Charlottesville: The long, withdrawing roar

Let’s get this out of the way first: I have no love for the far-right extremists who marched through Charlottesville last week, not least because one of their prime targets is Jews, meaning me. When they go on about Jewish control of the government, media or whatever, what they’re saying is that Jews should be eliminated from this perceived position of power, however that might be accomplished. Not a pretty thought. Having been raised in Alabama in the 1960s, I’ve had plenty of exposure to far-rightists, including the Ku Klux Klan. On one memorable occasion, I was in the car with my brother waiting at a light when we were approached in the middle of the street by a hooded clansman, his hood lifted so as to reveal his face. He came up to the driver’s side, passed me a pamphlet of some kind and moved on, saying, “Y’all have a nice day.” I was struck by the way he maintained the social niceties even as he promoted his racist bile. Evil comes in all packages.

Nevertheless, he and the crowd last week are citizens too. They have every right to march and spew their slime as long as they don’t resort to violence or make specific threats against individuals. They should be allowed to gather, say their say, and leave. Any intimidating behavior on their part should be dealt with forthwith by the authorities. But when opponents scream over them, wield weapons and prevent them from demonstrating peacefully, whatever their views, that is not exercising your freedom of speech; it’s violating theirs. Once they have had their say, you have the floor and can rant and rave and condemn them at your pleasure. And they do not have the right to stop you either. That’s the way it works.

Allowing the other side to speak out doesn’t just protect them. It protects you. I despise the far-left extremists who can’t accept that basic idea. (As it is, the far-left loathing for Israel will lead eventually and inevitably to oppression of Jews as well. So we get it either way. There’s plenty of evidence that this is already happening, like the Chicago lesbian parade in June that ejected lesbians carrying Jewish Pride flags. And given the proven violent tendencies of this group, I find them very scary.)

In any event, preventing citizens from speaking or gathering doesn’t make them disappear or convince them they’re wrong. Better to expose the hateful ideas to the light of day, where they will live or die on their own terms.

It must be said that the social system has been undermined in recent years by the actions of the judicial branch, which is increasingly taking over the role of the sclerotic legislative branch by overturning laws — effectively creating new ones — in areas like same-sex marriage, affirmative action and transgender issues. From the perspective of opponents, why have a vote in the first place? Unless there’s a compelling constitutional rationale (for same-sex marriage, the court cited the “dignity” of gay couples), citizens will feel that their vote is meaningless – that is, democracy has failed them. In addition, the constant harping on race makes permanent villains of innocent bystanders, pushing them into a corner where nothing they can do is right. At some point, that is going to have consequences.

Once faith in the system starts to crack, once people feel that their fate is being taken out of their hands, once the bond among citizens fades, what happens then? We might be seeing the answer in Charlottesville.


Sugimoto Bunraku: The Oil Hell Murder (杉本文楽:女殺油地獄)

  • 杉本文楽:女殺油地獄 (Sugimoto Bunraku: The Oil Hell Murder)

8/13/17 (Sun), Tokyo

This was a second crack at modernized Bunraku by the renowned photographer and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. The first, which I saw almost exactly six years ago, was a fuller-than-usual version of the ever-popular Love Suicide at Sonezaki. That show incorporated scenes that hadn’t been performed in centuries, juggled the usual placement of singers and musicians on stage, and experimented with lighting and (naturally) photographic and video projections, among other innovations. Unfortunately, it fell victim to a hall far too large for a puppet drama, chosen presumably to pay for all that elaborate staging; Sugimoto’s many fans got their money’s worth, but Bunraku fans were left short changed. Still, the staid world of Bunraku can stand some shaking up, and the production had some worthwhile ideas. So I was looking forward to what he would do this time, especially in this smaller, more puppet-friendly theater. He chose another of Chikamatsu Monzaemon’s big hits, which centers on the brutal murder of a young woman by a heavily indebted youth.

