My Day: The Pianist of Willesden Lane

Last night, we went to the first production of Theater J’s 2018-2019 season, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane”, a unique combination of story and music, a one person show starring pianist Mona Golabek acting out the life of her mother, pianist Lisa Jura, who escaped Vienna in 1938 on a Kindertransport.   She went to England as a 14 year old, and after a lonely few months, was placed with a Mrs. Cohen, with whom she stayed until the end of the war. All of this was set forth in Golabek’s book, The Children of Willesden Lane, which first appeared about 15 years ago.

On Willesden Lane, a residential street in North London, Mrs. Cohen ran a “hostel” in her large house that was the temporary home of 18 children who came to England to escape the war.  There, on a piano in the basement, Lisa Jura was able to hone her considerable skills and receive the encouragement to try for a place at the Royal Academy. She was accepted and completed the piano performance course there, she received a visa to come to the United States, where she married a former French resistance fighter and spent the rest of her life. The play, adapted form the book by Hershey Felder, tells the story of Jura’s time with her family in Vienna and then alone and with her fellow refugee teenagers in England.  The sole performer is Mona Golabek’s daughter; she narrates the story and she plays the piano.

In many ways, it’s a bravura performance.  You hear Grieg, and Mozart and Bach and Beethoven and Debussy and Scriabin and even a little “You’re a Grand Old Flag” – but each piece is, of course, interrupted and never completed, which to me was a bit unsettling to me.  I don’t like turning off music before it reaches its ending.  And while the story is of obvious interest and fascination, the dialogue itself is fairly simplistic for the most part. And Mona Golabek has a tale to tell, but she may not be the best vehicle to tell that tale.

But that is not to say that I didn’t find the performance fulfilling and worthwhile.  Quite something, considering Mona Golabek was talking about her mother.  But perhaps this is also the problem – I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been better with someone else playing the role of  narrator.  And that brought be back to the night before, when we saw “Marie and Rosetta” at Mosaic, where they had a “double” playing and shadowing the actors.  What if Golabek played the piano in “The Pianist” and another actor was the narrator.  The emotions would be different, of course, but I think that perhaps the show would work better, would take on its own identity.

I don’t know.  I don’t want to be too critical – this is very good theater and an important story.  But it just seems to me that there is a way to make it better. And I also don’t imagine that everyone would agree with me.  I recommend the show.  Go see it and decide.


My Day: Marie Wright and Rosetta Tharpe

Mosaic Theater began its 4th season with a remarkable effort by four female African-American performers in George Brant’s “Marie and Rosetta”.  [Full disclosure:  Brant is neither African-American or female].  It’s the story of gospel/rock and roll singer Rosetta Tharpe, and her young “partner”, Marie Wright.  Tharpe was a very real musical talent; frankly, I don’t know if the playwright created Marie Wright, or if she is/was real, as well.  Maybe someone will let me know.

So, I never heard of Rosetta Tharpe, or if I have ever heard of her, she didn’t stay long in my memory bank.  But she was, for a while, a prominent musical star, who found her way from Arkansas to Philadelphia and became first a gospel, and then a commercial sensation, before fading into obscurity and then reappearing posthumously as an important figure in American musical history.  She left the church bound gospel world to bring her music to Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington and others, one of the first to restyle gospel music for a broader audience.  She influenced many of the most popular rock and roll artists of the second half of the 20th century.  While achieving acclaim from the public, she displeased many conservative church goers.

The story line shows Rosetta Tharpe bringing young Marie Wright, whom she picked out of a quartet, to travel with her, accompany her, and sing with her.  Wright is excited, to be sure, but unsure if she wants to be identified too closely with Tharpe, risking offending her pastor husband among others.  She joins Tharpe, she separates from her husband, she loses her mother and two children in a house fire, and she returns to the church.  Tharpe continues her own career, but before long is felled first by diabetes and a debilitating stroke, and then by a second stroke, dying at 58.

