The Playgoer: Weekend Reading

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Weekend Reading

Sorry for the light posting lately. Life is busy, and my laptop is being "serviced" in Texas somewhere.

And now it's Thanksgiving, so Playgoer Out, till Monday.

Meanwhile, for the theatre-hungry, I leave you with some interesting reading to gobble in between turkey bites.

-Adam Feldman penned a sensible take last week in Time Out on the whole uproar over the Artistic Director in California who resigned under pressure for his surprising support of Prop 8. (Yes, his company was a Musical Theatre rep, at that!) I agree that exposing an AD's personal political contributions is a rather disturbing precedent, no matter the cause in question. Still, it's a reminder that the head of the local theatre really can be seen as a community leader of sorts.....Even more eyebrow-raising, though, is Adam's outing of Christine Ebersole's recent nutball remarks about 9/11 conspiracies!*

-What's wrong with directors who are not nice people? Nothing, says Charles Marowitz in a provocative defense of the "dictatorial" strain in auteurism. Reviewing the recent anthology The Alchemy of Theatre, devoted to the ideal of "collaboration" in theatre, Marowitz asks--healthily, I think--what's so great about collaboration as "an end in itself." I only differ in that theatre--unless perhaps the playwright is performing on stage alone with no director or designer--seems to always, inevitably entail collaboration, whether the participants intend it or not....Still, Marowitz's point is well taken I think. We all like directors who build ensembles cooperatively and persuade gently. (And we live in an era where ensemble-driven "devised" theatre is thriving.) But I guarantee you that was not the way, say, Moliere directed his own work. Evaluating "process" has its place--especially among practitioners. But should critics--both in the present and for posterity--feel obliged to consider to consider it on a par with "product"?

- The League of Independent Theater lives! Let's welcome the arrival of this "membership-based advocacy organization representing New York City's Off-Off Broadway/Independent Theater Community." And congrats to John Clancy, Paul Bargetto, Martin Denton, Shay Gines, Leonard Jacobs, and their cohorts for finally getting it off the ground. According to Gines' NYIT Awards big survey on the state of Off-Off they'll need all the support they can get. (One highlight: "Over 25% of OOB venues in both the West Village and Midtown area have either been demolished or repurposed into non-performance spaces in the last 5 years.")

-And finally, if you thought Katie Holmes was giving a "robotic" performance, wait'll you check out
Wakamaru, latest star of the Japanese stage. She's a novice, but studies the Mitsubishi method.


PS. Oh, and not that you wouldn't have noticed it on the front page of the Times today, but King of the Shuberts, Gerry Schoenfeld has died. If you have any doubt about reading his obit, consider this from Frank Rich, who argues that the man turned "a dilapidated sideshow of 20th-century show business into a modern corporation."

*Out of concern for spreading misperception and misinformation, I have emended the remark about Ebersole (from "Elders of Zion" to 9/11), in light of the ensuing Comments (see below). I realize slightly mischaracterized Feldman's characterization. (It's Ebersole's sources that are anti-semitic, not anything she said directly.) Apologies to Adam...and to Miss Christine.


Anonymous said...

Christine Ebersole's conspiracy theories are indeed nutballish (9/11), but I wish you hadn't used the adjective "Elders of Zionesque." Mr. Feldman made a far-fetched, irresponsible, and possibly libelous suggestion that she is an anti-Semite, albeit an accidental one, and I'd hate to see that accusation unjustly perpetuated.

I don't know anything about the little book club the two of them have started now, but I was impressed by Ms. Ebersole's response to him. I hope that in following the links to the story your readers will get to that letter.

9/11 conspiracies are silly accusations. Saying that someone might be a bigot is a nasty one.

Theater of Ideas said...

I have mixed feelings about the Ebersole question. I do think that the way Adam Feldman presented the question was problematic. Putting it into the same article that discusses Eckern confuses the issue, and the original article did not make it sufficiently clear (as the followup did) that Ms. Ebersole is NOT anti-semitic.

However, Adam is absolutely correct when he notes the origins of the theories she spouts and their dangers. It's important to understand what is behind ideas. Pseudo-science, like the pseudo-economics Ebersole is quoting, is often created with specific political purpose. One need look no further than intelligent design to see that, and of course genetics is always a field twisted for racist purposes.

Anonymous said...

