, Stratford itself has the solution:  it now offers a multitude of anodyne confections for every taste!  Check it out,






Evita, Hamilton Family Theatre, Cambridge, 2023-10-26

With the rise of populism in various countries around the world (Hungary, Poland, India, United States, Italy, etc.) it is worth seeing “Evita” in Cambridge at the Hamilton Family Theatre. It’s a very good production and touches on the nature of populism, the irrational belief people might have that a narcissistic, corrupt, self-serving figure like Evita Peron (and a certain orange-haired American politician) will save the nation, bring social justice and equality, and stick it to those educated, rich, smart-alecky elites that control the media and preside over government bureaucracies.
Regardless of the politics, it’s a fascinating story, and they could have written an entire second opera on what happened to Eva’s body– and Juan Peron– after her death, and, of course, the corpse of the Argentinian economy.
An object lesson in mass media as well: the people thought Eva was saintly because she created a foundation and personally wrote checks to poor people who lined up to see her. The specific stories made great anecdotes, with saturated media coverage, but most of the money probably ended up in the pockets of Juan and Eva Peron.  There is no reason to not account for the income and spending except to hide where the money went.
There is a bit of a drive out there to rehabilitate her image, and argue that Rice’s lyrics for “Evita” are based on a rather biased biography.  It is probably true that she was not as bad as her enemies made her out to be, but there is ample evidence to suggest that her charitable works were never not substantially self-serving even if she did promote unions that bettered the lives of working class individuals in Argentina at the time– and promoted her husband to the presidency and, she hoped, herself to the vice-presidency.
There’s a bit of a feminist angle to the “rehabilitation” of women of historical importance like Josephine, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, and Evita.  Most of the time, yes, the negatives stories have been exaggerated over time, but the essential details of their lives remain the same.  And in some cases, the “rehabilitation” glosses over historical facts in order to cleanse their reputations.  Marie Antoinette was involved in conspiracies to restore her husband to the throne; Josephine did not inspire Napoleon’s great strategies or legislative accomplishments, Cleopatra reign was oppressive, and Evita was a self-centered narcissist who used her sexuality to achieve her position of privilege under the Peronist regime.

The #Metoo Crucible

“Stratford Festival decided to put on a sure-fire crowd-pleaser this year: “The Crucible”, one of the greatest, and certainly the most powerful, American drama.

“The Crucible” is about a group of young girls in a small town in Massachusetts in the 1690’s who are caught dancing naked in a woods.  Think about the cultural climate– puritanical New England.  The upstanding leaders of the devout community are beyond horrified, and this is immediately apparent to the girls so they connive to persuade the town elders that they were, in fact, bewitched.  Their deception is helped by a particular girl who seems to be having fits and hysterics and claims to see apparitions.

Who bewitched them?

They begin to name names, including upstanding members of the community.

One of the girls, named Abigail, was a handmaid to a couple, John and Elizabeth Proctor.  John had an affair with her, which Elizabeth knows about.  John and Elizabeth reconciled and evicted Abigail but are terrified that the community will find out about the affair and disgrace John.

Abigail is convinced that John really loves her.  What were the girls doing in the woods?  Abigail had persuaded Tituba, a black slave, to show them how to cast spells, so she could curse Elizabeth Proctor and win John back.  With the community in hysterics, and her own position in the community under threat, she seizes the opportunity to accuse Elizabeth of witchcraft.

When some in the community become suspicious of the girls’ motives, they too are named.  Eventually, 20 citizens are hanged, and one is “pressed” to death because he refused to enter a plea.  Yes, this really happened– the historical record is unmistakable.

Years later, the magistrates who condemned them would– astonishingly– come to the realization that they had been in error and issue an apology.  How often does that happen?

Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1952 and he clearly intended to draw a parallel between the Salem witch-hunts and the McCarthy communist witch-hunt that was taking place at that moment, and which had snared Miller himself.  Miller was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and admitted that he had been a communist at one time in his life.  That was not enough for them.  They demanded that he identify fellow-travelers.  He refused and was black-listed.