OK, that’s the story line.  But the story of the play is more in the performers.  Roz White, as Rosetta Tharpe, brings a beautiful, rich and unbelievably powerful voice to her character, and Ayana Reed as Marie Wright has an unbelievable range and an extraordinarily winning stage presence.  But wait……..there’s more.  Both of these characters are also first class musicians – Rosetta on the guitar and Marie on the piano.  And director Sandra Holloway had the brilliant idea to have first class musicians shadow the two performers, one sitting at the piano (Ronnette Harrison) and one with a guitar (Barbara Gaskins), providing the accompaniment for the show.  Sounds clumsy?  Not at all, almost like a marionette show where you see the string pullers along with the puppets.  But in this case, you can’t tell who is pulling the strings and who is being controlled.  It is that seamless.

A great start to Mosaic’s fourth season.

My Day: Hasia Diner on American Jewish Immigration

Hasia Diner, professor of American Jewish history at New York University, was the Day of Learning Scholar on Labor Day (Sept 3) for the Foundation for Jewish Studies, of which I am vice-president.  She gave four separate lectures; I wrote down the particular thoughts that I found most interesting.  There were 47 of them.  I think my notes are pretty accurate.

1. The United States today has the same percentage of immigrants as the country did during the early part of the 20th century.  This is a second transformative period for the country.

2. For Italian immigrants, men outnumbered women.  For Irish immigrants, women outnumbered men.  For Jewish immigrants, the number of males and females were pretty well the same, although they didn’t always come at the same time – often men came first, and then brought their wives over.

3.  There are false narratives associated with Jewish immigration.  First, that pogroms and other violence were the prime reasons for immigration.  Second, that names were changed by officials at Ellis Island.

4.  Jews left Europe primarily for economic reasons because of (a) population growth, (b) change from home production to industrial production, (c) spread of railroads, mail, underwater cables.  Generally, information flow.

5.  The earliest immigration and by percentage the greatest immigration came from Lithuania, because it was the poorest Jewish population, the most overpopulated, and close to railroads and ports.  Lithuanian emigration started in the 1860; immigration from the Ukraine, for example, did not start until the 1910s.  Some Lithuanian Jews went to other places – like South Africa, but also like the Ukraine.

6.  Age of immigrating Jews:  25% under 14, 50% between 15 and 39, 25% over 40.

7.  As Irish women got jobs as housekeepers, Jewish women got jobs in the garment industry.

8.  The poorest Jews did not immigrate; they could not afford to.  The wealthiest didn’t immigrate; there was no reason for them to.  Working class Jews immigrated.  If the poorest Jews, did not immigrate, why are there so many family stories about arriving penniless?  Because they spent all their money to get here.

9.  1/3 of European Jews and Italians left their homes; 1/4 of Irish.

10.  The only study Diner knows about which studied the personal characteristics of those who emigrated was conducted in Norway, in one town.  It found that the emigrants were hard to handle, the deviants, the risk takers.

11.  The most traditional Jews stayed home.  Rabbis sermonized against moving to a trayf land.  The least observant didn’t necessarily immigrate, either; they often left home and moved to the big cities (there was a big increase in city population, and small communities were becoming depopulated).

12.  Immigrants were a big source of money sent back home, so immigration was often good for parents who stayed home.  (Studies in Ireland showed that 1/3 of the money at home came from immigrant remittances.)  When money came home, it liberated the recipients from control of the community welfare agencies.  Remittances also made it possible for other family members to emigrate.

13. Of all European immigrants, 3/5 came to the United States.  Of Jewish immigrants, it was 90%.

14.  The more immigration that took place, the more additional immigration was encouraged, as people came to join people they knew who had already immigrated.

15.  Jewish immigrants were helped by HIAS and the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).

16. The United States was never anti-Jewish.  It was more anti-Catholic, and anti-Radical.  Talk about immigrant “races” started in the 1870s.  The concept that certain “races” were mentally inferior, alcoholics, criminals.  Eugenics became the science of the day; “race” was really referring to “ethnicity”.

17.  Yes, Jews were active radicals, but so were other immigrant groups, as well.

18.  On American forms, Jews were always characterized as “white”, whether the question was of “race” or “color’.

19.  Only about 2% of potential immigrants were returned to Europe for health or other reasons.  Typically, clearance through Ellis Island took about 3 hours.  There were some deported during the Red Scare – but it was just a few thousand.

