Saturday, July 31, 2010

How the British see it ...

Sam Wanamaker in Cleveland

The only true account of Wanamaker's life is one which really ties his life together with that of Shakespeare's Globe on Old Bankside. Whereas the Cleveland papers of the era raved about the painstaking efforts towards authenticity of this reduced-size Shakespearean theater, and went ga-ga over the high-energy, if abbreviated productions, this is what a British historian has to report sixty years later:
(Wanamaker) talked his way into the prestigious Goodman Theatre School at the Civic Repertory and made a precocious debut at seventeen. Prophetically he joined the Globe Shakespearean Theatre Group and a photograph of him taken only a year later shows him heroically posed in front of a sign board next to a plywood replica of the Globe in which the company was to perform. It was half size and a pretty slapdash job, by all accounts a gift from the British government to the 1936 'Great Lakes Festival (sic)' in Cleveland, Ohio.

Probably estimating audience interest all too accurately, each of the plays performed was cut down to 30 minutes. It was 'fast food Shakespeare'. Whatever its shortcoming, the pseudo-Globe caught his imagination. So what if the structure was somebody's best guess and the plays being performed severely truncated - the words were the real thing and he was there to hear them.

When he returned to the Goodman in his Fall vacation, not only was he the only 'professional' actor in the school by somehow acquiring an Equity card, he was now considered to be an authority on Shakespeare. Ironic since, to the end of his life, he never claimed Shakespeare expertise - simply enthusiasm.
In hindsight, it is easy to dismiss the events at the Old Globe at the Expo as cut-rate Shakespeare - but that's why those with authority in history (and I am not claiming to have such expertise - merely enthusiasm) owe it to themselves to read up on what people were saying at the time. What really got under my skin is how the author is on such a disdainful roll that he can't help but wonder at an actor's obtaining an Equity card "somehow" when the evidence of a long summer spent performing shows an average of six hours a day, six days a week isn't entirely obvious.

"'Professional,'" he says, in quotes. That's "right." Now excuse me, I need to finish reading your "book."

Source, Barry Day, This Wooden "O"

Thursday, July 29, 2010

It Was A Setup

When I was last in New York I had the unique opportunity to drop in on the rehearsal of a new work written by a playwright I admire. In 2004 I directed The American Revolution by Kirk Wood Bromley, artistic director and playwright-in-residence for Inverse Theater. He specializes in modern verse plays, often creating five-act compositions in imabic pentameter. This most recent piece, It Was A Setup is a brief, personal piece of work, and one I have made plans to see when it debuts next month.

I contacted Bromley earlier in the year - I hadn’t spoken with him since our production of AM REV. At that time, I was delighted when he and a number of his crew journeyed to Cleveland to witness the production. A few months ago I asked if he had anything in the works, and he let me in on this new work. I read the script a few days before visiting in late June, and joined him and the company at his place in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn for the rehearsal.

It Was a Setup is a three-person play, inspired in part by the work of Bromley’s collaborator in this project, Leah Schraeger. She creates “phoems” - or photograph poems. She is also the choreographer for this piece. The script does not consist of realistic dialogue, but the rather the honest, emotional expression of a relationship is crisis. It is poetic, satiric, acidic, forlorn, angry, hilarious … but upon first read I have to admit I had no idea how one could stage it.

The night in question I was privileged to wtiness the most challenging scene of the piece, the least “obvious” of the scenes, where it was not clear to me, reading the script, exactly what was happening. It was fascinating, having this opportunity to watch and listen as the director-playwright explained, negotiated, and shaped the intentions and action of these three performers. Having the chance to watch a rehearsal as an entirely disconnected observer, with nothing at stake as writer, director, performer or designer was truly a unique opportunity, and I am extremely grateful all of the artists involved allowed me to be there.

It was, I felt, a very successful night. There appeared to be a great deal at stake, and after an extremely swift three-hours, these disjointed thoughts had the semblance of a through-line that could be carried forward into the next rehearsal. In brief, Charise and Tim have a relationship which has stalled, and is put into crisis by the appearance of a third character, Juliet. In this scene she is not actually there, but she is, if you follow. This is a sensation which is not unfamiliar to me.

The performance is scheduled to take place in an equally intimate space, identical to the one in which they rehearsed (location to be announced only when you purchase tickets - sweet.) The close proximity of the performers gives the piece an uncomfortable intensity. I cannot imagine how it will feel with twenty other audience members present - for that is all the space will hold.

Today we finalized my plans to return to NYC two weeks from tomorrow, in addition to attending this production I hope to revisit the Performing Arts Library, and maybe even check out the shows at the New York Fringe Festival.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Black Legion

The Black Legion was a KKK splinter group operating in the 1930s. Centered in Michigan the Legion was also active in Ohio.

AP described the organization on May 31, 1936, "as a group of loosely federated night-riding bands operating in several States without central discipline or common purpose beyond the enforcement by lash and pistol of individual leaders' notions of 'Americanism.'"

They were allegedly responsible for numerous murders of alleged communists and socialists.
Date unknown, paper unknown
Police Reopen Probe of Two Weird Killings
Anonymous phone call: “Look into the muders of those two men in the gully at E. 49th Street and you’ll find the Black Legion was responsible.”
Sources: Wikipedia
Eliot Ness personal scrapbook, property of Western Reserve Historical Society

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run

The facts:

On September 23, 1935 the bodies of two men were discovered at the foot of Jackass Hill in Kingbury Run, near East 49th Street and Praha Ave.

Edward Andrassy and a never-identified man were each murdered by decapitation, with their genitals severed from their torsos. The genitals were discovered together nearby. The heads were discovered buried nearby, in different places.

Andrassy was heavily involved in vice, his parents even receiving a phone call recently threatening to kill him if he didn’t stay away from the caller’s wife.

On January 26, 1936 a basket was found near East 20th and Central. This basket contained body parts wrapped in newspaper: an arm, two thighs and the lower half of a female torso. They belonged to Florence Polillo, a middle-aged woman, alcoholic, occasionally engaging in prostitution. The newspapers dated back between as recently as the day before and the previous August.

On February 7, in an abandoned lot on Orange near 15th Street, was discovered more of Polillo: upper torso, lower legs, left arm and hand. But no head. On February 8 a former associate of hers named Captain Swing jumped out a third story window, broke his heels, and “mumbling things that tended to implicate him in the killings.” (Cleveland Press)

On June 5, near the Kingsman Road bridge, some boys found a head rolled up into a pair of pants. The torso was found nearby, genitals intact. Like the first two men, the corpse was absent of blood indicating death (by decapitation) elsewhere and that the body was left where it was to be found. Never identified, this victim is known by its numerous tattoos.

July 22 turned up a badly decomposed male corpse near the tracks south of Clinton Road. Killed where it lay, it had been decapitated, and its clothes were found nearby. Its condition suggests it was murdered prior to the tattooed victim.

On September 10 a vagrant trying to catch a train tripped over the armless, headless torso of a man near the East 37th Street bridge. Soon police discovered the lower half of the torso, separated at the abdomen and the legs cut off at the hips. A stagnant pool nearby was fished, revealing his clothes. The man was emasculated, his genitals, arms and head never found. He was murdered by decapitation.

September 14: “I want to see this psycho caught. I’m going to do all I can to aid in the investigation.” - Eliot Ness

Or to put it another way, due to public hysteria created by a media-driven drive to sell papers, the Safety Director was called upon to comment on and meddle in affairs better left to detectives of the Police department.

Ness did bring it upon himself, raising his profile high above that of your average Safety Director (can you name your current Safety Director?) But the quote from Eliot Ness reflects to prevailing belief that these disconnected events were perpetrated by a single man. “This psycho.”