In the play, as in real life, a man named Giles Corey discovered that some of the accusers stood to benefit by acquiring the land of the accused (if convicted of witchcraft, a citizen’s possessions were forfeit).  He is then accused of witchcraft himself.  He refuses to plea because doing so would result in a conviction and the land he hoped to pass on to his sons would be forfeit.  He is sentenced to be “pressed”: placed under a board with the weight on it increased gradually with rocks.  He dies under the torment, mocking his accusers.

Do you see a problem with this play?  I don’t see a problem.  The play is historically accurate.  More importantly, it is psychologically accurate: I find the portrait of a community that is fearful and cowardly and not really virtuous in the sense that they all believe it of themselves to be quite convincing even today.  (Think of how we symbolically recycle, and conserve, and care for the environment, while doing absolutely nothing that will have any real impact on global warming.   Think of how women go on national television to tell the world how ashamed they are of having been sexually assaulted.)

But the #metoo movement saw a big problem.  You see, a credo of the #metoo movement is that girls are ALWAYS to be believed.  They never lie about abuse or rape or assault, even if it is assault by the devil himself, as in the case of Salem.  (I am not exaggerating: I heard three women on the CBC discussing the issue and they all insisted that women never lie about abuse and there is never any “collateral damage” (ie. innocent men accused).  Do women ever lie about rape?  Judge for yourself.

And the play makes it clear that the girls are sly, conniving, convincing liars, and that they are responsible the deaths of 20 innocent victims.

So the #metoo movement demands an adjustment.   And the Stratford Festival Theatre made it.  Here is their description of the play from their website:

His (John Proctor’s) refusal to take responsibility for his actions leads to an epidemic of fear and suspicion that engulfs the guilty and the innocent alike. Inspired by historical events but no less pertinent to our own times, this American classic stands as a timeless tragedy of abusive behaviour and its all-consuming consequences.

This is worse than a distortion of the play.  It is an obscenely malicious reversal of it’s meaning.  It is all John Proctor’s fault.  The girls are innocent.  Abigail was forced to lie because she was oppressed by the patriarchy.  They were justified in causing 19 innocent individuals to be hanged to death.

Abigail didn’t enjoy seeing those people hanged.  Not at all.

Or maybe the girls were telling the truth after all: maybe there really were witches.

No young woman or girl would ever lie about that.

Dear Evan Hansen

Evan Hansen is bullied at school, particularly by one Conner Murphy. When Evan, at the direction of his therapist, starts writing encouraging letters to himself, Conner finds one in a printer tray and, mocking Evan, takes it. When Conner commits suicide later, his parents find the letter and come to believe that Conner wrote it, to Evan. So he wasn’t such a bully after all. Conner’s hot sister, Zoe, is at first reluctant to believe it but Evan, invited to the Murphy house for dinner, eventually convinces her that her parent’s misunderstanding is true, that Conner really was a friend to Evan. He goes so far as to persuade his friend, Jared, to help him write fake emails to “prove” his story, and helps his friend Alana start a foundation to build a park in memory of Conner. And Evan clearly enjoys being the center of attention, all the while protesting that he doesn’t, really, seriously, not at all. A lot of “oh no– I can’t believe you noticed me. Oh my god, what am I going to do now! I’m so embarrassed.”

The important thing to understand about “Dear Evan Hansen” is, firstly, that Evan is a lying, self-pitying narcissist with whom we are expected to sympathize. He abuses the trust of the Murphy family. He is not so much clueless about the damage he is doing as so self-centred that he doesn’t care. The second is that Evan is obviously gay, though the musical doesn’t acknowledge it, and, in fact, pretends that he really has the hots for Zoe. He clearly talks gay, acts gay, and demonstrates almost no convincing heterosexual interest in Zoe. At one point, Conner’s parents even wonder if he and Conner had a sexual relationship, but this being 2018, that is treated as something not to be embarrassed about. His interest in Zoe is a device to make you feel sorry for him in spite of his self-pitying and his narcissism.

