Thursday, January 29, 2009


With the election of our lovely new and improved President, one can’t help but notice the wave of anticipation, and excitement in the air. Most everyone (yes even some Republican Americans) cannot help but be swept up into the electric atmosphere. I have never seen people so giddy every time that man comes up on the screen. People smile when he bobs his head to Aretha Franklin, people tear up when he speaks about his mother, people applaud when he quotes the great Sam Cooke saying “A Change Gonna Come!”
Of course all of this has begged the question of whether we live in a post-racial word. In an earlier blog entry my co-horts Kelly Tsai and Idris Goodwin responded to the bizarre question posed in the Chicago RedEye “Is Racism Dead?” If I can be permitted to paraphrase them, “Hells No!” I perfectly understand that it is monumental and historic that Obama is now in the white house, no longer is a man of color (not a black man, but a man of color, lets be real) unable to go higher up than a General Colin Powell, or a Condi Rice, this man of color is DA MAN! But, this means very little in the real day to day world. There are still forms of institutional racism that exist today, still a lack of investment in schools in poor neighborhoods, still a disproportionate level of punishment for African American narcotics offenders, still a lack of representation of people of color in investment firms, in the legal system and in HOLLYWOOD to ever say that racism is dead or that we live in a post-racial world. Obama’s election does not in the slightest way make everything ok, and while that might seem an obvious statement, you would be surprised to know how many people interact with me as if I have suddenly been liberated.
At the end of the day, I am still a perceived threat to many in this country because of my ethnicity, I am still suspect. I am still having a harder time getting apartments to rent when people see my face after talking to me on the phone, and I know that if I lived in Inglewood, Chicago and decided to raise a family, my kids would get a poor education based on the demographic and geographic environment.

Now, what the election of our President does pose is….(drum roll please) HOPE. Obama brings the possibility that the ball will start rolling on these issues, that he will kindly remind his advisers that they need to think about what the little guy needs, that other people of color who are consistently overlooked or misrepresented need to be brought to the table. Here’s hoping.
I feel for him though…coming into this economic climate, the mess from the previous administration and the war in Gaza it almost seems like he has been set up to fail in some way.
I don’t think my expectations are lofty though….I think he just needs to deliver, like any president would have to…regardless of race.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Black, White, Whatever

Check out Kelly's new video. Tell us what you think! Agreements, disagreements? Kudos? Lets get the dialogue going!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails

Earlier this month, right wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh upset conservatives and liberals alike with his outlandish statement:

Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails
January 16, 2009

What do you think?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The right words
In the right order…
Think feel play

Friday, January 9, 2009

Idris Goodwin talks...

So I guess we gotta talk about Obama…..again.

I’m not saying I wasn’t as excited as you. I’m not saying it’s not historic. I’m just saying I didn’t ask to get involved.

From the moment Obama accepted his nomination the strangest thing happened. Middle-aged white people began stopping me at random in the street, at the grocery store, while hiking, to engage in racial dialogue.

I should be excited by this - when I was coming up the only people interested in public conversations about race were those who had been victims of racism. By that I mean, up until Obama ran, white people tended to shy away from talking with me about race in a non-p.c., I-don’t-see-color kind of way (except of course for that whole OJ thing).

So it was jarring when grown, respectable, upstanding baby boomers began giving me goofy eyes, knowing nods, awkwardly shifting gears from “nice weather we’re’ having” to trips down memory lane: the 60’s when hands interlocked and Motown bridged the gaps and on and on and on and on.

It got real deep when I worked this summer at an outdoor newsstand in downtown Santa Fe, NM, which is incidentally where east coast leftists escape for retirement and death. It’s the sort of place where every store, restaurant and street has a Spanish or Native American name, yet all the Spanish speaking and Native American people are nowhere in sight.

And it should come as no surprise that while Santa Fe has an abundance of sunlight and parking spots, it is desperately lacking in the 31-year-old black guy department.
You get what I’m saying.

So there I was, sitting on a busy Santa Fe street in front of rows and rows of magazines featuring everyone’s favorite brown boy on the cover. I was an easy target.