20.  Historians can’t rely too heavily on memoirs; they tend to get distorted for many reasons.  The same is true for census data which is based on self reporting.  In addition, immigrants often lied on immigration forms – lied about age, occupation, etc.  There was no requirement for most of this period for corroborating documentation.  Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets did a large study of comparing Russian emigration records and American immigration records of 1905, which showed this.

21.  When immigration was basically shut down in the 1920s by Congress, immigration of southern blacks coming north started.  Largely became northern industry had jobs and needed workers.  Similarly, Jewish immigration in significant numbers to Palestine didn’t start until the 1920s, when Jews could no longer immigrate to the US.

22.  Jews in Europe were often middlemen – bringing goods from the farmer or manufacturer to the point of distribution.  But when serfdom was abolished and railroads reached to more places, middlemen jobs were no longer so important.  At the same time, Jewish births were increasing, and early life deaths decreasing.

23.  Originally, the United States had no laws restricting immigrants, and no documentation required of immigrants.  Whoever came and wanted to stay could (although a few states did have anti-pauper laws).

24.  The Constitution gives Congress power over “naturalization”.  In the 1790s, a procedure was established requiring a 2 year residency before one could apply for citizenship, as long as you were free, white, and ___________.  No real laws were passed until the 1880s.

25.  In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.  No more Chinese could enter the country and those already here could not return if they left.

26.  In 1875, the Supreme Court ruled that individual states could not impose immigration taxes.  In 1885, Congress passed a law forbidding indenture or contract labor.  (But there was no enforcement mechanism)

27.  In 1891, the Bureau of Immigration was established, and in 1892 Ellis Island and certain other immigration centers were open (Galveston opened in 1906).  They began to keep records.  Immigrants were often classified by their names (e.g., if you were named Sullivan, you’d be Irish, no matter where you came from).  Immigrants did have to fill out papers, but they weren’t filled out until you reached the U.S., and weren’t checked against anything at first.

28. Because many names had been written in Hebrew/Yiddish or Russia/Cyrillic script, they were spelled in English script for the first time at the immigration letters. Hence, the difference between spellings of the same name.  Various German Jewish organizations  (Hilfverein) were helping Jewish immigrants enter the country, which is why so many names were Germanized (e.g., Rozenblit – in Poland – became Rosenblatt in the US.

29.  In 1892 (?), Congress passed a law prohibiting immigration of convicts, lunatics, idiots or paupers.  In the 1890s, the Immigration Restriction League arose, suggesting there be a literacy test for immigrants (in any language) – it was not passed until 1917, when it also prohibited anarchists.

30.  After 1907, immigrants could not have infectious diseases, or physical or mental disability.  The law that was passed in 1917 (over veto of Pres. Wilson) lists all the undesirables – including political radicals, prostitutes, and all illiterates over the age of 16 (designed against Irish and Italians).  Concern of certain groups destabilizing American society, particularly as ethnic groups already in the United States were beginning to align with their home countries while World War I was raging in Europe.

31.  In 1921, Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, which put a numerical limit on immigrants from various countries, with the Department of Labor setting the numbers, but with overall quotas of 3% of those numbers of particular groups already in the country according to the 1910 census.  (No quotas on anyone from Western Hemisphere, and no admission of Asians) In 1924, modified down to 2% of those in the country as of 1890 census.

32.  These laws also required that prospective immigrants first get visas from consulate offices in their country of origin, along with documentation to prove the accuracy of their background information.  So if you did not have such documentation, or could not get to a consulate, you were left out.  And there were very long waiting lists – in some places, many years.

33.  There was never a “Jewish” quota.  Everything was by country of origin.  But it wasn’t really country of origin, because some of these “countries” didn’t exist in 1890.  Take Poland as an example, which was then in the Russian empire.  So, the government hired all sorts of experts, and the determinations were very complicated, and designed to discourage immigration in general.  For really the first time, the concept of illegal immigration arose.