The low point in the trajectory of this story is when his mother blames herself for Evan’s incredibly damaging prevarications: because she didn’t give him enough attention. No heterosexual male relates to his mother this way. There is nothing attractive about this bumbling, self-centered, pathetic whiner. And Zoe is most attractive when she disbelieves him, and becomes progressively weak as a character when she subverts her instincts to provide a convenient plot point for Evan’s complete emasculation.

“Dear Evan Hansen” won six Tony awards.  I can only conclude that the judges were carried away by their enthusiasm for the very predictable message about bullying.  I didn’t find the music very distinguished, or the staging inventive, or the acting, in the Toronto version, all that moving.  The social media angle is fresh, but not particularly deep or provocative: it draws no conclusions about the nature of this massive, sudden explosion of notoriety via the internet.

For the real deal about teen angst, mutating sexual identify, and generational conflict, see the marvelous “Spring Awakening” instead, if you can.

Don’t Cry for Me Wicked Witches

Universal Pictures, the film company, owns and produced “Wicked”, the Broadway Musical. You might think, why is a film company with much bigger fish to fry, dabbling in musicals? The answer is simple: “Wicked” is the most profitable venture in the history of Universal Pictures. Why? The answer is again, simple: how much did your last movie ticket cost you? Oh yeah? Well a ticked to see “Wicked” will cost you about ten times that amount. Multiply that times 3,000 a night, for, say 300 nights, and you have an idea of the scale of the venture. Even with all the dancers and musicians and make-up artists and set-designers and so on, you can make a lot of money.  Yes, we’re talking 50, 60, 70 million dollars.

So we arrive at the real why question. And that answer is also simple. Broadway aint what it used to be. Leaving aside the question of whether “Wicked” is more interesting artistically than “Oklahoma” or “All That Jazz” or “Mame”, the people who go to Broadway shows are largely tourists, in New York (no other location of a stage production has nearly the influence), who want something utterly remarkable and amazing which they can tell their friends about when they get back home to Peoria or Austin or Sioux City: we saw “Wicked”. It was FABULOUS. Oh, you gotta see it live: it just blew me away!

It is possible to produce a stunning Broadway show, nowadays, without any of the difficult artistic stuff involved. Well, all right: someone still has to write dialogue and music and learn how to play an instrument. Then you mic everyone and turn up the sound system and throw in a few pyrotechnics, and you have a hit.

Then why did “Spiderman” bomb? Okay, so even with all the resources of Broadway’s technical departments, you still need magic, the elusive unquantifiable indefinable thing that makes people want to rush home and tell all their friends they saw your production.

Right now, Broadway is dominated by “Bridges of Madison County”, “Bullets Over Broadway”, “Big Fish”, “Rocky”. There are plans to make “Animal House”, “Back to the Future”, Tootsie”, and “The Devil Wears Prada” into Broadway musicals.

Convergence. Towards the lowest common denominator. My wife and I saw “Hair” a few years ago, and “Godspell” last year, on Broadway. “Hair” originated on Broadway and became a movie. It was Broadway that had the courage and audacity to present a hippie musical on stage. More timid Hollywood wanted a proven success, which “Hair” was a after a few years on Broadway. Hollywood does not take risks. It almost never, lately, takes artistic risks. Want to see an artistic risk? Stop drooling over Leonardo Di Caprio– he never appears in an artistically audacious film, even if it is Martin Scorcese directing. Has Martin Scorcese directed anything as remotely daring as “Taxi Driver” or “Raging Bull” lately?

To see a movie that takes artistic risks, you need to check out the independent films like “Before Midnight”, “Blancanieves”, “The Artist”, “Moonrise Kingdom”, “The White Ribbon”, “Junebug”.