The day after Obama won the primary someone yelled from across the street -- maybe 20 feet away -- “I bet you’re happy!”

Considering their logic they should have been happy when McCain won his respective primary. After all he is old, white and rich. Of course I never said that. I am no agitator.

I didn’t even respond to the woman who shook her head conspiratorially, “Can you believe he picked Biden? Always gotta shoulder up with the white man, right?”

It was getting out of control.

I couldn’t wait for the whole thing to hurry up and just get decided already. Then the tokenism would stop and things could back to the way they were. You know, when we would tip toe gingerly around the old race maypole, talk color with our skin-folk. It was hard enough for me to deal with my own day-to-day trials without having to participate – without having to be the sounding board for the wish fulfillment and redemption of the older generation.

I was sure that when it was over the dust would settle. But then he won. And it dawned on me, I’ve got four more years of this. Maybe eight.

So the night of Nov.4th, after Obama’s acceptance speech, after the bells and whistles and good tidings of joy, I found myself conflicted, weighing the consequences. Reflecting on how now everyone will assume that racism and it’s legacy is a thing of the past.

Suddenly, inexplicably, my great great great grandfather appeared beside me on the couch. Obama’s speech still hanging in the air, the ghost of my grandfather to my right, and me in-between.

Of course I immediately apologized for not keeping in better touch with him. He told me to shove my apology, then proceeded to remind me that in his day it was not only Illegal for black people to vote but it was illegal for black people to be people. In his day the house slave was allotted maybe 15 minutes for dreaming, but his dreams were confined to that of better ways to serve his or her master.

He continued on and on and on like the ghosts of our great great great grandfather’s tend to do, reminding me of all the privileges I now enjoy and that the last thing I should be concerned about is white people wanting to talk to me in a positive way about a black man that they aren’t interested in lynching or betting on to win the superbowl.

And with that, he was gone. So were my petty annoyances. I now accept my role in Obama’s unofficial cabinet. In fact, I welcome all testimonials, opinions and cash donations. (The last thing I’d want to do is come off rude.)

So let’s talk about race, America.

Yes, this extraordinary biracial politician (that everyone calls black; see the one drop rule) defeated the candidate of the crippled Republican Party. Does this signal the dawn of a post racial America? For those who answered yes, you are a sad and hilarious example of irony, like low-fat junk food.

Racism is a disease. It’s the AIDS virus of the “isms.” It’s responsible for countless deaths, deferred dreams, horrific atrocities. I don’t know if any of you have read Frederick Douglas, but homeboy could’ve talked circles around Obama and led our country in his sleep, though I doubt he could have raised the necessary funds at the time. Why? Racism. It’s ingrained, woven tightly into the fabric of our country. It’s the reason I am an American citizen and have the last name Goodwin. It’s the reason why initially we didn’t think Obama had a Lobster’s chance in boiling water. It’s what prompted someone in Delaware to deface Obama-Biden campaign posters with KKK.

You could say racism is our national pastime.

You could say America is Dr. Frankenstein and racism is its monster – but we can’t scare it with fire-lit torches.

Do I think things are better? Of course. When my parents entered their teens, Jim Crow laws were still in effect. However, my black and brown cohorts continue to be profiled by state troopers and affluent liberals alike. This country is ripe with generations of brown-skinned people for whom racism has robbed of the ability to dream, to actualize, to even imagine being the president of the student council let alone the United States of America.

To suggest that racism is over because the browner guy won the game underestimates the weight and power of its legacy and insults its victims.

From the Redeye: End of racism? | Obama's victory has many optimistic, but that doesn't mean the fight’s over,0,621553.story

Monday, January 5, 2009

Harold Pinter...Some links to serve as a precursor to our production of Old Times

The World That Harold Pinter Unlocked by Ariel Dorfman, published in the Washington Post

Harold Pinter, Playwright of the Pause, Dies at 78 by Mel Gussow and Ben Brantley, published in The New York Times

An Appreciation of Harold Pinter by Charlie Rose

Harold Pinter: an Appreciation by Chris Jones, published in the Chicago Tribune

Friday, January 2, 2009

When Dockets Imitate Drama from The New York Times

When Dockets Imitate Drama

Published: December 26, 2008

“You must realize that money making is one thing, religion another, and family life a third,” Mr. Voysey matter-of-factly tells his son Edward, who is appalled to learn that his father has been operating a pyramid scheme for decades with his clients’ money.

