Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Truth

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” And, Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Can’t you hear the world weariness in Pilate’s voice? The irony? The howling mob outside, the vindictive patriarchs demanding blood, and this man wants to talk about “The Truth” with a capital T. Pilate’s truth is that he wants a little peace and quiet. If Jesus's life is the price of that peace and quiet, it’s a price Pilate is willing to pay.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life; no man can come unto the Father but by me.” The truth is, Mr. Jesus, you will have to die before you can be born again.  Perhaps, as you suggest, we will all be born again into heaven or hell. But first, we all have to die. That's about the only truth I'm completely sure of.
Rob Brezny’s horoscope this week tells me that I should speak the unvarnished truth this week. He says that this is one of the rare times when being profoundly authentic will work to my supreme advantage. You’ll have to excuse my skepticism. No-one is interested in my unvarnished truth. It has never caused anything but trouble. 
What is truth? What is reality? It’s all semantics, right?  I spin this web as I navigate it. Just because I’m making it up as I go along doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sticking a fork in it

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that all relationships are unbalanced. Someone always loves more, the other less.  

Well, at least in my life. 
In a two-person relationship, it’s usually easy to identify which way the seesaw tips. There’s almost always a clear leader and follower, a top dog and underdog.  When the structure expands to three or more, the dynamic is harder to decipher.
I’m having one of those days when I feel like I care a lot more than my colleagues and collaborators.  I feel like I am putting out a lot more than I get back.  

Don’t you love the phrase “put out”? It sums it all up, right? Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

I’m being taken for granted and I don’t like it.
I can’t control how other people treat me.  I can only control my reaction to their treatment.  I’d love to confront certain people and call them on their shit in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately, my experience with these particular people convinces me that “they can’t handle the truth.” The truth will only drive them further away.

The only prescription seems to be: Care less.  Step back.  Play hard to get.
That game can easily become an arms race towards indifference.  Everyone keeps taking one-giant-step-back until we are no longer on the same playing field.  So be it. I am fed up with- -the only word that comes to mind is “injustice.”   I give more than I receive and it ain’t fair. 

Of course, mama never said that life was fair, did she?  But, she also didn’t raise me to roll over and play dead. I’m nobody’s doormat.  I’m angry at the people who take advantage of my good nature. My options are to, a) step way back from these relationships, or b) call my tormentors on their shit and let the chips fall where they may.   
Stepping back and/or speaking up will imperil these relationships. Is it worth the risk? If all that is at risk is their indifference and contempt, then the answer is yes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Like everyone else in America, September 11, 2001 started out like any other day for  me. My alarm went off, I went downstairs and turned on the radio so I could listen to the news while getting ready for work. It was about 6:50 a.m. west coast time and the local NPR affiliate was doing their local news round-up, like they did every morning at 10 minutes before the hour.  I can’t remember what the local news was that morning, but it was nothing extraordinary.  Arly and I were getting ready to leave the house at 10 minutes after 7:00 like we did every morning. At the top of the hour, instead of hearing the cheerful music of Morning Edition, Noah Adams began to talk about the breaking news coming in from New York.
I’ve long wondered why the local NPR affiliate said nothing about the events during the local news round-up. I’ve long wondered why they even broke for the local news round-up.  It was the last time they would break away from national coverage for several days. 

7:00 a.m. our time was 10:00 a.m. on the east coast.  Both towers had already been hit. Shortly after the national news came on, they announced that the South Tower had collapsed and the Pentagon had been hit. By the time I got to work, the North Tower had collapsed and the fourth plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. As the news rolled on that day, I remember wondering, “What the hell is going on? How many planes do they have up there? When is this going to stop?”

In 2001, OSF produced the The Merchant of Venice, an always-controversial work.  The Merchant of Venice was one of the two plays OSF presented during the Festival's inaugural performances in 1935. Founder Angus Bowmer played Shylock. Some people believe that the play should no longer be produced. They believe that its hateful anti-Semitism has no place in a modern theatre.  I deplore they play's pernicious libelling and stereotyping, but I also see great value in the work. When I first read The Merchant of Venice in high school, I didn’t understand that it was meant to be a comedy.  I read it as a tragedy and viewed Shylock as – well, not the tragic hero, but certainly the most compelling, sympathetic character.  He reminds me so much of Oedipus, beguiled by his own intellectual superiority, blind to the forces gathering around him.  Shakespeare had a choice; he could have made Shylock an unambiguously ridiculous, comic, unappealing figure.  Instead, Shakespeare portrays an intelligent, passionate, fascinating man who has clawed and scratched his way up from the very bottom of society into a position of power. He portrays a man who has spent his life masking his pain at the scorn and derision of the dominant culture in order to survive.  When the dominant culture steals the one thing he cares about in this world, his daughter, he snaps, lashes out, and is destroyed.  Shakespeare chose to show his destruction onstage and in that last moment when he has lost everything, his fortune, his family, his god, Shylock does not inspire laughter. He inspires pathos and fear in the best Aristotelian tradition. How can we not feel a kinship with this broken man?  The Christians in the play are two-dimensional villains but Shylock is complex and compelling, the character you remember, the one you want to know more about. Shylock breaks my heart.
Was that Shakespeare’s conscious choice? Who knows?  All I know is, the play has meaning for me.  It inspires me. It makes me think.