So all we need is for Hollywood to start running Broadway. But there is a reason a Broadway ticket costs about ten times as much as a movie ticket. It is because Broadway has a luster to it, a glow, a sense of marvel and authenticity and originality that most Hollywood movies lack. It is because Broadway embraces risk, and change, and real emotions. Hollywood, like a huge, ugly remora, wants to attach itself to this luster. But first it needs to eliminate the risk (and originality) and homogenize the experience (nothing with a genuine edge) and castrate it. Once Broadway is safe for Hollywood, there will be a lot of happy tourists who will get exactly what they expected and will experience the delusion of having seen something that can be mistaken for a Broadway production. And they will invariably say that it was better than the film version because they damned well paid ten times as much to see it.

You know what’s up when you hear people involved in stage productions talk about how important it is that the audience not leave the theatre disappointed. You get the feeling that the disappointment they are talking about is exactly that: “I paid ten times as much as for a movie ticket and I couldn’t even understand the damn play! What a waste!” And so long to “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf” and “Equus” and “Cabaret” and “All that Jazz” and “The Book of Mormon”.

The irony of all this, of course, is that Broadway itself tends to play it safe lately, and the really daring, original Broadway productions almost always originate off-Broadway, or in London, or somewhere else. Broadway has its own cult of celebrity and a play often does poorly once the famous star moves on. Where do stars originally come from? They come from off-Broadway productions, independent films, and, so it appears, home-made porn films.

What if Hollywood had this great idea and decided that they would establish a street in Los Angeles and they would put on stage versions of their films and charge over $100 a ticket? They would never do that. No one would come. Because it wasn’t “Broadway”. They will fix that.

The Pernicious Influence of Joseph Campbell’s Mythological Insights on Hollywood

[this article is still in the “thinking aloud” stage.]

Firstly, let’s get one thing clear: it’s the influence that is pernicious– not Joseph Campbell, the author.

Campbell argued that all stories are essentially variations of the same basic archetype, the hero sets out on a journey, undergoes some arduous trials, is challenged and almost fails, encounters a mentor or inspiration, re-engages the challenge, succeeds, and lives happily ever after, or dies like Jesus Christ.

All right– I’m playing with that a bit.

Which not to say that I am particularly dazzled by Campbell’s work. Some people write about him as if no one before him had ever written thoughtfully about the essential elements of tragedy. In fact, the Greeks did, long before Campbell came along, and Shakespeare himself seemed to have the formula down pat.

No, no– my problem is that I don’t like the concept of a “hero”, and even if I did like it, I don’t believe that there is any real-life correspondence to the idea– it’s all fantasy. It’s all usually male fantasy. It’s all sometimes a bit fascist, as in “300”.

It would be more interesting– but far less popular– to identify the delusions the general public demands from hero-worshipping tales.  Firstly, that all other characters must defer to the hero; secondly, that his acts of violence are palatable because it is established that his enemies are unworthy or have sex.  Thirdly, that people worship heroes even though the actions of the “heroes” in real life highlight the deficiencies in the rest of us.

Think about a mother who neglectfully allows her baby in a stroller to roll into the street.  The “hero” sees the baby and rescues it and returns it to the mother.  In the Campbell story, the mother is eternally grateful and worships the hero for his timely act.  In real life, the hero’s action is a rebuke to the mother for her carelessness, something she will not want to highlight or be reminded of.

Real life is far more complex than Campbell’s mythic delusions.

And “Star Wars” is a crappy “B” movie that accidentally became the object of millions of people’s fetishistic enjoyment.  They are happy they get it.  Unlike “A Space Odyssey” and “Blade Runner”, it is immediately comprehensible, and just as immediately ridiculous.

More on “The Hero With a Thousand Faces”.



Apparently, Godspell is being revived on Broadway this year. The title “Godspell”, by the way, is not meant to suggest some kind of spiritual magic: “Godspell” comes from the old English words for “good word”, which also evolved into the more familiar “gospel”.

There was “Jesus Christ Superstar” and there was “Godspell”. Superstar was incredibly polished, elaborate, and ambitious. It was sophisticated and complex. It was an opera. Godspell was like the country bumpkin cousin, all jocularity and clowning, but, underneath it all, as conventional and conformist as the church in the wild dell. Astonishingly, Christians still objected to it, because the cast looked like hippies, and because, after all, Jesus was portrayed as a clown.