Really? The first two guys, sure. Polillo, not at all. The fourth, fifth and sixth victims had as little to do with each other, their similarities should easily have been written off as coincidence or intentional copy-cat crimes.

UPDATE: In 1937, the body of a second woman - eventually suggested to be Rose Wallace, an African-American prostitute who had disappeared the previous August - was found at the foot of the Lorain-Central (now the Lorain-Carnegie) Bridge. This body was dismembered, like Polillo's corpse, and bound in newspaper dated June, 1936. Wallace and Polillo went in the same circles, and even had One-Armed Willie, he of the jumping out the three-story window - in common. These two murders may have been committed by the same person. Parts bound in paper, female victim. But nothing like the other murders. Do you see how a craze comes about?

Source: The Maniac in the Bushes: More True Tales of Cleveland Crime and Disaster

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Real Dick Tracy

Cleveland News April 4, 1936
Thousand Young Dick Tracys Thhrill and Cheer as Ness Tells How G-Men Got Capone Gang

Guns, criminals, hidden rooms, underground tunnels, G-men, deserted haunted houses --

Such things were woven by Safety Director Eliot Ness today into thrilling stories for nearly 1,000 of the latest recruits to the Dick Tracy Detective squad.

The howling, yelling, whistling crowd of youngsters filled every available inch of space in The News auditorium to listen to the former G-man and sign up for a Dick Tracy badge.


It was 15 minutes before Director Ness could quiet them down to the point where his voice could be heard. Then he took out his big gold police badge.

“You have a badge just like mine,” he said. More cheers. More shouting.

“Only maybe yours is a little bit smaller…. When you grow up to be a man with long pants perhaps your badge will grow up with you … And when that time comes I’d like to have you all working for me as real detective.”

The enthusiasm was uncontrollable.


Then the director held the boys and girls spellbound with stories of how he and other G-men ran down one-time lieutenants of Al Capone, Chicago gangster.

He told them also about an experience uncovering a large still in an underground passage beneath a deserted house when he was in charge of the government’s alcohol tax unit here.

Dick Tracy, the swashbucking detective who started all this, appears daily in a News adventure strip.
FYI - Shortly after Ness' departure from Chicago, the Tribune was the first paper to pick up Chester Gould's new strip Dick Tracy, which many have speculated was based on Eliot Ness' crime-busting legacy.

Friday, July 23, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Hiatus

This is the problem with me. My obsessive compulsive disorder. I have to put things in boxes in order to be able to concentrate, to look at them and to understand them. This is fine when it comes to things that can be put into boxes, like paper or cats. It does not work well for me when it comes to things like time.

This year is my “Fellowship Year,” when I have been given a special responsibility by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture to develop my career as a playwright. I have been able to manage this in many ways, including packing and delivering previous work to rights distributors, to apply for awards, to interest theater companies in producing my work. I have actually been successful at two of these three pursuits, so far, and you know what they say about two out of three things.

My relationship with my employer allowed me the opportunity to take time off to pursue a special project, the CENTENNIAL project. Four weeks to do, well, whatever. To do those things I cannot do working a nine-to-five.

Others have traveled around the country, or the world, to conduct research, to work with mentors, the get the lay of whatever land they wanted to write or create about. Silly me, I told everyone I wanted to write a play about Cleveland. That meant staying in Cleveland. Oops.

Seriously, however. For years I have wanted to spend time in the Cleveland Public Library, reading newspapers, or discover the library at the Western Reserve Historical Society. I have done these things. What I have not done - yet - is write. Anything.

I am trying not to feel bad about that.

What I have logged into this blog is only a small part of what I have learned, just by reading. And that is most of what I have been up to this month. Reading. Reading a single year’s worth of newspapers, and books, and plays. And in doing so I have retrained myself to read. I have always had poor reading habits, and have not read the smallest part of what most people who know me assume I have.

The number of plays I have ever read is shameful. I am still playing catch-up after blowing off Dr. Condee’s theater history class my sophomore year. To put it another way - I am still playing catch-up from blowing off all of my sophomore year.

The good news is I have successfully spent four weeks reading, and a lot. And I have connections to the time I have spent this month that will stay with me especially into the long Cleveland winter. Sitting crouched on a marble slab near the fountain in front of the 1916 wing of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Feeling the back of my neck bake at 9 in the morning on a bench further away from the museum, by the lagoon. Taking in the Ness family memorial, and walking over to Wade Lagoon to read there. The reading garden outside the Cleveland Public Library, where I first got the news about Pekar. The impossibly chilly microfilm rooms in the library, and at the Western Reserve Historical Society.

And where it all started, in late June, in the New York Public Library Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center. It took over an hour - seriously - to get situated, knowing which room to go to, who to hand reference slips to, finding out I needed to get a temporary library card, waiting for the materials to come. I think I actually looked over materials for ninety minutes.

But what a valuable ninety minutes. I found an article in Variety magazine about The Living Newspaper in Cleveland, which led me to the names of the authors of that plays, which led me to articles they had written, which pointed my research in an entirely new direction. I wasn’t aware of it yet, but those ninety minutes set me on the course for the entire hiatus, ninety minutes which gave this fragmented mind focus.

The other day I took a walk with someone from work down Euclid Avenue to Fourth Street for lunch. I have walked that stretch many, many times. It makes me sad, wistful, to think of this street, Main Street Cleveland, as it used to be. The recent restorations are promising, there is a lot of rehab going on, we have have hit bottom and are on the way back up. But seriously, it will never be the way it was, not in my lifetime.

Reading the daily newspapers - the Plain Dealer, the Press, the News - and the Call & Post, and the Gazette and Citizen, is to read about a large, teeming metropolitan city. Many were poor, struggling to get by, but they were together, there, in a city which no longer exists. I occupy the same space, but the earth has turned so many times since then and so much has changed. I would like to recapture some of that for the stage, to latch onto a story to tell, about real people in a real place, and make it feel like what I have felt reliving it for these four weeks.

When I draw, I remind myself to make my hand create my eye sees. Now in order to write this, I need to make my hand create what my heart feels.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lil' Abner

The comic strip Lil' Abner, created by New Englander Al Capp, was two years old in the year 1936. The strip's namesake was a 6'3" sweet-faced lunk of a Southern 19 year-old living in the horribly impoverished town of Dogpatch. Making light of poverty, guile and inbreeding only scratches the surface of Capp's comedy stylings.

Born to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Capp (formerly Caplin) lost a leg to a trolley accident when he was nine, contributing along with his own youth lived in squalor to his dark, satiric humor. His father was a failed illustrator who taught him drawing as a kind of therapy. He was living in Greenwich Village, ghost-drawing Joe Palooka when he came across the idea of a strip based on the kind, stupid, goiter-laden folk he encountered while hitchhiking through West Virginia.

The humor of the strip comes in large part from a) the simple-mindedness of the inhabitants of Dogpatch and 2) how they are able through American-grit and stubbornness to overcome any and all adversity that comes their way from city slickers or politicians who attempted to take advantage of them.

Capp is often confused for having been liberal during conservative times, and conservative during liberal times, but that only means he always worked to make fun of what ever the contemporary trend was. In short, a self-serving satirist.

(Took the kids to catch the Mercury Summer Stock production of Lil' Abner: The Musical at the Brooks Theatre tonight. We had a great time, it is a super-fun production - it closes Saturday night, check it out!)

Source: Wikipedia

UPDATE: "Lil' Abner" ran in the Cleveland Press.