Before the 2001 production, OSF had last produced the play in the early 90s and that earlier production was extremely controversial.  Director Libby Appel chose to portray Jessica’s repudiation of her Jewish heritage by showing her spitting on and discarding symbols of her faith.  It was a powerful and disturbing image that provoked gales of protest from many in the audience. There were letters to the editor, letters to the artistic director, and several people revoked their memberships.

When OSF decided to revive the play in 2001, there were still deep, hurt feelings within the audience.  The company mapped out a concerted effort to address the controversy and involve the Jewish community in the discussion. OSF scheduled several forums at a local synagogue and held many education events on campus. One of these  was a free, bi-weekly screening of a Canadian Broadcasting documentary about the character of Shylock.  It’s a remarkable documentary featuring the religious scholar Karen Armstrong. I haven’t watched it since 2001, but I remember it as moving and thought-provoking.  The documentary examines how the role of Shylock has been portrayed over the years, starting out with grotesque characterizations by actors wearing false noses all the way up to Al Pacino’s thoughtful and moving portrayal on Broadway in the late 90s. It also examined the cultural context of the play and how our conception of Shylock has evolved as the culture evolved. King Edward I expelled all Jews from England in 1290 and that edict was still in effect during Shakespeare’s lifetime.  It is believed that a small population of closeted Jews lived England during Shakespeare’s lifetime, possibly including Queen Elizabeth’s physician, but there were no openly Jewish communities. 

Some believe that Shakespeare was a closeted Catholic. During his life time, it was just as dangerous to be a Catholic as it was to be a Jew, so he may have understood what it felt like to be considered an outsider on the basis of religion. Essentially, the documentary examines intolerance and persecution, how they are expressed through art and how interpretations of those expressions evolve as the culture evolves.
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, it was my job to set up a large TV in the Black Swan Theatre, introduce the documentary to the people in attendance, screen the film and then send people on their way.  I was not supposed to lead a discussion or engage in dialogue (I guess they didn’t trust what I might say), but inevitably people wanted to stay after and talk.  You know me; I’m not shy about sharing my opinion. But, it had been drilled into me that I was not supposed to debate or engage; the subject was too controversial, too fraught with peril.  Mostly I just listened.

On September 11, 2001, the Festival’s co-leaders decided to go forward with the performances scheduled for that day while offering refunds to anyone who requested them.  It turned out to be a controversial decision. Some members of the acting company had friends and family in New York and did not feel like performing; who can blame them? But, OSF is not just a theatre, it’s a destination.  The vast majority of the audience drives a long distance to attend. Here were all these vacationers far from home while this horrible tragedy unfolded.  If OSF had cancelled the plays, they would have had nothing to do but sit in their hotel rooms and watch the news.  Rightly or wrongly, the Festival decided to go on with the show to give these vacationers somewhere to be.  I honestly believe the decision was made based on concern for the audience rather than concern for the bottom line, but it was bitterly resented by certain member of the acting company.
Once the Festival leadership decided to go forward with the plays, they decided to go forward with everything else on the schedule as well. So, at 10:00 a.m. on September 11 (1:00 p.m. in New York), I walked over to the Black Swan, set up the TV and opened the doors to the theatre. I expected that absolutely no-one would show up, but about a dozen people walked through the door.

I always made a few remarks before starting the video, introducing myself and explaining why OSF had chosen to screen the documentary.  I remember so clearly that the words failed me that morning. I didn’t know what to say. The usual spiel felt so inadequate as to be insulting. So, I thanked everyone for attending on such a strange and frightening morning.  I didn’t refer to the events directly, but I remember saying something about how the documentary examines the hateful history of the play The Merchant of Venice and how important it was for us as a society to confront and unpack the history of hatred.  Then I started the documentary and watched the horrifying story of how a dominant culture subjugates and persecutes a minority culture.
Was the greatest playwright in the western canon speaking as the dominant culture's cudgel and stooge? Or was he communicating coded messages about Shylock’s humanity and about the humanity of all those who are persecuted and demonized? I’ll leave it to the scholars to figure out. 

After work, I attended Arly’s volleyball game at the high school.  The choir director had hastily assembled the school’s choir, a couple of dozen teenagers in blue jeans and shorts. They sang the national anthem. I cried.