Here’s an oddity. John-Michael Tebelak, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote the musical while he was still in college, as a masters thesis. He died of a heart attack April 2, 1985 (age 35).

Jeffrey Mylett, cast member, died May 7th, 1986 (AIDS).

Lamar Alford, died April 4, 1991, age 47, cause of death not disclosed.

David Haskell, died of brain cancer, age 52, August 30th, 2000.

Lynne Thigpen, cast member: cerebral hemorrhage, age 54, March 12th, 2003.

Merrell Jackson (one of the apostles), February 23, 1991, age 39. His cause of death is conspicuously unmentioned anywhere on the web. He could sing, he could act, he could dance: let me guess.

[Sonia Manzano, another cast member, clearly implies it was AIDS.]

Two members of the celebrated Toronto production (May 1972-August 1973),  also died young:  Gerry Salsberg, June 22, 2010, in a car accident, and Nancy Dolman, natural causes, August 21, 2010.  She was married to Martin Short.

Victor Garber, who played Jesus in Toronto, performed the same role in the movie.

Tebelak was both a believer and a hippie, and Godspell shows it. I’d always regarded it as charming at some level, but sloppy and unfocussed, which is another way of saying it shows its roots as an improvised piece that was taken in different directions at different stages of development. The deciding factor of its success seems to have been the involvement of Stephen Schwartz, though some seem to think the original score by Duane Bolick was more authentic, more rock’n’roll. We’ll never know– I’ve never heard of it being available anywhere. On the internet? Duane Bolick doesn’t seem to exist. He’s probably dead.

Here’s another oddity. The original, with the music by Duane Bolick, was a smash success among the small crowds that saw it at Carnegie Mellon, and when it first went to New York. So, if you have a smash success, you want to throw out the music, right, and rewrite it? I don’t know what to make of that. The template for this kind of makeover is Hollywood, which almost always cuts the heart and soul out of a story before castrating it into innocuous vehicle for Leonardo Di Caprio. But there was a more immediate template: James Rado and Gerome Ragni’s Hair. Hair (1968), like Godspell, seems to be about the rock’n’roll generation, and outwardly acknowledges rock music, but it is structurally, heart and soul, a Broadway musical. It should be: the composer, Canadian Galt MacDermot, had never encountered hippies before being contacted by Rado and Ragni to write the musical.

Many people, including cast members who played in both versions, concede that Stephen Schwartz is a genius, and that he made it sound more clever and polished and sophisticated. Like Barry Manilow and Bette Midler?

And here’s another oddity: Stephen Schwartz also came from Carnegie Mellon University. And yet another oddity: many of the original cast members, and the director, who happened to be John Michael Tebelak, made it all the way to the Broadway version. Tebelak was even involved in the movie script. Surely someone has written a Hollywood movie about this plot: sincere, visionary hippie writes a musical that rocks the world, transport him and his cast to Broadway, and wins a Tony.

Of course they didn’t really win a Tony, but Hollywood doesn’t care if it really happened or not.  It understands perfectly that movie audiences want to be spoon fed harmless illusions.

The movie version of Godspell is set on the streets of New York, including an extraordinary sequence with cast members dancing and singing on window washer platforms and on the roof of the unfinished World Trade Center. It’s all a bit precious in some ways, but it’s also a courageous attempt to take the gospel out of the sterile Mayberry of Andy vintage, and it’s own quiet irrelevance, into a vital, crackling, youthful urban setting: God speaks to the twin towers! It remains startling in concept, which is outrageous considering that it is 2012, but it’s even more outrageous that Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann campaign for president as if it were the 1950’s, devout and puritanical, and ragingly hypocritical. God rules everything when it comes to prayer in schools and abstinence training, but his authority is severely limited when it comes to stewardship of the environment: drill baby, drill.