Industrial Valley (book)

Finished Industrial Valley by Ruth McKenney this morning. I have already made a brief notation about Ms. Kenney, and how her work was recommended to me. For a 380 page book, it took me an awful long time to get through. Not because it is uninteresting, in fact the opposite is true and is an indication what it took such time to get through. When I am really into a book, I read slower, not faster. I started reading at reading-out-loud pace. I start acting, basically, in my head. It unfolds dramatically and that, you know, takes time.

McKenney details the events which led up to the Akron Rubber strikes of 1935-36. If this book is to be believed, the labor defiance of that period, in that place, were the most significant movements in American labor relations of the 20th century.

Three significant moments:

In late November, 1935 a nine-week strike at the Ohio Insulator plane in Barberton was ended through a six day siege involving gas-attacks that affected the women and children, families of the striking workers, who lived in the immediate vicinity of the plant.

At 2 AM on January 29, 1936 the first-ever sit-down strike begins at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.

And on February 14, 1936 a five week campaign begins at Goodyear, the largest manufacturer of tires in the world, which established the rights of rubber workers to organize and began a cascade of union organization which soon touch steel, the automotive industry and everything else.

McKenney’s technique was only mostly non-fiction. She created a few fictional characters were are represented at the beginning and the end of the book to act as an “everyman” for the reader to relate to. Most of the book is taken with a day-to-day account of events as they occurred and affected the people of Akron and the surrounding area. Often these stories exists in stark contrast to each other, the invisible narrator often adding her dry, ironic observations.

For example, Item: child of worker hitches a ride on the outside of a car because he can’t afford bus fare to the doctor and is horribly killed by an oncoming truck, followed by item: large corporate affair describing ladies dresses in detail. Closing comment; “A gay time was had by all.” I made that up, but you get the idea.

We are drawn from that point in the pit of the Depression, where Akron was a non-functioning city. City services had been stripped to less than the bare essentials, people were hungry, houses were being foreclosed in large numbers, the Mayor was practically insane with cries to the federal government for assistance. It was a major American city in despair.

Roosevelt arrives as some kind of savior, though his election in 1932 was based, in Akron, anyway, entirely on the full-throated desire to never see Herbert Hoover ever again. What he did took everyone on surprise, the most significant of which (in this book) was the NRA which, depending on how you interpreted it, gave workers the right to organize.

At the same time, in order to increase production (and excuse me if I get this wrong) the rubber barons were insisting on certain quotas of production, which led to “the speedup.” Conditions in the factories were increasing intolerable, physically and mentally, for this backbreaking and specialized work. Eventually, in another attempt to maximize profits, Goodyear was to reinstate the eight-hour day. They had previously brought the shift down to six hours, to create more work for more men. By reinstating the eight-hour day, with the speedup, fewer men would be employed, creating the same amount of materials for the same pay.

As profit reports for 1935 came out indicating that even during this Depression, companies like Goodyear were taking in respectable profits (in excess of five million, an increase over previous years) events came together in such a way as the strengthen the resolve of workers, and give organizers the opportunity they were looking for to unionize these large shops.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cleveland Centennial Day

Cleveland News - Tuesday, July 21, 1936

One hundred years ago tomorrow, a group of intent men met and signed a charter signifying to the world that Cleveland, the town on the Great Lakes, was a city and was to be recognized as such.

And tomorrow, Cleveland, grown into size and importance far beyond the fondest hope of its incorporators, will officially celebrate its birthday and the 140th anniversary of its founding with exercises and speeches, with factory whistles screaming, auto horns tooting and a general half holiday for all the town.

Mayor Harold H. Burton declares:

“Wednesday, July 22, 1936 is designated as Cleveland Centennial day at the Great Lakes Exposition.

“That we may better understand and develop this opportunity, the afternoon of July 22 is hereby designated as a municipal half holiday when we all are urged and invted to attend and promote the exposition of the lake front and also the international exhibit of the Museum of Art, with the realization that they open new and important doors to Cleveland’s future.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010



This CLINIC will be of great benefit to you if you are a sufferer from any Rectal trouble. HEMORRHOIDS (Piles) are treated without loss of time from your duties. Fissure, Fistulae and Ulcer cases treated by a simple Ambulant office method.

No obligation for consultation. Easy terms to working people.
We Do Not Treat Cancer.

G.W. Thompson, E.T., 716 Shofield Bldg., East 9th-Euclid

- Cleveland Citizen, March 27, 1936

Monday, July 19, 2010

Injunction Granted

"A chronicle of Labor Activity in the United States," Injunction Granted opened in July, 1936 at the Biltmore Theatre in New York and became a flashpoint for criticism of the entire Federal Theater Project. Project Director Hallie Flanagan always supported this play in public, and in fact defended its existence before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

In private however, she had requested - prior to opening - that the writers "clean up the script and make it more objective" which they did not do, and after opening night wrote a terse letter reading in part:
... you are allowing your own personal beliefs to endanger the idea idea of the living newspaper ...

... The production seems to me to be a special pleading, biased, an editorial not a news issue. (Witness the one-sided treatment of the CIO rally; the voice reading Hoover; the scene showing judges asleep, etc. etc.)"
And she was right. To call it a factual representation of the issues is entirely inaccurate. Injunction Granted is actually an editorial cartoon, taking quotes out of context, placed into the mouths of characters who are presented in the broadest terms possible - including a silent, Harpo Marx-like "CLOWN" (that's the character's name) who comments on all of the proceedings, making what is already obvious glaringly so.

Have I utilized such broad satire in my own work? Of course I have. But when so many people's livelihoods were assisted through this federal works project, it seems in hindsight to be horribly selfish to put them into jeopardy in this obnoxious fashion.

Source: "Liberty Deferred" and other Living Newspaper os the Federal Theatre Project

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Complete Metropolis

Metropolis was directed by Fritz Lang in 1927, the legendary science fiction film which introduced so many elements to the movies, including the robot, the mad scientist with an artificial hand, and the big, ticking clock.

To describe the story simply, there exists in the future a great, glittering city where those of privilege (and to judge by its size, there are billions of them) live lives of luxury and glamor - none more so than Freder Frederson, the young, horny son of the Joh Frederson, master creator of Metropolis.

Of course, there are also untold numbers of Workers who toil break-free, ten hour days in soul-crushing, tedious labor to keep the machines which run the city alive. Or, really, to keep them from overheating. I mean, that’s what it seems most of the human element is responsible for, to keep the M-Machine from blowing up. Again.

They work below the city - they live even lower than that, never in their lives seeing the light of day.

Enter a young woman, named Maria. She arrives uninvited with a number of children to the palace of pleasure above, and shows the children how their “brothers” live. It is meant as compassion from below; we will someday be one family. But we must be patient and peaceful.

Before she is chased away Freder spies Maria, and is smitten. He disguises himself as a worker, witnesses one of her secular sermons on understanding and love, as she preaches that one day there will be a Mediator - the HEART which will unite the HANDS and the MIND.

There’s also a lot of business about a mad scientist and a robot.

Metropolis is an astonishing piece of work, and has fascinated me since the Giorgio Moroder cut in 1984, featuring a now-horribly dated pop music soundtrack. But I did see that at the Colony Theatre in a 70mm print on the last gigantic screen in Cleveland, now sadly no longer with us.

The story has been much-derided for its simplicity. Oh yes, class strife will end if only the heart can negotiate between the hands and the mind. Shut up. It’s either pro-union propaganda or an opiate for the masses, there is something infantile in the message for everyone to dismiss.

Except no one has ever seen the entire story, at least no one still living. Shortly after its release (83 years ago, my Lord) it was cut. At two and a half hours, it was much too long, detailed and had several subplots that could justifiably be cut to make it more commercial. There have been additions over the years, the most recent of which in 2002 which included something I had never heard before - a recreation of the original soundtrack from its score, which fits the mood and style of the piece better than the three other musical soundtracks I have ever experienced.