I am disinclined to drag this out, but I would like to clarify that my point was not that I think Christine Ebersole is anti-Semitic but precisely that I do *not* think she is. (The "accidental" part of "albeit an accidental one" is not an aside, but a very substantive qualification that goes to the heart of my point in both blogs.) And if the EsoCritic knew more about the little book club in question, I'm confident he would not think the connection far-fetched, nor the conspiracy theory in question benign.

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Feldman, you refuse to tell anyone the name of the book.

You started this story. Now you want to it to go away on your terms, and it doesn't work like that. If you had been as conservative in your rhetoric as you are emphatic in your own defense, perhaps this would not be the issue it is turning in to.

You could have simply said that Ms. Ebersole is a 9/11 truther, something her interviews supported. That would have been a newsworthy enough admission, wouldn't it?

But that wasn't enough. So you devoted a paragraph to a fringe website and a slur-spewing white supremacist--neither of which have any affiliation or personal relationship to Ms. Ebersole.

Then you declare, and I quote, "Not so many degrees of ideology separate Ebersole from this ugly crowd." Really?? While not a concrete accusation the inference is pretty substantial.

I'm sure you don't want to drag this out, and I don't want to punish you (even if my comment to your initial post on the TONY website was deleted). But you made a mistake, sir, a big one, and you should apologize. As should your editor, whose job I am now doing for free and with more thought, it seems.

To associate anyone's name with bigotry of any kind is a very serious thing to do. And anyone attempting it should make absolutely sure of the facts, cite any relevant sources, and express themselves clearly.

And for God's sake, if Ms. Ebersole is going to destroy her career, let her destroy it in her own words, not through a careless game of connect the dots.

This is not *supposed* to be an easy fix for you, Mr. Feldman. You did a very bad thing. Apologize.

Theater of Ideas said...

I have to disagree with you, Esco. Adam's follow-up made it very clear the he did not think she was anti-semitic. His original post was, as I said above, open to misinterpretation, but his later post was not. The point he seems to be making in her case (which is well taken), is to be aware of whose propaganda one is inadvertently spouting.

Anonymous said...

His follow-up is quite clear, yes. And if he'd published that in the first place we wouldn't be having this discussion. But his original article was irresponsible. And that's what I'm asking him to apologize for. Blaming the reader for misunderstanding what was a poorly crafted opinion doesn't suffice.

The fact remains that he publicly insinuated--intentionally or not-- that someone was a bigot when she isn't. This could do some real damage to someone who probably doesn't deserve it, at least not on that score. I don't understand why Mr. Feldman is unwilling to apologize insofar as that. If I'd made such a mistake I'd own up to it.

Playgoer said...

I have decided to strike the Elders of Zion reference from the post, since I realize that does mischaracterize Adam's point--which I think was totally fair, by the way. So I don't wish to add to any misperceptions of his original piece.

Thanks, though, to all for the illuminating discussion and airing of debate on this point.

Playgoer said...

Adam's follow-up post to that essay--complete with Ms Ebersole's defiant response!--is indeed posted now at:

Read it!

Playgoer said...

Ok, I really meant to put this whole matter to rest, but...

Now that Ebersole went the extra mile to out her source on Adam's blog, I could not resist looking up the author of her beloved "The Creature from Jekyll Island." For starters, here's the intro to his Wikipedia entry:

"G. Edward Griffin (born November 7, 1931) is an American film producer, author, and political lecturer. Starting as a child actor, he became a radio station manager before age 20. After writing for the 1968 Wallace campaign, he began a career of producing documentaries and books on controversial topics like cancer, Noah's ark, and the Federal Reserve, as well as on right-libertarian theories of the U.S. Supreme Court, terrorism, subversion, and foreign policy. Since the 1970s, Griffin has promoted Laetrile as a killer of cancer cells, a view accepted by few scientists.He has also promoted the Durupınar site as hosting the original Noah's ark, though opposed by some Creationists and many scientists. He strongly opposes the Federal Reserve, charging it with being a banking cartel and an instrument of war and totalitarianism. In 2002, Griffin founded the individualist network Freedom Force International."

In addition to the above mentioned support of the '68 George Wallace campaign, a brief perusal of Griffin's credits also features literature (dating back to the 60s, mind you) promoting the John Birch Society, and "A Second Look at the UN."

Among the blurb-quotes on the current "Jekyll Island" book are Willie Nelson; fellow Bircher and Wallace supporter, anti-Communist witch hunter Dan Smoot (of "The Dan Smoot Report!"); and, yes, Ron Paul--who, it was revealed during the primary campaign, used to allow anti-Semitic rants by others in his old 1980s newsletter.