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A look back: Pacific Overtures in Tokyo (太平洋序曲)

A look back: Pacific Overtures in Tokyo (太平洋序曲)


(I discovered that an article I wrote back in 2001 for the Sondheim Review (scroll down) is still available online, so I decided to link to it here. I discuss the innovative Tokyo production of the Japan-themed Sondheim musical Pacific Overtures, which later moved to Broadway in both Japanese and English versions. The latter was doomed by a poor choice of venue, though it did win a Tony nomination for Best Revival. Here are my thoughts on its Tokyo debut.)

The idea of a Tokyo production of Pacific Overtures has something of a Victor/Victoria quality about it: a Japanese production of an American musical about the Japanese reaction to the arrival of Americans in Japan.

This is not quite like bringing a Japanese “Pearl Harbor Memories” to Honolulu, but it is true that the momentous changes that Commodore Perry’s arrival helped foment, a quaint story for Americans, are a vital part of the Japanese national identity. Indeed, many of the events and characters portrayed in the show – Japan’s self-imposed isolation from the world, Manjiro, the Tokugawa shogunate, the Meiji revolution and its consequences – are as familiar to any Japanese schoolchild as George Washington and the Revolutionary War are to Americans.

Even so, this is different from Americans enjoying a production of 1776. Because the show was written by Americans for American audiences, the different perspective makes a Japanese production a challenge in some unexpected ways. In October [2001], in a production directed by Amon Miyamoto, Pacific Overtures was given its Japanese premiere at The Pit, a 342-seat space in Tokyo’s New National Theatre.

It was an unquestioned critical and popular triumph for Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, who attended the final performances, as well as the Japanese creative staff.

Moreover, it certainly shed new light on the show. Watching “Someone In A Tree,” the first-act song about varying perspectives, I had a sudden image of Harold Prince in a tree and Miyamoto under the floorboards, both looking at the script. In any event, judging from the video of the original Broadway production and the text (used in Tokyo) of the off-Broadway version, I can say that the Japanese show is a radical rethink.

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All Nudity Shall Be Punished (禁断の裸体)

  • 禁断の裸体 (All Nudity Shall Be Punished)

4/18/15 (Sat), Tokyo

150418kindan1 I knew nothing at all about this play, but the poster art was eye-catching, to say the least, and a bit of research indicated that it was a famous (or infamous) show by one of Brazil’s best known playwrights, Nelson Rodrigues. It also starred the great Shinobu Terajima, who was so memorable in the film Caterpillar, and Seiyo Uchino, a well known stage actor. Tickets were hard to come by, which made me all the more curious to see it. I wasn’t able to find much information on the show, so I had no idea what I was getting myself into.   Continue reading

Hamlet (NT Live)

  • Hamlet (NT Live)

8/3/17 (Thurs), Tokyo

An encore showing of the Barbican production, filmed by the National Theatre people. This Hamlet had broken records not only on stage but in its NT Live incarnation at movie theaters two years ago thanks to the popularity of megastar Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead. While I don’t get the sex symbol thing at all, he was excellent as the monster in the NT’s Frankenstein some years back (also a sellout here in Tokyo), and I’m impressed at any TV/film star who’s willing to put himself out there in a challenging role like this.  Continue reading

A look back: Tokyo’s Prince of Broadway

A look back: Tokyo’s Prince of Broadway

I see they’re going ahead with Prince of Broadway, the long-aborning retrospective of producer/director Harold Prince’s estimable career in the theater. While noting (and hoping) that the show may have been dramatically transformed since then, I recall that the preliminary version that played in Tokyo in October 2015, reviewed here, was mainly a succession of I-produced-this-I-directed-that musical scenes plucked from his various shows and recreated with little or no context. It was like a Wikipedia entry on stage, a list of disembodied names and songs. As I noted then:

The numbers are nearly all famous songs presented with costumes and scenery reminiscent of their shows but no background whatsoever. So we get an old guy with a milk cart wishing he were rich, a painted emcee welcoming us to a nightclub, a woman in a chair pouting about clowns, a gravelly voiced woman who wants to propose a toast, a man in a prison cell babbling about dressing up mannequins, and so forth. Not remotely interesting to anyone who doesn’t know these shows and songs…and not particularly interesting to me, a big musical buff who’s seen this all before.

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