Tebelak’s Jesus, by the way, is a bit sanctimonious. When John the Baptist/Judas almost uses his name in vain, he slaps him, and the rest of the troupe are aghast when Judas almost slaps him back. It’s a weird scene. This is not a new age Jesus, sheep-like, tolerant, inclusive. It’s a strong moment in the play and I am amazed that the considerable forces of homogenization and pleasant superficial conformity didn’t filter it out.

At one point in Godspell, in the movie version, the cast is dancing on top of the roof of the unfinished World Trade Center.  The shot was taken from a helicopter.  It is remarkable.

Anything like that (along with other scenes on roofs and windows washer platforms) shot today would have been green screened, so enjoy it while you can. It’s pretty amazing.

The Original Cast album, the first recorded version of Godspell, was recorded in one day, and sounds like it.

There are copies of the original theatrical trailer for Godspell online. You will be shocked. The trailer seems to illuminate aspects of the movie. The cuts are several seconds long. There are no helicopters, explosions, or naked women. The purpose actually seems to be to give you some kind of idea of what kind of movie Godspell is.

More on Godspell.

More not on Godspell:

At the 1969 Tony Awards, “Hair” lost out to “1776” for best musical. You remember “1776”, don’t you?

One of the reasons Eugene Levy says he lost out on the role of Christ in the Toronto production was that he looked too Jewish. And also too hairy.

Take a Trip to New York

Hi Marg,

We had a great trip to New York. “Hair” was fantastic, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) was also fabulous. We hung around Times Square for a while– it looks like a very interesting place– lots of glitter and lots of people around– but not much to actually do except grab a coffee at Starbucks and hang out. However, if you don’t have tickets in advance, you can buy heavily discounted tickets for Broadway shows there by lining up in front of a TKTS booth and seeing what is available. These tickets are typically 40% off, available for shows that night, most of which are in easy walking distance of the stand. You can’t miss the booth– it’s right in Times Square. We didn’t use it because we already had our tickets, and you wouldn’t have been able to get tickets for “Hair” there anyway.

We loved MOMA. It’s on 53rd St. near 7th Avenue– it’s closed on Tuesdays! Especially the 5th and 4th floors, which had a lot of Picasso and other modern artists. Beautiful building, and we really enjoyed lunch in the café on the 2nd floor. You can take pictures (no flash) and most paintings are unprotected (no glass barriers). Right now they are also showing this “installation” that consists of the possessions of a Chinese woman who “kept everything”. It’s actually quite intriguing.

If you want a great view, there is Empire State Building of course, but you will probably have a better experience at the Rockefeller Centre on 50th St. also around 7th Avenue (near MOMA!).

Everything, by the way, is expensive. I find you just have to kind of ignore prices and do what you want to do– you came all this way and went though all the trouble of getting there, so why not?

The Museum of Natural History is pretty good– a bit like our ROM but bigger. It’s on the West side of Central Park (I assume you’ll have a touristy map). Oh– there is a “Titanic” display on 44th Street, near Times Square. I thought it would be kind of cheesy, but it is actually very interesting. It features a lot of exhibits of items retrieved from the wreck, beautifully presented, with lots of basic information. There is even a recreation of a couple of state rooms and the grand stairway. Expensive again ($25) but we thought it was worthwhile. Took about two hours to go through.

We weren’t high on Ellis Island– they haven’t done very much with the building– just placards, text, and pictures, really, though it was interesting to see the island. You won’t get into the Statue of Liberty– it’s all reservations now, and they are convinced that Al Qaeda is determined to attack it (!) so you’ll have to wait in line so they can scan your lunch bag. You do wonder if they shouldn’t be investing the huge cost of it into protecting something that really matters. It would probably be cheaper to buy a spare Statue of Liberty and keep it in a warehouse in Brooklyn in case it’s needed.


To use the toll roads on the way to New York City, you take a slip of paper from a man in a booth and then, when you exit the toll road, hand it to another man in a booth who calculates your fee and collects the money.