Needless to say Mr Griffin's actual scholarly credentials, outside of a history of fringe-dwelling, are slim.

Now having said all that...nothing I can tell from the book so far explicitly indulges in anti-Semitic rhetoric. (Thanks to the Amazon "inside look" you can actually search the index for all instances of "Jew," "Jewish," etc.)

On his elaborate website site (, though, Griffin sidesteps and in at least one section disavows Jew-baiting and conspiracy theories centered on Jews. (After all, THAT would be loony.) But in addressing reader comments on "Protocols of Elders of Zion" itself, for instance, he says, "There is no doubt that the Protocols accurately describe much of what is happening in our world today"--before adding "but that does not prove that the document is authentic." Well how sporting of him.

So, no, you can't peg Griffin as an overt anti-Semite and he seems to try to strike a "reasonable" posture about all that.

Still: coming from a basically self-published book ("President" of "American Media"? One G. Edward Griffin! Care of a PO Box in California) by a guy who still seems obsessed with why the pyramid and the eye are on the dollar bill, gotta wonder at some point how ANYONE even gets a copy of such a screed without being somehow plugged into a network of residual Birchers, "tax rebels", and other extreme rightists.

Hey, I've loved Christine Ebersole's performances in "Grey Gardens" and "Dinner at Eight". And if she's genuinely a right-winger or extreme libertarian, then let's hear it for ideological diversity among theatre artists!

But she can't pretend to be shocked that Jews would be a wee bit alarmed at her choice of reading material.

Anonymous said...

Garrett, I feel like a pest and a parasite to post so much feedback on your blog like this, but I think your last comment is a point for me. How much time did you spend searching the internet? And you still couldn't turn up the goods you were looking for (makes you wonder how Bush and Cheney must feel).

Do you have to be anti-Semitic to be a conspiracy theorist? Do you have to be a conspiracy nut to be anti-Semitic? Although there may be a lot of crossover, I don't think they are necessarily synonymous.

It is very hard for me to defend someone like Christine Ebersole (by which I especially mean musical buffs), but we must resist the whole "guilt by association" tactic. Her point about Hitler being a vegetarian was well-taken, I thought; and one could go further, by lumping all Christians in with their homophobes, cab drivers in with racists, and Pilgrims with witches.

If the American theater has been clear about anything--and that is where we should be taking our cue-- it has told us to beware of making careless and damaging accusations or suggestions. I would encourage Mr. Feldman to revisit Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, and David Mamet to get their take. It's okay to criticize someone. But do it because of what they say, not because of what someone else says.

Or were you not around when Obama was being pinned to Wright, Rezko, and Ayers?

Playgoer said...


Yes, at the risk of prolonging a debate all of us seem to be tiring of, I will pay you the respect of trying to answer your points.

First, guilt by association BAD. Totally agreed.

But let's take the Obama/Wright example you site. What was wrong about that particular smear was that Obama totally DISOWNED the controversial statements. So there really was no association. (Just as he only worked with Ayers on education reform--not on, say, bombing.)

But here you have Ebersole refusing to disown anything about this guy Griffin or his greater project. So once she makes such strong statements in his defense, she leaves herself open to asking: so who IS this guy?

For the record I only spent 15 minutes surfing online for what I posted. For those who are interested there's more, much more.

And, no, I didn't find any anti-Semitic statements by him. And I don't think they're there, because he seems, indeed, not to be an anti-Semite.

No, not all conspiracy theorists are anti-Semites. I am quite partial to JFK Assassination lore myself. But I also don't spend time connecting it to, say, world banking.

But, look, when you are Jewish, and you come across someone saying that the contents of "Protocols of Elders of Zion" are essentially TRUE (even if forged), someone fond of invoking the word "Illuminati" in relation to said conspiracies, and someone whose entire resume is linked to extreme rightist causes, someone who is not a recognized scholar publishing in a refereed journal but a self-publishing outlier working out of a PO is I'm afraid natural to be concerned. Please allow me that.

Neither Feldman or I are calling for any Ebersole boycott. Hardly. But her "off-message" statements in the public record are as fair game to scrutinize as Mel Gibsons' far more explicit offenses.

Hey, I report you decide, ok? Can we leave it at that?

And for what it's worth, I promise to still go to Ebersole's next performance. And not boo.