Mr. Voysey — the affably corrupt character in Harley Granville-Barker’s 1905 play “The Voysey Inheritance” — is one of Bernard L. Madoff’s literary predecessors, and his compartmentalized view of the world may suggest how Mr. Madoff, a philanthropist and a pillar of the financial world and Jewish life, enmeshed family and friends in what federal authorities are calling a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

The accusations against Mr. Madoff may seem so outlandish and outsize that only a literary imagination could have dreamed him up. And indeed, where businessmen, psychologists, theologians and prosecutors have so far come up short in explaining the tangle of human emotions and drives behind the Madoff enterprise, literature and drama have provided plenty of models.

“It’s almost verbatim the story of ‘The Voysey Inheritance,’ which was written 100 years earlier,” said Neil Pepe, the artistic director of the Atlantic Theater, which staged the play in 2006. “It’s about the nature of business, whether they’re bending the rules or following them.”
David Mamet, who adapted “Voysey” for The Atlantic, explained in a New York Times interview at the time why he was initially drawn to the play.

“What is capital?” he said. “How does society work? What is money? On the one hand you can say money is meaningless: it doesn’t really exist, and so everything is really all about trust. You can also say that means it’s all about crime.”

As Voysey puts it, his clients’ security lies not in pieces of paper but in “my financial ability.”
To the elder Voysey, Mr. Pepe noted, such practices “are an accepted form of behavior.” That is why he is so exasperated with Edward. “Oh ... why is it so hard for a man to see clearly beyond the letter of the law,” Mr. Voysey says, later adding, “We must take this world as we find it, my dear boy.”

That is clearly the world that Anthony Trollope is portraying in his 1875 novel, “The Way We Live Now” (another Mamet favorite). In his autobiography Trollope writes that this satiric novel was inspired by the corruption eating away at British society, a “dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places.”

His shady financier, Augustus Melmotte, is at the center of a huge scam, selling shares in a railroad that doesn’t exist. He is widely regarded as the financial sector’s presiding genius, “the very navel of the commercial enterprise of the world,” and his ruin, as Lord Alfred observes in the novel, “would be the bursting of half London.” Many of Melmotte’s attributes can be found in some of the real-life rogues who preyed on credulous British investors in that period.
Comparing Melmotte to Mr. Madoff, Catharine R. Stimpson, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University, said: “There’s the same ‘do I have a deal for you’ and the same lust for money. He’s very smart, he has no compunction about swindling everybody, and he’s socially ambitious.”

“The difference between Melmotte and Madoff,” she added, “is that Melmotte comes out of nowhere.” In the book Melmotte simply appears, already wealthy, and no one knows his roots or where he is from. Nineteenth-century British society was quite anti-Semitic, and Ms. Stimpson points out that Trollope hints that Melmotte has Jewish origins.

“The bluebloods sneer at him,” she said, “but that doesn’t prevent them from wanting what he has.”

John Guare, author of “Six Degrees of Separation” and “The House of Blue Leaves,” also thought first of Melmotte when asked about Mr. Madoff’s literary parallels. Even as the scandal is breaking, Mr. Guare noted, Melmotte wins a seat in Parliament. (In the end he commits suicide.)
People like Melmotte “are just missing a moral gene,” Mr. Guare said.

“The money is there for the taking,” he continued. “Asking why they do it is like asking, ‘Why does the scorpion bite me.’ ”

Mr. Guare says he is fascinated by the serene smile Mr. Madoff wears in some photographs. “How do you account for his beatific smile, like the Dalai Lama?” he asked. It’s “as if he’s coming in from Shangri La.”

That smile similarly intrigues Andrew Delbanco, the director of Columbia University’s American Studies program. Referring to photos taken after Mr. Madoff’s arraignment, Mr. Delbanco said the events “put me in mind of the arrogant Ambersons before they got what Booth Tarkington called their ‘comeuppance.’ ”

“But the thing about Bernard Madoff,” he added, “is that we have no idea what he was thinking.”