This is pretty whacky, especially if you have used the 407 in Canada, which has an automated system. You don’t even pay when you exit– you get a bill in the mail.

But then, we paid 5 or 6 dollars for each stretch of the toll road in the U.S. Ontario’s 407 seems to charge a lot more. Your bill is not going to be less than $15 for even a short stretch, from the middle of Toronto to Brampton.

Audio Books: We listened to the entire audio recording of “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt on the way down and back– about 14 hours, altogether, with time out to hear “Hair”, which we saw in New York at the John Hirschbeck Theatre.

“Angela’s Ashes” is a remarkable memoir, of Frank McCourt’s upbringing in dire poverty in Limerick, Ireland, in the 1930’s and 40’s.

The saddest song I’ve ever heard is “Kilkelly Ireland” by Peter Jones, based on letters found in his grandparent’s attic. It might well be the perfect soundtrack for “Angela’s Ashes”. “Kilkelly Ireland” is simply a series of letters, one to a verse, each verse a decade, to a son who has moved away to America, updating him on family events, expressing how wonderful it would be to see him again.

The Real Sally Bowles

Someone named Hilary Baily– I’ve never heard of her– has written a novel about a search for the “real” Sally Bowles. It sounds like a rather thin premise for a book.

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During the production, Scott Roose and I wandered around the backstage area with a video camera interviewing various participants. Mike Broad, I believe, also shot some of this video. I have edited some of the interviews together with clips from the production and posted it to Youtube. [added November 26, 2008]

posted it to Youtube.  [added November 26, 2008]

I had heard once– I can’t remember where– that the “real” Sally Bowles died in a concentration camp. Very poignant. I remember being puzzled by that at first– she wasn’t Jewish– but, in the account I read somewhere, she got into trouble for speaking out against the Nazis.

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The truth is that “Sally Bowles” subsequently left Germany and moved back to England where she died in 1973, of natural causes. Her real name was Jean Ross. And she really was a lousy singer and actress. Apparently Ross was not very pleased with the transformation into Sally Bowles. And why would she be? It’s not a flattering portrait. At the same time, a certain constituency seems to regard her as a passionate, mischievous, spirited lass, whose only fault was that she loved too well, and often. By most accounts, Jean Ross’ life after Berlin was not very eventful.


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I’ve always been an admirer of Earnest Hemingway’s prose style: lean and clear, elegant, and yet compelling. Hemingway eschewed flowery description and florid imagery for the real thing, the actions, the words that defined character. The more pitiable that he saw something grand and noble in bullfighting. Why oh why oh why?

I’ll begin with a caveat: I would find bullfighting more appealing if a few more people died doing it. I know that sounds bizarre, since I object to bullfighting on the grounds of it’s barbarism, but to me it’s like those endlessly recycled American and British tv shows that titillate by constantly suggesting something sexual might be afoot without ever giving anyone the gratification of actually seeing anything remotely sexual. This is the fig leaf of respectable bourgeois morality: I didn’t actually see a nipple so I am still a morally upright person. No you’re not, because you enjoyed the titillation. You might as well have seen the real thing so we could all be honest about ourselves here. You are actually worse than a man who goes to a strip club because the man in the strip club, at least, doesn’t deceive himself about what he is doing there.

For the same general reasons, I believe executions should be public. Let’s get it out in the open: our society kills people in cold blood. We have him locked up. He’s going no where. He has no chance. Find the idea revolting? Yes, it is revolting. Yes, capital punishment is revolting, no less so because he we hide it away in shame.

So when the brave, brave matador and the picadors enter the ring and the bull unexpectedly gives one of them a toss and then pummels and stomps him into the ground, let’s quietly acknowledge that without the occasional death, there is no genuine risk, and without genuine risk, the matadors and picadors are really no more brave or graceful than any other two-bit punk car racer or skate-boarder or gang member. They are cruel thugs absurdly in love with trivial barbarisms. They should stay in their trailers and open a six-pack and watch American football instead.