Key Words: Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Lehrman, Nicholo Sacco & Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Leonard Bernstein, Maggie DaSilva, Howard DaSilva, The Cradle Will Rock, Emma Goldman, Parade, Jason Robert Brown, Steven Spielberg, Picasso's Guernica.
Consider a subgenre of history-inspired art called the re-enactment of inhumanity or injustice... Inhu-, inju-. Is there an applicable term that does not contain its opposite?
Something about this passion play genre confuses me and distances me. I want something other than history to happen up there.
Do we depict atrocity as a warning? Why show human behaviour at its worst? Is history a ritual to be safely re-enacted on the stage? Is theatrical repition a glorification of the atrocity?
Schindler's List stirs emotions, legitimized by its obscure history lesson within the familiar picture. Did you know that an industrialist shielded and saved intended victims of tyranny?
Saving Private Ryan was a great fictional idea inspired by some newspaper clippings during World War II. A mother lost three of her sons to her country's war and the fourth is still fighting it. Was the Normandy introduction a gratuitous depiction of the butchery of attractive young men? On a personal note, I love visual communication. Steven Spielberg is a great artist of the cinema and his films have driven into my awareness, into the world's awareness, essential historic facts. (Remember to visit the D-Day Museum in New Orleans (at the boatmaker's factory) as a follow-up.)
An invasion across the English Channel is basically inconceivable. Why didn't they take the hovercraft, right, or the chunnel? I thought they were invading from over the Atlantic. I don't know what I thought in my brain's nebula; the nebula does not inform me it is thus until direct confrontation occurs, like remembering something I forgot when I need it...
It's a movie. An entertainment. Art entertains and informs. So does life, so does participation. Let's participate by creating more art, and more children while we're at it.
So there I was at Lucille Lortel's White Barn Theatre at the edge of Westport, Connecticut, watching the premier of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Blitzstein Opera completed by Leonard Lehrman. Guess what, if you didn't already know the history of them, the State of Massachusets goverment electrocuted them, again, and to the opera's credit, we did not see them fry. I sure learned about them, though. Leonard has done this before with his exceedingly educational and likeable Emma Goldman musical, which I remember as EG... The sensitive topic about which I learned is called Anarchy. I still can't tell you what that is, I mean like using the term to describe your political allegence. "I'm a communist, a Bolshevik," well, all right, anarchy is a peaceful vision of governmentless society, at its most neutered, since the word reverberates with anger... It's not like the word placid. I'm a placido, a placebo, a placifist... That sounds pleasant.
The Italian guys, down home family men, thought they were arrested (and knew they were guilty) for being anarchists, helping workers in the shoe factory to consider unionizing for better treatment, and there was quite an analysis in the opera about the inhumanity of assembly line work. The shoe factory where he worked adopted the Henry Ford technique and the true cobbler wants to make his shoe from beginning to end.
A few guys robbed a shoe factory, then five, perhaps other, guys robbed another shoe factory a few months later. The year was 1919 and Sacco and Vanzetti fit the vague description of foreigners involved. The second robbery required two murders to be successful. S&V go to get a car to hide some anarchist literature; the owner's wife calls the police and they act guilty when the police arrive. They carried guns...
This is reminding me of the striking coincidences of two brushes with the law in my own life over just the past two days, Friday and Saturday, Friday for admitting another subway passenger on my swiped metrocard.
The revolving unsupervised exit/entrance turnstyle away from the token booths can fit two, as you may surmise. After swiping her card, this woman managed to misuse the thing and lose her turn. The guy behind her was waiting to get in, I was waiting, too. The train was coming. In my usual judicial aggression, which exists within me, almost apart from me ("You're such a silly woman. Put the wine in the coconut..."), I jumped ahead of him, swiped my card, told her to come in, too, and we both went through.
A young diminutive Asian police man had stopped her as I was boarding the train, escaping! But no, I waited to straighten this out! He brought us up to the token booth where we checked her card. It had just been used, and so had mine. I promised not to take the law into my own hands again and he opened the gates to let us through (it was amazing how convinced he was that we were to get summonses). HEY, THERE'S A MYSTERY HERE: He opened the gate. We were free to go. The woman began to cry.
I left her crying at the gate. The experience had so upset her that she stood there, as the officer did, what? to intercede. I don't know if he did anything because I left. The beginnings of an injustice had concluded, and I think the woman demanded more acknowledgment for being a victim.
Proceeding with the next brush with the law --
On Saturday evening, during the drive to the opera, I made a U-turn within an intersection well past the White Barn Theatre because I'd missed my turn off route 7. A police officer followed and pulled me over, saying you wouldn't try that in New York. I said I would because I believe it's legal to make U-turns in intersections (I think making U-Turns between intersections, especially over double yellow lines, is illegal.) . He said, "Go into a driveway..," demanding my license and registration. I continued to apologize adding I'm heading to the White Barn to show how respectable I was, he said "go two lights and make a left it's a mile and a half on your left," and handed back my papers.
I WAS NOT GUILTY IN MY MIND AND ATTITUDE! Don't be embarressed by what you do. Be honest, be aware, believe in yourself... And of course, still, anything can happen. Imaginations, start working. The first escalation factor would be a hint of marijuana in the car...
So Sacco and Vanzetti think they're on trial for their political beliefs and a founder of the civil liberties union, here's the program, it's Elizabeth Glendower Evans, co-founder of the New England Civil Liberties Union and a dowager, as in an elderly woman of high social station, through and through, thinks they're innocent of the murders and informs them of what's happening so they won't act so guilty... Your beliefs are not the crime!
This Sacco and Vanzetti controversy was heatedly debated with relevance from 1919 through 1927 when they were electrocuted, and continued without relevance, all right, the issue remains, until 1977 when Massachusetts Governor Dukakus called for all shame to be removed from these names, or some such acknowledgment absent the word "INNOCENT." Eenosant!
Anyway, innocence is the wailing word.
Perhaps you've heard John Kessel wail it live in his histrionic, verging on humerous, transcendent song, "I am Innocent!"
PomPom girl Ms. Spears' committee made an effective pop statement by having her announce the opposite. "I'm not That Innocent." What a trigger word!
I was assistant conductor for Leonard Lehrman's Cantata setting the text of the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg letters, entitled "We Are Innocent." The Federal Government executed them, with the help of Roy Cohen, I believe, for managing to give Russia the bomb. They provided the formula enabling Russia to make an Atomic Bomb, an amazing accusation given their level of education, and again, Julius and Ethel were caught feeling guiltily aware of feeling disagreeably sympathetic to communists during a gung-ho feeling period -- the American/Un-American Fifties.
So Leonard Lehrman musically ritualizes inflammatory lynchings, and his work clarifies our perception. Rather, he shapes our views. If you ask me, all I know of the subjects is from him. All I know of Americans in Japan is from Spielberg/Ballard's "Empire of the Sun." All I know about Leo Frank I learned in Harold Prince production of Parade. Huxley wrote the Devils of Loudin, and Ken Russell illuminated it. Seeing a flawed man, innocent of the crime for which he is accused, executed, is a ritual. Will it never happen again? Let's learn from these re-enactments.
I think we may be learning. Injustice. Inhumanity. Aggressive actions both contain and effectuate their opposites and, for the great example in western civilization, of course, look to the silencing of Jesus Christ.