But according to the script (recovered from the German Censor’s office, mind you) there was almost a half-hour of material which was presumed lost forever.

In 2008 it was found. In Argentina. WTF? Badly damaged, a 16mm print existed which had passed from art house to private collection to storage. Last night I saw what is being called The Complete Metropolis at the Cinemateque. And it was a revelation.

A Revelation! Get it? That’s a pun!

While I do not believe it is necessary for Metropolis to be two and a half hours long, I believe it was cut poorly in the first place, and that the restorations (as poor in quality as they are - barring millions in cash, which no one would bother spending, the additions will always look scratchy and blurry) contribute subtlety, clarity and context which have been missing for over eighty years.

Edited, perhaps censored, are the more obvious religious overtones of the piece. Freder enters a church where we see statues of the Seven Deadly Sins, this we know. They appear in his fever dream when the Man-Machine is dancing at Yoshiwara. What we miss (and is part of two scenes which remain lost and will now no doubt never be recovered) is a monk preaching about the Whore of Babylon, and the coming Apocalypse. New footage includes the unnamed "Thin Man" (who appears briefly with Joh Frederson, but was otherwise scrapped, more on him in a moment) also part of Freder’s dream, as the monk, making the direct comparison of the Man-Machine with the Beast.

Freder is not merely the Mediator. He is Christ, come to save the world. Maria is some kind of John the Baptist character. Yes, it’s heavy-handed, but this whole movie is a parable, a futuristic parable, with ancient parables within it. The Tower of Babel tale that Maria tells has always been intact, but what is at stake is now glaringly obvious. The Man-Machine will incite the Workers to destroy Metropolis - which is the World. Freder has not been sent (and now it appears as though he has been capital “s” Sent) to negotiate peace between the managers and the workers, but to SAVE THE WORLD.

Meanwhile, other characters were more or less deleted, or their roles diminished. The Thin Man looks like Lurch for the brief moment we have previously seen him; when Joh Frederson sends him after his son. But now we see him threatening Josaphat in his apartment - smiling, fiendishly, like some kind of, I don’t know, German. While Josaphat squirms, he laconically puffs on a cigarette like some kind of, I don’t know, German.

There’s also the character of 11811 - who gets a name; Georgy. Freder takes the place of and switches clothes with this worker, and tells him to go to Josphat’s and wait. We never see him again, presumably because he’s some feckless worker. Certain editions of the film (like Moroder’s) features stills suggesting that he went to Yoshiwara’s. Worse yet! Feckless and a rake!

Now we see. We see him get into Freder’s car, in Freder’s silk clothes. Headed for Josaphat’s. He looks around the car. He does not look greedy - he looks in shock. This man was born underground. He’s always been underground. This is another world to him. He sees a woman in the next car, who smiles at him. He examines his person - his pockets have money. A whole lot of money. Cards advertising Yoshiwara’s drop from bridges above his head, through the open-topped auto. He is weakened, delirious, has to go there, if only for a little bit.

When he returns to the car, the Thin Man is there, and tells him to get back to the depths, and forget about Freder, or to suffer the consequences. And so he does.

But that is not all. Have you seen the film? Do you remember nearer the end when the Man-Machine (as Maria) is inciting the Workers to revolt, and Freder steps out to call it a fraud? The Workers attack him, he must fight off all of these men, when suddenly someone, some faceless prole, steps in on his behalf, and is stabbed.

That’s Georgy. That is a person. Most cuts exclude this fact, because we never got to see him chased away by the Thin Man. But he has a face in the crowd, which we remember. And he gets a death scene, which he deserves. He atones. He is sacrificed. He is forgiven. He is a man.

Editing is a good thing, really, it is. And there are places where scenes in this version could be cut (the destruction of the Worker City is much more horrible in its scope, and scary, and suspenseful ... and goes on too long) but the scenes which have been recovered are too valuable to miss. The Complete Metropolis is grander, richer in symbolism, more compassionate and meaningful than what anyone has seen before.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"1935" (play)

1935 (sometimes called Events of 1935) was a Living Newspaper, and one of the least successful of them. As I have been reading these scripts, investigating their performance history and critical and popular response, and found personal accounts of their creation, what has eluded me was exactly how the information (much of it factual, and quoted from sourced material) was collected and edited for production.

Today I discovered that these plays were not written entirely by the individuals, Arthur Arent and Morris Watson - these true stories were created by a staff of over 100 previously unemployed newspaper writers working for the Federal Theatre Project, then edited into this particular performance format by people like Arent and Watson.

The play 1935, which more than any of the other Living Newspaper creations resembles a March of Time newsreel, presents a chronological laundry list of what happened in, well, the year 1935. The Lindberg baby murder trial, the death of Huey Long, the icing of Dutch Schultz, the hanging of William DeBoe. All rather sordid stuff, and not particularly rife with larger meaning or resonance. The VOICE OF THE LIVING NEWSPAPER character leaves us with the idea that every year it is the same, we are all fascinated by grotesque scandal that we just as soon forget once we are wrapped up in the next big thing. It leaves one feel very jaded and unhappy - and unlike any of the Living Newspapers I have already read, it does not inspire one to any kind of action. It doesn't even make me want to get off of the couch.

There are two inspiring moments, one which warns that the impending 1936 Berlin Olympics will not be a politically-neutral event, and the penultimate scene of Communist Angelo Herndon, an African-American, sentenced to twenty years hard labor for specious reasons (based on an 1861 act against sedition, he was found guilty of possession Communist literature) and his inspirational example as a prisoner and excellent legal council freed him in 1937 - which of course, was not know at the time of the production.

Opening March 14, 1936, it ran for only 85 performances at the Biltmore Theatre in New York, but was innocuous enough to pave the way for the more politically charged Living Newspapers which would follow.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Plain Dealer - Thursday, July 23, 1936
32,720 Visit Expo As City Has Birthday
75,000 watch parade
Mayor Starts Cleveland on Second Century

Cleveland at midnight last night formally ended its first 100 years as a corporate city and turned to face its second century.

From her sister Great Lakes cities of Lorain and Erie came delegations to help Cleveland celebrate. At the formal anniversary ceremony in the Mall plaza the leaders of those delegations, Mayor E.A. Braun of Lorsain and J,.D. Parent, “Ambassador of good will from Erie,” told Clevelanders that their cities were vitally interested in the growth and progress of Cleveland: that the bond that shipping had created among the three would, they hoped, bring them even closer together in the next 100 years.

Speaking at the ceremony in the plaza, (Mayor Harold H. Burton) urged Clevelanders to look ahead with confidence, pointing to the progress and accomplishments of the city since 1836.

“Let us look into the future after our first 100 years. Our ancestors fought with courage and determination to gain control of this land. Now we must fight with the same courage to rid ourselves of the osbatcles in our path to future progress.”

The parade was a conglomerate of almost every parade that has ever been devised. It was led by the conventional mounted police and by infantrymen. There followed bathing beauties in jinrichishas, a lion in a cage, a midget band and midget performers, elephants, monkeys in tiny automobiles, actors from the Globe Theater dressed in Elizabethan costume.

Pygmies from the Belgian Congo there were and several hundred men and women in the costumes of the various communities respresented in the Streets of the World, and palmists and a Chinese dragon, Indians, dinosaurs, Yeomanettes, Conestoga wagons, streamlined trucks and busses, the original steam engine Tom Thumb and a replica of the Wright brothers’ first airplane from the Parade of Years.
Actors parading in Shakespearean costumes? How gay is that?