34.  Because immigration from the western hemisphere was unrestricted, Jews often went to Canada or Mexico, Cuba or Argentina.  Organizations in those places helped them immigrate to the U.S. where, according to the law they were illegal, but they got in and faded into society.  In 1936, there was apparently a law passed that allowed those in the country to go to Canada, reapply, and enter legally

35.  The term “Melting Pot” came into use about 1900 – in part because of Zangwell’s book.

36.  Jewish organizations opposed immigration restrictions generally, on the theory that anything keeping “them” out, could later be used to keep “us” out.

37.  total Jewish immigration 1820-1920 was about 3 million.  (Italians went to S. America as well; Irish to British commonwealth)

38. 1860-1880 time of German Jewish immigration.  It’s the German Jews who set the pattern for American Jewish life.  Between 1820-1870, 250,000 Jews came.  They were “German” but there was no Germany until 1871.  Jews from Moravia, Bohemia, Hungary, etc. all were considered German because they spoke German.  Also, western Poland (Silesia, Posnan), which had been Polish but were taken over by Prussia; many here spoke Yiddish, not German, and lived like in Eastern Europe.  1/6 of the Jews who came during this period came from east of the Elbe River.

39.  These “German Jews” had been middlemen, but the economy was declining; they were mainly young men, who came and started out as peddlers.  This became the nuclear of Jewish shop owners and the garment industry, and some not only sold, but bought old rags.  Most of them were not the German Jews who had been completely Germanized; they were the least Germanized.  They became more Germanized once they got here.

40.  Chain migration.  First the men, then wives, children, parents, siblings, etc.

41. In some places during this period, the number of Jews allowed to marry was limited, so people came here to find a spouse.

42.  The emancipation of Jews in Europe did not lessen Jewish immigration here.

43.  The first rabbi immigrated here in 1840, but there were very few rabbis who came to America.  Those who did come had been influenced by reform in German practice.  But they were unable to interest many in their own customs and practices, and soon it was decided that America must train its own rabbis.  The leaders of Reform Judaism in Germany had no reason to come here.  American Reform grew first in the midwest in part because there was no other form of Judaism established there to provide competition.

44.  Many early American reform congregations bought old churches (often German Jewish women’s organizations raised the money).  The churches were not built for separate sex seating, had no reading stand, and had  a choir loft.

45.  The biggest years for Jewish immigration were  1910-1914.  World War I (1914) and the Russian Revolution (1917) disrupted immigration, as people were stranded.  If a husband came in 1913, his wife might not be able to come for another 10 years.  Much family disruption.  This is why there were so many husbands who disappeared during the 1920s.  There were so many that the National Council of Jewish Women hired Pinkerton Detectives to search them out; this was not successful. A Jewish desertion bureau was also formed.  This was not so much because the wives longed for their husbands, but because they wanted child support.

46.  As compared to other immigrant groups, a greater percentage of Jews stayed in New York City.  This was in large part because of the jobs available in the garment industry.

47.  Very few Jews came because of pogroms, or had ever seen a pogrom.  But after immigration was cut off, organizations who opposed the new immigration restrictions needed arguments to reopen the immigration gates.  And the danger that people would be killed during pogroms was a good issue to make people sympathize with the situation that Jews found themselves in.


My Day: V.S. Naipaul and Me

No, we never met.  Naipaul passed away a few weeks ago.  I read the obituaries – great writer, nasty guy.  OK, that’s true with a lot of writers, it seems.  (And a lot of politicians, but that’s another story).

Last year, when I tried to read a book by as many recent Nobel Literature Prize winners as I could, I read a book by Naipaul, “Half a Life”.  I don’t think it’s one of his best known; but it was the one I found when I rummaged through a used book store.  And I remember that I liked it, although I can’t say that the plot embedded itself very deep in me.  Nor did the plot of “A Bend in the River”, which I just completed.

Now, I can’t say much about the arc of Naipaul’s writing, since these are the only two of his books I have written.  All I can say is that these two books are quite similar, even though “A Bend in the River” was first published in 1979, and “Half a Life” in 2001.