“I suspect he feels, as several pundits have suggested, that what he did was no different morally from what many big-time brokers and banks have been doing,” Mr. Delbanco wrote in an e-mail message. “But it would take Henry James to give us a deep portrait of such a character.”
Of course you can’t talk about 19th-century fiction and greed run amok without referring to Charles Dickens. “Even his name is sort of Dickensian,” said the author Thomas Mallon, who has set some of his novels in the late 1800s. “Made-Off. It sounds so perfect.”

“The great manipulators seem to come out of Victorian literature,” Mr. Mallon said, mentioning Merdle, the swindling banker from “Little Dorrit.”

As Dickens describes him: “Mr. Merdle was immensely rich; a man of prodigious enterprise; a Midas without the ears, who turned all he touched to gold. He was in everything good, from banking to building. He was in Parliament, of course. He was in the City, necessarily. He was Chairman of this, Trustee of that, President of the other.”

Think of it, Mr. Mallon observed: “Merdle, Melmotte and Madoff. It sounds like a phony literary hedge fund.”

The investigation centers on a Big Con, but the impact of Mr. Madoff’s suspected duplicity toward his family is a crucial element of the story. Though Mr. Madoff brought his brother, two sons, a nephew and a niece into the business, he insists that none of them knew about the sham, according to the criminal complaint. When the money ran out, it was Mr. Madoff’s sons, Mark and Andrew, who turned him in.

In “Voysey” the “inheritance” is in fact the embezzlement and fallout that one generation has left for the next to clean up. “It’s really about handing down the legacy of such behavior,” Mr. Pepe noted. “Inevitably the truth rears its head, and it catches up to you.”

Those themes are what made James Lapine, the playwright and director, think of Granville-Barker’s play, as well as of another, more modern drama now in revival on Broadway, “All My Sons.” In that 1947 play by Arthur Miller, Joe Keller lies about a manufacturing problem that caused the death of 21 pilots during World War II, saving himself from jail and his business from ruin. But his carefully structured artifice comes crashing down when his surviving son learns the truth.

“I think it’s about selfishness and what you do to your children when you make those selfish choices,” Mr. Lapine said.

Perhaps another way of making sense of the charges against Mr. Madoff, though, is by looking not at his actions but at the gullibility of the vast network of people seduced by returns that are too good to be true.

After hearing about the scandal, Ilan Averbuch, an Israeli artist whose work is currently on exhibit at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea, took down a tattered storybook he has had since childhood, a collection of Jewish folktales about the mythical people of Chelm, a city populated by supposedly wise souls who are actually very foolish.

In one, the townspeople decide to illuminate their city on dark nights by capturing the full moon, which they see reflected in a large barrel of water. They seal the top so it cannot escape. Two weeks later, on a night when there is no moon, the town gathers to open the barrel. When the lid comes off, the moon is gone.

Imagine that, they cry. A thief has stolen it.

Chris Jones gives Remy Bumppo and The Voysey Inheritance an Honorable Mention!

Originally posted: December 20, 2008

The BEST THEATER of 2008 ...
A Chicagoan finally won the Pulitzer Prize in drama. American Girl Place closed its basement theater. The producers of “Jersey Boys” belatedly decided that Chicago wasn’t just another stop on the road. The death of Paul Sills left Chicago improv an orphan. The unpredicted box office success of Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” (left) and the Elevator Repair Service’s “Gatz” proved once again that many Chicagoans like their theater to have some heft, but no one seemed to care about a sidesplitting but poorly marketed “Forbidden Broadway.” A young Obama took an acting class at the Lookingglass Theatre, and Chicago hired a clutch of new artistic directors with international reputations. A growing recession kicked a lot of theater companies in the teeth.

You might say 2008 was an up-and-down year, and this indefatigable theater city even came up with a December show—Second City’s “America: All Better!”—that perfectly captured the heights and dips of the roller coaster.