Also on tap for Cleveland's Centennial celebration:
Ness Orders Full Report In Bet Probe
Told 3 Sons of Deputy Inspector Worked At Track
Officer Defends Self, Family
(Deputy Police Inspector Timothy J.) Costello told a reporter last night that he thought it “highly unfair and unjust” to question his conduct as a police officer because three of his children worked at a dog track.

Seek Name of 5th Headless Corpse
Police Hunt Maniac Killer; Coroner Not Sure Man Was Murdered
“There is nothing to indicate that there was any violence on skull or body,” (Cornoner A.J.) Pearce said. “ The whole thing was so decomposed that it is possible for the head to have dropped off and have been carried a few yards by a dog or other animal.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Little Ham

Call & Post - April 2, 1936
Gilpin Scores in “Little Ham”

Offering the premiere of Langston Hughes’ newest vehicle, the Gilpin Players of the Playhouse Settlement have made another step froward. The Karamu Theatre has been filled to capacity for every performance since the play opened last Tuesday. A vivid portrayal of life in Harlem.
Little Ham is hilarious. I mean, it’s hysterical. Reading the cadences of these richly drawn, broad characters, it was impossible not to hear them, to see them. Maybe, hopefully, someday I will. I have been enamored of Hughes as a poet. I had not experienced any of his plays. I was wildly surprised.

Hamlet Hitchcock Jones is a player, but that is not to judge, everyone in this show is a player in one form or another and it is a world that does not condemn anyone for how they choose to make their way through life. Gambling, promiscuity, lying any which way to can to ingratiate yourself with anyone to get whatever it is you are looking for, it’s all the same to everyone.

It’s a comedy, and a period comedy at that. Written in 1935, it is set in the late (“roaring”) 20s in a version of Harlem where the people may be poor, but they are eternally optimistic. “Little Ham” as he is known (he is, uh, a short young man) is a charming shoe-shiner and numbers runner and by the end of the evening there have been songs, fist fights, a Mae West impersonation, live gunfire, and a dance contest live onstage - and Ham avoids several self-inflicted scrapes to end the night with everything he wanted as though he had it all coming to him.

Now I must read Mulatto - not as though that were a chore, but it is another of Hughes’ plays which was currently running in New York. That one is a drama, and after reading so much “non-colored” press, I feel the need to read something … less cartoony. Hughes’ work is full of fun and delight, and inoffensive because the characters, though ridiculous in their way, are not the subjects of derision. Not like the black maid in Merrily We Roll Along, who, though so many characters in that show are beneath contempt, is one of two people in the piece who are entirely disposable, who exist as decor. The other would be the Japanese houseboy Ito (why are all Japanese houseboys named Ito?)

The Music Goes 'Round and Around

Written by Red Hodgson (lyrics) Ed Farley & Mike Riley (music) The Music Goes 'Round and Round was published in 1935.
The Cleveland Press - January 3, 1936
New song “Music Goes ‘Round and Around” is the most popular since “Yes, We Have No Banana”

Every Cleveland band that can get orchestrations is playing this new song.
There were subsequent articles about this song on Jan. 4, 5 and 6 - and a front page item on January 7 detailing the absolute chaos caused when a live broadcast of a performance of this song was cut in the middle because someone neglected to secure rights for said orchestration.

The Tommy Dorsey & the Clambake Seven recording became a number one hit this year, and was the "musical interlude" for the motion picture (wait for it) "The Music Goes 'Round". From The New York Times:
If we really wanted to be nasty about it, we could say that this Farley-Riley sequence is the best thing in the new picture. At least it makes no pretense of being anything but a musical interlude dragged in by the scruff of its neck to illustrate the devastating effect upon the public of some anonymous young busybody's question about the workings of a three-valve sax horn. It preserves in film the stark record of a social phenomenon—in this case, the conversion of a song hit into a plague, like Japanese beetles or chain letters.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Aliens (2010)

Annie Baker made my afternoon.

I hate plays. I hate them. I never liked plays. When I was a kid my parents would take me to the Play House, or Lakewood Little Theatre or Huntington or a touring show at the Hanna or something. I liked musicals, but I hated plays without songs. They were usually boring or at least entirely over my head. Even the comedies, because they were all written in the 1930s or supposed to take place in the 1930s and so I just didn’t get them at all.

I liked Jesus Christ Superstar and Annie and The Music Man. When my dad took me to the Palace to see Cats was the first time I ever saw a musical and thought, “Wait a minute, this show sucks. Is there something wrong with me?”

My junior year in high school our drama director chose a drama, not a comedy for the fall play. For some reason he cast me - instead of a senior. Seniors were always leads in the plays. There were a lot of pissed seniors that year. And I got a swelled head because it was a drama, and I was the lead (well, the male lead, the show is actually about the woman and her journey but screw that) and I got to learn how to appreciate a story that is told onstage and not only for laughs.

Because, and here’s the thing about plays, you have to repeat them. Over and over again. And it is the novelty of people saying the same words, live, night after night, that makes a play different from a movie, right? Not only the “just this one way, just this one time, just for you” aspect which makes it rewarding for the audience, but the we-will-recreate-one-moment-time AGAIN aspect of performance.

This makes sense when you are performing Oedipus. Or Hamlet. Or even Death of a Salesman (yes, I said it) because these are moments in time that are larger than life. THIS moment is the ONLY moment. And that is why it is important, and worthwhile.

But Bogosian’s Suburbia? No, I’m not getting that. This Is Our Youth? Hells, no. These are movie scripts. Do I say that because they are contemporary? Because the characters are uninteresting? Because nothing really happens, or at least, nothing of consequence? Not sure. But I can say that if a play has one set, which is the back of a business establishment, if there is a dumpster involved, I can pretty much assume I am going to check out over all the slacker-hipster-sarcastical-ironical that is about the hit me like a stiff, hot, dumpstery smell.

But I got my American Theater in the mail yesterday and if I have made one New Year’s resolution that I have not kept, it is that I will read every new play that appears in American Theater magazine. Somebody smoked a pack of cigarettes so I could resume my TCG membership and I really owe it to them.

So there’s Annie Baker on the cover and I’m thinking, “What’s Kate Nash doing on the cover of American Theater magazine?” No, I’m not thinking that, I’m thinking oh fuck that has to be this month’s playwright and she’s not Asian or my age or anything, I am going to hate this.

And then I see it has three guys in it and in the garbage area out back of a coffee house in Vermont and I’m thinking I am in for such pain.

Because, really, what is going to HAPPEN? THERE?

No, I am not going to say anything about what happens there in Ms. Baker's new play The Aliens. But something happens. And experiencing it on the page, I laughed - out loud, here on Coventry - and I cared, and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Even though it mostly amounted to chatter, reading, some singing, tea-drinking, a lot of smoking and a few fireworks of the literal, someone-was-blowing-off-fireworks kind. Only not right there, off in the distance, because it was the Fourth.

Here’s a spoiler - no one gets beaten up. No one gets raped, with a screwdriver or anything else. People aren’t mean to each other. (The dumpster gets turned over - that part rocks.) But the playwright creates a moment in time that I would watch, and watch again. To feel that moment again, what it was like to be him. Or him. Or at least near him. To pay better attention, because maybe I missed something important the time before.

Because that is what makes a play worth doing, worth seeing, or worth writing.

And it's daunting, man. It's daunting.

My last Harvey Pekar story

Two years ago, Joyce Brabner and I collaborated on an event at the Unitarian Church, which featured a staged reading of a play I was working on about HUAC, and a talk from Harvey about a book he was working on about Joe McCarthy. Joyce was working overtime to keep Harvey’s spirits up, as he had recently fallen into a deep funk.

We ran into each other at Tommy’s around that time, Joyce with Harvey, and me with my two kids. We decided to get a table together and Joyce and I discussed logistics of the event, while Harvey could not stop talking to the boy.  My son was about three and a half at the time. Harvey just kept checking in with him, asking him questions.