We are dealing with colonial societies, with protagonists who aren’t at home anywhere.  They either never knew their ethnic homeland (“Bend”) or left it at a rather young age (“Life”).  Both were of Indian descent, the one born in East Africa.  Both spent some time in London, but couldn’t quite feel comfortable, even when they had succeeded in their lives to an extent that one would think that comfort was just around the corner.  Both spent time in Africa when colonial rule was overturned, and things becoming more and more dangerous for everyone, and especially for non-black natives.  Each made friends with others who were in similar situations.  Yes the world, for Naipaul in these books, is dangerous, uncomfortable, unsatisfying, changing.  And we are not on the path to better times.  The human condition, at least for the Naipaul characters, major and minor, is not a good one.

“Half a Life” is the story of an Indian of unusual, multi-caste family background who escapes India and goes to London for university, which he does not complete, but who becomes a writer who cannot maintain success, and who marriages a Portuguese African woman, and lives 18 years with her in Africa before he just decides he can’t do it any more; he must live his own life.  “A Bend in the Road” follows an Indian East African who moves to a central African country to run a store, eventually leaves to go to England and, for reasons of his own, returns to Africa and gets caught in revolutionary times.

Are all V.S. Naipaul books like this?


My Day: “RBG”

For weeks (or maybe it’s months), friends have been asking me if I had seen the recent documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, simply called “RBG”.  My answer was always “No”, and the next part of the conversation would be encouragement to see it, because it was a such a wonderful film.

We never did get to the theater to see RBG, but saw when CNN televised the film on Labor Day night.  And I have to say…….that it’s not a bad film.  But I wouldn’t tout it to the skies.  I thought it was OK, but there was really nothing (or not much) in it that I hadn’t known or seen before.

Maybe that’s because I am here in Washington and that I have seen Justice Ginsburg now and then, but even so……..I don’t think it is a great film.

I am also a little put off by the amount of adulation being given to a sitting justice.  And while Justice Ginsburg is described as a modest person, an introvert, someone who did not want too much of the public eye, she is today (and maybe this is a recent change and, if so, it’s a worisome one) having a good time being the center of attention, and that is never a good thing if it means that a sitting justice is playing to the crowd.

Just saying

My Day: Jews in Singapore?

Wikipedia tells me that today there are about 2500 Jews in Singapore, and that this is more than at any other time.  I accept that, and don’t find it terribly surprising.

What I do find surprising is that there was a fellow named David Marshall, who was the first Chief Minister of the island country following the Second World War, when it was transforming itself from a British colony to an independent country.  And that David Marshall was Jewish.

What kind of a name is David Marshall?  Sounds like it should be American, or perhaps English.  English is a better choice, although Marshall’s name was created by his father in Singapore so that it would sound English.  The original name was – not too different –Mashal.  And the family was Iraqi – Marshall’s father came to Singapore in 1900.

The Singapore of 1900 was quite different from the Singapore of today.  It’s population was about 220,000.  Now it is five and one half million.  It was poor.  Now it’s prosperous.  It was a British colony.  Now it’s an independent country.

Colonized by the British in the early 19th century as an important port to protect British interests in India and elsewhere, it remained British until 1963, when it joined Malaysia for two years until its complete independence in 1965.  Ethnically, there has never been, to my knowledge, a group known as Singaporean.  Today, the country is about 75% ethnically Chinese, 13% Malay, and 10% Indian.  It’s 35% Buddhist, 18 percent Christian and 11% Muslim and 11% Taoist.  So, quite a mix.  And within the mix have always been a few Jewish trading families, and some of them have children like David, who aren’t that interested in trade, went to England for their education, and came back a licensed attorney.  And some, like David, were totally devoted to their country and to public service.

David Marshall actually had a difficult time in his early years trying to decide how he was going to lead his life – he became a lawyer, he practiced law, and he left his law practice to go into the military during the Second World War, something he was not obliged to do.  Apparently, the good people of Singapore didn’t think that they would ever be involved in that war.  They were certain that Japan was focused elsewhere, and that the British defense of the island was impenetrable.  They discovered, as the bombs began to fall, that the Japanese did have their eyes on Singapore, and it was the British whose interests lay elsewhere.  Marshall, while in the military, was captured and spent three years as a Japanese POW.