But I’ll remember 2008 for its great performances—Lois Smith in “The Trip to Bountiful,” Hollis Resnik in “Grey Gardens,” E. Faye Butler in “Caroline, or Change,” Francis Guinan in “The Seafarer,” (left) Levi Kreis in “Million Dollar Quartet,” Nigel Patterson in “Journey’s End,” Kathryn Hunter in Peter Brook’s “Fragments,” Peter Burns in “Four Places,” Helen Sadler in “A Taste of Honey,” Justin Berkobien in “Buddy,” Raymond Fox in “The Voysey Inheritance,’ Richard Todd Adams in the Marriott Theatre’s “Les Miserables.”

I’ll recall the success of its directors—Jim Corti, David Cromer, Charles Newell, Harris Yulin. I’ll bow to the playwrights who came up with memorable new works here—Marisa Wegrzyn, Lydia R. Diamond, Bill Jepsen, Nottage.

And I will be forever grateful for the chance to spend time at the Goodman Theatre reliving the 92-year-old imagination of Horton Foote, an American genius who was underrated for years and to whom Chicago gave the respect he long has deserved.

And even though I must confess that the very best show I saw all year was in New York—“South Pacific” at the Lincoln Center—I’ll marvel, once again, at the guts of Chicago theater, which stared out at a volatile world and reflected its dreams and its nightmares, right back in our upturned faces.

Top 10 ...

1. “The Trip to Bountiful,” Goodman Theatre (left). Harris Yulin’s exquisitely nuanced direction of this profound Horton Foote play was matched by Lois Smith’s heartbreaking central performance.

2. “Our Town,” the Hypocrites (left). The actor-director David Cromer turned what we thought would be an ordinary little basement production of the high school favorite into a rivetingly revisionist and devastatingly unsentimental indictment of small-town denial. It’s headed to New York in 2009.

3. “Picnic,” Writers’ Theatre Chicago. With the help of a perfectly cast ensemble, Cromer (again) revealed the restless energy and raw fear behind those seemingly idyllic summers of the 1950s.

4. “Caroline, or Change,” Court Theatre. E. Faye Butler gave the performance of a lifetime in Charles Newell’s revelatory new production of Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori’s American musical about parenting, dislocation and race.

5. “Ruined,” Goodman Theatre. Thanks to an exuberant production from the director Kate Whoriskey, Lynn Nottage’s new play opened its audience’s eyes to the sexual violence against women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo yet also caught the resilience of the African human spirit. New York awaits in 2009.

6. “Four Places,” Victory Gardens (left). Joel Drake Johnson’s drama about adult children trying to take care of a struggling elderly mother couldn’t have been simpler. And for anyone dealing with elderly parents, it couldn’t have rung more true. Sandy Shinner’s production featured superb Chicago acting.

7. “Sweet Charity,” Drury Lane Oakbrook. The best show Oakbrook has seen in years, this Cy Coleman classic was reimagined with thrilling color, energy and verve by the director Jim Corti and the Fosse-oriented choreographer, Mitzi Hamilton.

8. “Gatz,” Elevator Repair Service at the Museum of Contemporary Art. This brilliantly audacious theatrical treatment of “The Great Gatsby” played as a profound celebration and exploration of America’s complicated relationship with its literary classics. Nearly seven hours merely melted away.

9. “The Seafarer” Steppenwolf Theatre. Led by Francis Guinan in what is probably the best male performance of the year in Chicago, a Steppenwolf ensemble stares into Conor McPherson’s bottles of booze and finds a Devil of its own making.

10. “Journey’s End,” Griffin Theatre. Jonathan Berry’s powerful, richly acted production of the classic English drama of World War I revealed anew the isolation of war and its simultaneous ability to spark the most selfless sacrifices.

Honorable mentions (alphabetically): “America: All Better!” (Second City), “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (British American Stage Company), “Grey Gardens” (Northlight Theatre), “If All The World Were Paper” (Chicago Children’s Theatre), “Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night" (Theo Ubique), “Les Miserables” (Marriott Theatre), “Million Dollar Quartet” (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights), “A Taste of Honey” (Shattered Globe Theatre), “Tomorrow Morning” (Hilary A. Williams LLC), “The Voysey Inheritance” (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).