I wasn’t used to seeing Harvey smile so much. His voice was very soft, and sweet, especially for him. I understand now he’s like that around children. I had no idea.

The second-to-last time I spoke with him, Harvey was at the library (of course) and I asked him about my project. Could he recommend any 1930s era labor rights books I might be unaware of? On that day, he looked at me like I was a stranger, like I wanted something from him. Maybe he was in thought and just didn’t want to be bothered, who knows. He said it wasn’t really his era and I thought that was that. As I walked away, he called me back and recommended the works of Ruth McKenney. It just so happened my wife already had a copy of Industrial Valley, and I started making my way through that two weeks ago (distracted by certain period playscripts.)

Last Thursday, my wife had water aerobics at the pool and the whole family went to splash around while she got her exercise in. It was only as the pool was closing that we walked past Joyce and Harvey, also headed out. Joyce stopped to chat and Harvey went to the gate to sit. She explained that Harvey had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. This would be his third go-round with cancer. Then she got a call, and told me see you later.

I could have just waved to Harvey, but I wanted to speak to him. The boy was with me. I went over and thanked him for the Ruth McKenney recommendation, and that put a smile on his face, but not as much as the boy did, standing shyly behind my right leg. I asked if Harvey remembered him, and if he remembered Harvey. They had a brief exchange. And we went.

I got word about the death of Harvey Pekar yesterday as I was checking Facebook while I was at the library downtown. So, it wasn’t entirely out of the blue, but still stunning. We weren’t friends or co-workers or peers. I always found it awkward having any kind of conversation with Harvey. But his work has had a strong impact on me. I could not have written my two solo plays without the early influence of American Splendor. In fact, reaching back there were an awful lot of pieces I wrote for Guerrilla Theater Co. and other productions which were due to his philosophy of storytelling.

And he has been one of the many reasons I have been proud to call Cleveland Heights my home.

I had to take the kids to the pool yesterday afternoon for swimming lessons. I asked the boy if he remembered the nice old man we saw the last time we were there, just because I wanted to say something out loud about Harvey. The boy said he did, and I didn’t think anything else about it. At dinner that night my wife and I were talking about the news and the kids wanted an explanation, so I began telling them why he was important to me.

“He wrote comic books about his own life,” I explained, “about his ordinary life, and what he thought about things, and his relationships with other people.”

“But that’s not a comic book,” the boy said.


When I went on to say that he was very sick, and that he had died, the boy was surprised. And then he was overwhelmed. And then he blurted out, “I wanted to see him again!” And then he cried for about ten minutes.

My kids know about death. They know about the death of their brother. We have had incidents with certain animals. But this was the first time he was struck by the finality of death. My boy likes repetition, he likes to play games he has played before, and watch shows he has seen before, and to see people he has seen before. And earlier I had reminded him of that nice old man, and that made him want to see him again.

Harvey Pekar has been an inspiration to me. And he is a man with whom I never had a satisfying conversation. But my strongest memory of Harvey will always be as that nice old man whose face lit up when he looked at my son, and that my son wishes he could see him again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A Living Newspaper
by Arthur Arent

ag·it·prop /ˈædʒɪtˌprɒp/ –noun
1. agitation and propaganda, esp. for the cause of communism.

I am leftist, I will admit it. Not "a" leftist, I do not define myself that way, that is not me as a person. But my belief system veers to the left of center. I believe in tolerance and compassion, I accept alternate points of view, and often champion them. And I believe in the obligation of our society, our civilization, our government, to see to the needs and assistance of those who need assistance.

I am not a Communist. Neither am I a Capitalist, in its purest sense. I am against slavery. I am against slave-like conditions. I oppose starvation and want. I oppose fear, fear of oppression, of domination, either through direct threatening means, or by the endorsement and reinforcement of the dominant paradigm, of the necessity of an underclass, or workers doing all they can for little while the few live lives of unspeakable luxury and waste. And yes, that might make me sound like a Socialist. Today, over 55% of Americans believe the President is a Socialist, which means they don't really know what the fuck that word even means, but if they think Barack Obama is one, then paint me red and call me Uncle Joe.

Having said that, upon reading another "Living Newspaper" by Arthur Arent, I am not so sure I feel as strongly as I once did about the House Committee on Un-American Activities efforts at pulling down the Federal Theater Project.

The majority of work created by the FTP was non-political. There were many children's plays, and when conservatives called those productions out for indoctrinating the young against the Man, well that is probably because most good, strong children's stories do have moral lessons pertaining to fairness, honesty, being kind, and all kinds of messages that leave, I dunno, British Petroleum, for example, withering under scrutiny.

But these Living Newspapers are inarguably agitprop - they are propaganda which agitates. They are not well-told stories which inspire the mind or the heart. They are also not dispassionate portrayals of fact. In the case of POWER they are quotes taken out of context (Arent himself admitted this was a technique of The Living Newspaper, though he did not use that turn of phrase) and bent in such a way as to turn the viewer in a certain direction, and keep them pointed that way until a direct appeal is made; the audience is instructed, to-wit, to rise up, take a stand, to take action against the forces which oppress them. To stand with strong government and against big business.

Are these good ideas? If you can't find work and your children are dying before your eyes, well, sure, they are the only ideas. I didn't say it was wrong, or even proper to create this work. But reading it, I can understand why there are those who would believe that plays which champion the efforts of the current administration should not be paid for with public funds.

William F. McDermott

William F. McDermott
(Feb. 17, 1891 - Nov. 16, 1958)
Born in Indiana, attended Butler College, McDermott came to Cleveland in 1921 to become drama critic for The Plain Dealer. In addition to writing theater reviews for the Cleveland and New York stages, and making travels to Europe to interview literary luminaries, he also wrote columns on various issues of the day.

The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History notes that he wrote against censorship in the 1950s, I'd like to know more about that. Much has been made of a certain doting actress restaging an entire production from the Hanna in his living room in Bratenahl when he was too ill to make it to the theater.

What McDermott and I disagree on - the value of federally funded theater. What we agree on - the brilliance of Tennessee Williams.

According to Dennis McDougal the young Louis Wasserman worked to ascend the rungs of Cleveland nightlife by plying local journalists with liquor ("buying them drinks, partying with them at the Alcazar Hotel, escorting them home") and occasionally writing their items for them when they got too loaded. The list of theater critics Wasserman claims to have ghosted for is all-inclusive, including Mr. McDermott.

The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood
The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Saturday, July 10, 2010

R.U.R. - or - Rossum’s Universal Robots (1936)

Ja tvoi rabotnik.

But man is suppsed to be the product of God.

All the worse. God hasn’t the slightest notion of modern engineering.

Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) was originally written in Czech in 1921, with a translation provided by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. It as produced by the Cleveland Repertory Unit of the Federal Theatre Project at the Carter Theater in September, 1936.

Inspired no doubt by the Frankenstein story, this tale establishes the template for all future stories about artificial intelligence. What happens when man plays God and creates a being stronger than itself?

The character of Rossum and his son, who created this biological creature (the notes state that “robot” is simply the Czech word for “worker”) never appear, they are this story’s pre-history. The character of Domin has taken their creation, and made a business out of it. His dream is to rid our species of toil. We will all be aristocrats, liberated from work. The robot does not feel, does not want, does not care. The perfect slave.

But this is all metaphor, right? We never want to think that those who work for us care, or feel, or want. They are happy where they are. They would not have it any other way. The worker does, however, rise up against its oppressor, to disastrous results - for everyone, including the robots.