It was the war experience that led Singapore to question its connection with and reliance on Britain, and to push towards independence.  Marshall, without any problems based on his religion or background, was a major participant in all of this, serving as Chief Minister until he was defeated by the man who became the long-term dictator of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.

After his loss, Marshall went back to the practice of law, although he was given public assignments from time to time – including being involved in one of the first trade arrangements entered into by Singapore and Indonesia, and being the head of the first Singaporean delegation to visit Communist China.  China, by the way, was a particularly sensitive place for Singapore, as 75% of the inhabitants of Singapore were of Chinese ethnicity, and China wanted all overseas Chinese to become (or remain) citizens of China, not the countries of their residence.

How did I learn all of this?  By reading “A Sensation of Independence: David Marshall, a Political Biography” by Chan Heng Chee, who once served as the country’s ambassador to the United States.  Filled with detail that I am not going to remember, but which show how complex the political circumstance of Singapore has been, it was an excellent book to give me a sense of the history of the country, and obviously to educate me about David Marshall as well.

My Day: Blackkklansman

Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman” won the jury prize as best film this year at Cannes.  The 230 or so critics whose reviews are posted on Rotten Tomatoes are virtually all in agreement that this is a terrific film (only 9 dissented from that general conclusion).  But only 76 percent of ordinary viewers (like me) rated the film positively.  Count me part of the 24 percent.

That’s not to say that it’s a terrible film.  The story is an interesting one, the acting is by and large very strong (especially, John David Washington, Denzel’s son), and I can’t argue with much of the direction.  But I do have a bunch of problems with Lee’s overall vision for the film.

First, Blackkklansman is based on a true story, and on the memoir of Ron Stallworth, the character played by Washington.  I have not read Stallworth’s book, but I have read some articles written by some who have.  And I see that the story line of the film and the true story line (Rudy Giuliani aside) are miles apart.

OK, as I understand it.  It is true that Stallworth was, in 1979, the first black police officer on the Colorado Springs force.  It is true that the Ku Klux Klan had been active in Colorado at that time (even though the film didn’t make the level of Klan activity very clear).  It is true that  Stallworth was given an undercover role, and surveilled the Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) speech to a local black collegiate organization.  It is true that Stallworth got the idea of infiltrating the Klan, contacted the Klan and unfortunately gave his real name.  It is true that, in order to infiltrate the Klan in person, he had to convince a white police officer to pretend that he was Ron Stallworth.

It is also true that the infiltration was quite successful, thwarted a number of Klan activities, and exposed a number of federal employees (some in sensitive positions) as also being Klan members.

But I don’t think that the romance between Stallworth and the president of the black student organization, and all that transpired as a result of that relationship, was factual.  Nor was it true that the fake Ron Stallworth was Jewish, as he was importantly portrayed in the film.

So the setting was factual, the general premise of the show was factual, but the overall plot was not.  Now to be fair, the movie portrays itself as being “based on” the Stallworth story, and does not claim to accurately reflect what really happened.  But some of the promotional material makes it look like this is a film meant to be a history lesson.

The made up part of the film is not a bad story – but it’s quite a trite one.  The black man becomes part of the “enemy” police; he falls in love with a woman who hates the press and is interested in fighting against the pigs.  The Klan members are a bunch of boobies – not a shred of intelligence or seriousness in any of them. The Klan is a clown show – probably not accurate.  And the film is filled with obligatory scenes – there is a car chase, there is a bomb which goes off, there are attacks against blacks because they are black, and so forth.

And then there are the politics.  Colorado Springs in 1979 is filled, on all sides, with prejudiced people, including many of those who populate the police department.  To a great extent, this reflects America today, I guess.  But is it necessary to stress the point, and to reflect all of the shortcomings of the Trump years, by having a Klan member talk in 1979 about making America great again, or by ending the film with extensive documentary footage from Charlottesville in 2017?  A little hokey, I thought.

