Potpourri #2 (29 cents)

Theater: I usually know what I think of a play, but I must admit that I am still of mixed mind about Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still”, playing at the Studio. Sarah is a war photographer, severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and flown to Germany to recuperate. James, a war reporter, has lived with Sarah for eight years, but they have not married. He was witness to a particularly atrocious atrocity in the middle east and couldn’t take it any more; he was flown back to the States, only to fly to Europe after Sarah was badly injured, not knowing whether she would live or die. The play begins when they (she still severely crippled) return to their New York apartment.

Shortly after they arrive, they are visited by their friend (and her photo editor), Richard, and his new, young girlfriend, Mandy. Mandy is different from Sarah and James – she is an event planner, who searches for the light and the beautiful – the optimist, who views a half full world, rather than the half empty world of the war journalists.

Sarah and James make fun of Richard’s infatuation – Richard, on the other hand, says that his relationship with Mandy is more than infatuation, and he too is tired at looking at the downside of everything. As the play goes on, James tends to agree – he wants to write about movies, not real life; he wants to marry Sarah and (although she reveals an affair she had in Iraq after James returned to the states), they wed (as do Richard and Mandy).

But all is not well, and as Sarah’s recovery continues and her health improves, she itches more and more to get get back to the war zone, to escape her reality, to point her camera and see “time stand still”.

The audience was more enthusiastic than I was, although I recognized a well performed show. I just am not sure what I thought of it.

Also went to the Forum Theatre’s “Sex on the Brain”, a compilation of seven (?) short plays, locally written and performed, one night only. The plays varied in interest (to me) and quality – the best were very good. The theater was filled (Round House Silver Spring) and a good time had by all. Daughter Hannah collaborated on and performed in one of the pieces.

Food: I have to say that the sesame chicken at Kao Thai in Silver Spring was first class – and that at our second meal at Blue 44, everyone enjoyed the food as well. Tried my second $5.95 lunch special at Chinatown Express. As the first time, the food wasn’t even worth $5.95.

Lectures: Eugene Kinlow of DC Votes gave a nice presentation going over the history of voting rights in the District of Columbia and the successes (small) and failures (larger) so far of his organization as it continues to fight for legislative voting rights for DC’s residents. Pointing out that the United States is currently the only democracy that does not permit residents of its capital to have full voting rights, the prospects are not good, although polls show that Americans, when informed of the situation, are overwhelmingly in favor of giving DC a vote. But politics are politics, one supposes, and Republicans don’t want to create more Democratic votes, and no one really cares.

An even more interesting lecture, or rather book talk, was by Vadim Birstein at the International Spy Museum talking about his new book, SMERSH, the story of the Soviet Union’s military counter-terrorist organization, active for only three years, 1943-1946. But what a three year period it was – enough time for SMERSH to capture Solzhenitsyn, and Wallenberg, and even to participate in the Nuremberg trials (evil judging evil). Under the control of Stalin’s paranoia, SMERSH was created, separate from the NKVD, to root out subversion in the military. During the war, approximately 6,000,000 Russians were captured by the Germans and put into prison camps. Upon their release, each was vetted by SMERSH – of the 6,000,000, approximately 600,000 were accused of traitorous activity, providing info to the Germans, and arrested, tried and executed. If they readily confessed, the escaped much of the torture of the system in the three “investigatory” prisons run by the organization. If not, they were subjected to more physical and psychological torture until they did confess. Their trials were not really trials – it was simply a case of a SMERSH judge reading and approving a report written by the SMERSH investigator setting forth the crime and the suggested punishment – the defendant was not even present.

After the war, SMERSH was disbanded and combined with a broader ministry. Its influence was felt for a long time by the families of its victims.

Film – only on TV, but I watched a movie called “Das Fraulein”, filmed about five years ago in Switzerland, which has gotten mixed reviews, but which I thought to be quite effective. It follows three women from the former Yugoslavia, who are trying to build lives in Zurich – one married, whose husband wants to return to Bosnia to a home they are hoping to build near the sea but who has been in Switzerland so long that she feels her life, as well as her children, are there and does not want to leave; one, whose lover from Serbia never made the trip, and who has been living a bitter, independent and self-isolating life managing a cafe ever since; the third, a much younger woman, recently arrived, looking for life, but harboring a possibly fatal disease. It’s a fairly low key film, and that’s the way it should be.

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