"R.U.R." Program
(Carter Theatre, 1936)
Reading period plays, I am constantly amazed at how many ideas are, well ... old. As a result of the preponderance of substitute people (though we are reminded more than once, “robots are not people”) people ceased to be able to procreate. Nature is out of balance. We are creating life that replaces us, and the life-force assumes we no longer need to reproduce in the old-fashioned way.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - September 8, 1936 Federal Theater Here Produces Karel Kapek’s ‘R.U.R.’ Robot Play, review by William McDermott
McDermott spends over half of the review lamenting for-profit theater and lambasting this exercise in providing work to unemployed actors. Fourteen paragraphs in, he begins to discuss the play itself.
Neither the play nor the performance would have the slightest chance of success in the ordinary operation of the commerical theater.

Much better plays of this sort are written today by men like Odets. But "R.U.R.", in its time had a certain tension, excitement and significance. For two acts the author builds and atmosphere of universal ominousness - and when the roots (sic) finally revolt, there should be a scene of magnificent terror.

In this performance neither the preparation nor the denoument despite a couple a couple of worthy personations had any quality of the sinister or any feeling of passionate resentment, or any of that high note of dramatic awesomeness which is the very essence of the theme.
“Dramatic awesomeness.” With two words, I suddenly begin enjoying McDermott’s review.
The play, in short, escaped the actors. I suppose some of it was lost in the spacious, and largely empty recesses of the Carter Theater, for many of the lines echoed through the unoccupied reaches of the theater and were not clearly received by such ears as were there to receive them.
No, he’s a dick.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cleveland Citizen

Maximillian Sebastian "Max" Hayes (1866—1945) was a newspaper editor, trade union activist, and socialist politician. He is best remembered as the long-time editor of the Cleveland Citizen and as the Vice Presidential candidate of the Farmer-Labor Party ticket in 1920. - Wikipedia
Publication Office, Central and East 14th Street
"The Official Newspaper of Organized Labor, est. 1890"

By Art and Monda Bender

The conditions iin the U.S. For the next 10 years could be estimated to become something like this …

Roosevelt will lead the liberals and win by a moderate margin.

The administration in 37 or 39 will be forced to take complete U.S. Ownership of the banking system.

The railroads, by 39, will be government owned and operated.

A 30-hour work week will go into effect by 39 to guarantee employment to all workers.

Because of the miraculous efficiency of technological production, the government will be forced to exercise a strict control over production.

All public utilities, by 1945, will have been taken over.

All registrants will will be required to register under one or more of the seven natural classes of effort to secure a legitimate income: Production, Distribution Management, Professional, Creative, Public Protection and Beneficiaries.

We believe 90 percent of the widowers or widows would remarry if the conditions were favorable. This suggests that there are few real love matches. The marriage of Thomas Edison’s widow recently 70 years old, suggest she did not have a true love for Edison or that she does not believe in the existence of other worlds after death.

Merrily We Roll Along

“I’m going to work like seven devils.” - Richard Niles
Merrily We Roll Along, Kaufman & Hart
In October, 1936 the Cleveland Play House produced Merrily We Roll Along, Kaufman & Hart’s hit 1934 Broadway comedy. If you can call it a comedy. I mean, it’s hilarious, but it is dark, too. It is not, however, a “dark comedy.” The production was a great success for the Play House, playing to sold-out houses.

I had never read it before, never seen it, never really read about it. I know about Sondheim’s musical, which I now really, really want to experience, because I love Sondheim more than I love George S. Kaufman.

Who gets to come up with an idea first? The structure of this play is novel, and yet very, very tricky. Put simply, every scene happens in reverse chronological order, from a fancy post-show opening party in New York in 1934, to 1927, then 1926, 1925 and so on, and we end at a college graduation in 1916. We see characters as adults at the pinnacle of success, or after a fall, and watch the decisions they made to get there, the compromises, the mistakes, the love and anger, the hard work, and the easy breaks.

In reaching back in time, it is too easy to make the knowing gag. I could write a play right now about 1936 that is one, big knowing gag. We know how history has played out, and by having someone say something ignorant, or unknowable, we all groan or laugh or worst of all, smirk. That doesn’t happen in this play, it’s one big open wound. There are plenty of “don’t open that box!" moments, but that doesn’t make us feel smug. Because we know we would have done the same thing. It makes me sad.

There is a point in Red when Rothko, with intense incredulity, asks his young apprentice if he seriously believes that in 100 years anyone will remember Andy Warhol. It’s a cheap joke. It’s supposed to illustrate Rothko’s tunnel-vision, but it only makes him seem, to us, clueless and stupid. See how fun that is? You are smarter about art than Mark Rothko. Good for you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Give Shakespeare New 'Pep' At Globe

Cleveland Press - Friday, March 27
Globe Players May Visit Expo

Negotiations were under way to bring the Globe Theatre Players and their repertoire of Shakespearean plays to Cleveland this summer as one of the features of the Great Lakes Exposition. The players’ group was organized during the Century of Progress in Chicago (1934) and since has given more that 2500 performances before 1.5M spectators.
The Old Globe Theatre at the Great Lakes Exposition presented five plays on weekdays and seven on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays (check out the times on the sign post there.) They strove for accuracy in presentation, though the balcony was a facade and there were seats for the groundlings. And electricity.
The Plain Dealer - Sunday, June 28
by W. Ward Marsh
“Actors in Theater of 1599 Play Bard’s Work in New Tempo”

Before each performance there is English folk dancing on the “green,” in this case a great concrete square. Music was furnished by recorder, and Elizabethan flute, and the dancing was gracefully and trippingly done by youthful students from the Fairhope Organic School of Fairhope, Ala. So strenuous are the dances that it may easily be understood why this form of rhtyhmic exercise was left to the young people.

The interior of the theater is somberly finished and plainly furnished with good, serviceable and hard benches.

The lighting, the English style of architecture on either side of the auditorium and prominent on the side walls diectly in front of the simultaed balconies, and even the structure overhead, shutting out the sky and weather with equal thoroughness, suggest to the eye a serious and honest attempt to re-create Will’s old Globe, but the smell is of new pine and fresh stain and the concrete floor is harder than Adriana’s heart and thicker than Audrey’s head.

I feel the speed of the day as well as the swift flicker of the movie have left a kind of imprint upon these lively and interesting tabloid versions of Shakespeare, all of which retain the meat of the the original if at times omitting the dessert of well turned phrases and longer disseratations.

His plays moved with a speed which would astound the so-called “old Shakespearean actors.” Gone are pomp and awe and reverence. The bard is presented as he intended his plays to be given - for entertainment only.

The “original Chicago cast” has been split three ways, with Cleveland getting its share along with Dallas and San Diego, where, I am led to believe, are other expositions. The remaining members of the cast here were recrutied and trained by Director Wood and then play in starless casts; that is, no player is featured and one in a leading role this afternoon may be a curtain puller or the town crier at night.

A visit to the Globe is not only a pleasant experience but a worthwhile adventure on your exposition tour.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Go Down Death

Aaron Douglas
Go Down Death, 1934
Oil on masonite
48" x 36"

In the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, I took in this painting this morning. Part of the God's Trombones series, this work illustrates a funeral sermon from James Weldon Johnson's book (God's Trombones) and depicts an Angel of Death riding down to take Sister Caroline into the arms of Jesus.

Note the radiating star in the upper left. Death is sometimes depicted as a falling star. It could also be the North Star. It is also an obvious Communist symbol. Death frees the slave from bondage. The North Star representative of the Underground Railroad. So, too, would the Communist Party lead the Negro to freedom.