So do I recommend the film?  Not really.  It’s not a waste of time…..but you don’t come out of the theater better than when you went in.

My Day: Primo Levi after Auschwitz

Primo Levi, as many know, was an Italian-Jewish chemist and, following his year in Auschwitz, writer.  He was liberated from Auschwitz because, when the Germans abandoned the camp leading the remaining prisoners on what became a death march, Levi and a few others were in the camp hospital (Levi had scarlet fever) and the Germans either forgot about them or purposely abandoned them.

Levi returned to Italy, where he lived until his mysterious death in 1987, when he either committed suicide by jumping into his apartment building stairwell, or he accidentally fell down the stairwell.

Over the last two days, I have read a short book by Levi titled “Moments of Reprieve: A Memoir of Auschwitz”.  This is not his main writing about his time in the concentration camp, but constitutes a series of vignettes – the type you would find in the Metropolitan Diary of the New York Times.  Stories of people he met in Auschwitz who showed a little humanity.  Written 30 or 40 years later. I can’t say that it’s an uplifting book, but it is a humanizing book, and one that avoids the worst of what was happening at the time.  And very well written.


My Day: Chengcheng Yao at Epiphany

Every Tuesday, The Church of the Epiphany in downtown DC hosts a free (or, better, a free will) classical music lunchtime concert. I like to attend whenever I can, but must admit that I have been unable to fit it in my schedule for the past several months.  Finally, yesterday, I was able to come to the concert and see Chinese (Chinese-American) pianist Chengcheng Yao play Czerny (of all people) and Schubert.

The Czerny was a set of variations on a theme by Pierre Rode.  I was totally unfamiliar with it, but it has a very alluring theme, and Yao’s interpretation of it was very enjoyable. The Schubert was the well known Sonata Number 21 in B flat major, a lengthy and repetitive piece with a number of very memorable themes, and a piece that I know fairly well (by my standards).  Yao’s interpretation was well modulated and easy to listen to, intensifying as appropriate.  The standing ovation brought her back for two appreciative bows (but no encores).

I have listened to a few pieces played by Yao on You Tube.  One that I did not listen to is the Schubert sonata that she played.  You may want to try it.

And by the way…….can there be a better name that Chengcheng??

My Day: More on Stacy Keach

I recently came across a copy of actor Stacy Keach’s 2013 memoir, “All in All: An Actor’s Life On and Off the Stage”.  Because I had just seen Keach in his one man Hemingway show, “Pamplona”, at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, I thought the book would be worth reading through.

A few impressions:

First, although I knew that Keach has been acting for a long time, I had no idea how much he has done.  The amount of work, the breadth of that work……mind boggling.

Second, putting aside my amazement as to the scope of his work, I can’t say that I enjoyed reading the book.  Perhaps because Keach has done so much, the book tends to read:  “I did this, and then I did that, and then I did this other thing, and then I reprised this, and then I did a lot of other things”.  Got a bit tedious to read, although my admiration increased page by page.

Third, I was unaware that Keach, who spent some years taking a lot of cocaine, was arrested in 1984 at Heathrow importing cocaine into the UK hidden in a shaving cream tin, convicted, and spent six months in prison, stopping his career for a time.

Fourth, I did not know that Keach has been married four times (and I don’t care), and it seems that he really paid no attention to his first three wives, either when he was married to them or after.  His fourth marriage has been a long one.

Fifth, that Keach has been successful in classical theater, contemporary theater, TV and film.  That he has been in almost 200 films – of every quality, and most genres.  And that he is best known for playing Mike Hammer on CBS (I didn’t even know that he ever played this role, and have no memory of the show).

Sixth, that Keach really does think a lot of himself – even when he discussing the stumbles in his career, and that he thinks he has been underappreciated and that he has not received his share of acting awards.  His book is filled with excerpts of reviews of his work – all laudatory.

While I didn’t think the book was necessarily fun, it is a good reference work, listing so many things that Keach has done during his remarkable career, with some plot and other details of various films and plays, and a lot of his impressions of the many, many well known actors, directors and others with whom he has worked.  On this basis, I do recommend it.