Source: The David C. Driskell Center

Monday, July 5, 2010

White Motor Company

The White Motor Company was an outgrowth of the White Sewing Machine Company. The company's founder dismissed the important of the automobile, and so his sons created this new company in 1906 on Canal Street in the Flats. They concentrated on trucks during the Great War, and temporarily merged with Studebaker in the early 30s before reorganizing as the White Cotor COrporation, becoming a major producer of heavy-duty trucks and buses.

At this time, the local Communist Party turned its attention to auto workers at both the White Moror Co. and at the GM Fisher Body Plant on Coit Rd. Party member Wyndham Mortimer, a worker at White, formed the Cleveland District Automobile COuncil (CDAC.) This organization was noted for its discipline and unity. They organized a sit-down strike at the local Fisher Plant on December 28, which spread throughout GM, and ended in Feb. 1937 with the recognition of the Uniter Auto Workers (UAW). However, the UAW was working throughout the 1930s & 40s to rid the union of Communist influence.

Sources: Encyclopdia of Cleveland History
The Cool History of Cleveland

Republic Steel

Founded in Youngstown in 1899, the headquarters of Republic Steel were relocated to Cleveland in 1936, and the company entrenched itself as the nation's Number Three steelmaker, behind US Steel and Bethlehem Steel.

Thomas Patton, a private attorney who worked on the merger that formed Republic Steel was hired in 1936 to form Republic's internal legal department. As general counsel in the 1930s and 1940's, he negotiated for Republic during the steel strikes.

Thomas Girdler became Republic's first president and board chairman. Republic became a major producer of light alloys, with profits exceeding $87 million between 1936-43. Girdler first supported Pres. Roosevelt's Natl. Industrial Recovery Act, establishing a representation plan for Republic's employees, but when the Wagner Act outlawed such plans and promoted negotiations with regular unions, Girdler lost all affinity for the New Deal. He refused to bargain with the CIO; though conceding the need for collective bargaining, Girdler refused to do so by government edict.

Source: Teaching + Learning Cleveland
The Western Reserve Historical Society
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Republican National Convention Notes

Back in March I collected this data on the Republic National Convention (June 9 -12, 1936) but never incorporated it into an article or posted it. So here it is verbatim, with some nifty campaign buttons.

The Republican platform promised to speed up employment and maintain relief, but wanted relief responsibility returned to nonpolitical local agencies. It also favored a reduction in government expenses and the removal of production quotas contained in the National Recovery Administration and Agricultural Adjustment Act. - Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Public Hall was renovated to accommodate the equipment and wiring necessary for broadcasting the event, and major speeches were scheduled for the late evening hours so that radio network programming would not be preempted. - Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
Landon proved to be an ineffective campaigner who rarely traveled. In the two months after his nomination he made no campaign appearances. As columnist Westbrook Pegler lampooned, ''Considerable mystery surrounds the disappearance of Alfred M. Landon of Topeka, Kansas.... The Missing Persons Bureau has sent out an alarm bulletin bearing Mr. Landon's photograph and other particulars, and anyone having information of his whereabouts is asked to communicate direct with the Republican National Committee.'' (Time, Aug. 31, 1936) - Time Passages Nostalgia Co.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cleveland Public Theatre Announces 10-11 Season

I Hate This and And Then You Die in repertory by David Hansen
Directed by Alison Garrigan
Storefront Studio
April 7 - 23

David Hansen performs his two award winning solo shows in rep. One is an exploration of personal loss and recovery, while the other is about obsession and victory. Both shows were developed in CPT's Big [Box] and have gone on to successful runs at the New York Fringe.

CPT's Entire 2010-11 Season

Friday, July 2, 2010


A History
By Arnold Sundgaard

Two years ago the GLTF Outreach Tour was Seeing Red, written by Daniel Hahn, which included verbatim transcripts of HUAC testimony. The Festival was producing The Crucible that season, and so we created an original work that provided a context for Miller’s work.

It was through performing in that show that I began my education in the Federal Theatre Project, Hallie Flanagan and all the rest. Ms. Flanagan petitioned to testify before the Dies Committee/House Committee on Un-American Activities to defend the important work that was provided to unemployed artists through the program.

By 1938 the Project was under attack for giving voice to socialist and communist sentiments … or at the very least, making capitalism look bad.

Several FTP plays were mentioned in our production, including Injunction Granted! (which Ms. Flanagan defended, even though she was not happy with the production - a text I am hoping to get my hands on) and Spirochete.

In my role as Texas Representative Martin Dies, I ask about this play (pronounced spy-rho-KEET) and when Ms. Flanagan (performed so magnificently by Elizabeth Wood) explains that it is an educational device about venereal disease, Rep. Dies blanches and changes the subject.

I have now, finally, read Spirochete. And I was surprised by two things:
1. It is educational but also very interesting.
2. It is hilarious!
And when I say it is hilarious, I do not mean in that ironic, unintentional way. A good deal of it deals with the subject of syphilis with great, successful humor.

I do have two complaints. On is that the first act, a history of how Europeans contracted the disease from the native peoples of North America (okay, I am going to let that slide for the time being, that’s not the complaint) and leading up to the 20th century, which is broad, amusing, fast-paced, great fun. The second act, however, is about the journey to isolate and diagnose the virus, cure it and then de-stigmatize it in order to legislate testing to prevent it -- all worthy endeavors, but not handled with the same light hand.

The second disappointment is that the play does not come back to where it begins, with a young couple surprised and shocked that they must subject themselves to a blood-test before getting married. Trying to calm their nerves - and their offended sensibilities - is why we begin this journey, but we do not come back to them so it is never resolved.

Though this would never have made the cut in 1938 )when it was first produced) I would have loved to find out that one of them actually had it, if only because each are so offended by the very suggestion that they might.

Regardless. I could easily see this work directed by Raymond Bobgan at CPT or Clyde Simon at convergence-continuum, the non-linear narrative and moments of surrealism (not to mention a sad, recurring character called “The Patient” who suffers from the disease for over four hundred years) begs for either of these artists to raise this text to even greater levels of fantastic surprise and wonder.

Un-American American

Sam Wanamaker as Iago

This totally rocks. I had no idea Sam Wanamaker played Iago to Paul Robeson's Othello.

In 1957 the MI5 were observing Mr. Wanamaker for being "one of those 'un-American Americans'" and for "disseminating extreme leftwing propaganda under the guise of culture." These bits of info were turned up earlier this year by Warwick U. professor Dr. Tony Howard, who has been investigating harassment of Mr. Robeson.

The performance in question was in 1959 for the RSC in Stratford. Wanamaker and Robeson had met in the 40s at anti-fascist meetings.

The Guardian
Shakespeare's Globe

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It Can Happen Here

Spending my days in the Cleveland Public Library ...
The Cleveland Press, Wednesday, October 28, 1936

Dictatorship Comes to America in ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ by Charles Schneider

Customers packed in from the drinking fountain in the foyer right down to the piccolo section in the Federal Music Project Military Band ... It is rather a pity that the Federal Theatre’s presentation was not more completely worthy of their applause ... Despite the shortcomings of this staged version of Mr. Lewis’ best-selling novel, the terrifying implications stand out vividly.
Read my original blog entry for more details on this production. General admission? 25¢.

Okay, so the review was one thing, but I also read this on next day's editorial page:
The Cleveland Press, Thursday, October 29, 1936


The Cleveland Unit of the WPA Federal Theater is engaged at the moment in presenting a play which deals forcefully with one of the more vital topics of our day - i.e. the possibility of the coming of Fascism to America.

The drama is taken from Sinclair Lewis’ best-selling novel, “It Can’t Happen Here.” Mr. Lewis is of the opinion that it can happen here, and upon this supposition, he has built a drama that has bite and vigor.

Regardless of the merits or demerits of the local presentation, this play deserves to be seen.
A newspaper's editorial page endorses a play. Weren't those the days.