The Elephant on Broadway

Try as we might, we can’t get away from the elephant in our country.

You know what I mean.  Or whom.

Not only is it Trump this or Trump that, it’s how will we fight Trump, what will happen if we don’t defeat Trump or, my favorite at the moment – um please, we have a rule tonight, there is no talking about Trump.

On that latter point in my house:

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Of course, the latter is misguided for so many reasons.   But mostly because even when you don’t talk about IT, it’s there, lurking beneath the surface, ready to rear it’s ugly head just when you thought you’d put it to bed.

Not unlike the trauma you buried from your childhood or the pretending you do every time you toss off that rehearsed carefree smile at your ex.

Or the murderous rage you suppress whenever the driver in the car in front of you is going 3 mph because they’re texting.

Or the searing pit of bile bubbling up in your stomach when that person in the market, elevator or treadmill next to you speaks as loudly on their phone as NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio did on the stage at the first Democratic debate this past week.

Point being that totally ignoring a problem only makes IT bigger and you smaller.

Last week I snuck off to NYC for a few days to ostensibly forget the Trump of it all.  I did this by paying what would amount to the price of a small used car for orchestra tickets to three of the hottest shows on Broadway.

Think of this as the gay male equivalent of binge eating with a chaser of middle-aged entitlement because I deserved to see the original casts of this year’s big Tony Award winners since the world is shitty, I’m getting older and who knows how many years I or any of the rest of us have left.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: HAPPY GAY PRIDE 50, everyone!!!!!!!

Cheers Queers!

In any event, and to be more specific, another way to put this is that I sat front and center for: 

Hadestown, To Kill A Mockingbird, and Oklahoma!

Yes, they were all truly brilliant, a word I hate to use but find that when it applies there is no other.

Yet what I found even more surprising is that while these three shows couldn’t be more different – certainly they were all written decades, even centuries apart – they all, in their very artistically eclectic ways, very much addressed exactly the same subject:

Trump/IT and Trump America.

Hadestown is about making a pact with the Devil for your soul in order to get what you want.  But in this case the Devil is a con man AND a BUILDER who seduces you into believing he will take care of you and, once he owns you, does anything but.

His suits fit a little better

Since it’s based on a Greek myth they call him Hades but when you watch it, well,  you will likely feel the urge to substitute….oh, some contemporary name of your choice.

Especially when during the first act curtain song entitled “Why We Build A Wall” at the Friday night performance you attend you realize Hillary Clinton is sitting directly in front of you three rows to your left. (Note: #Swear2God/Hillary).

Let’s just say I experienced a range of emotions

Then there’s To Kill A Mockingbird, a story about a 1930s southern white small town lawyer who deeply believes in justice and yet just as deeply sympathizes with the enraged, poor, white working class neighbors all around him who feel like they never get justice and have been left behind by the system for far too long.

A very different Atticus

So much so that he agrees to defend a young man of color for a crime he clearly didn’t commit knowing FULL WELL that said system and his neighbors could NEVER convict him, and certainly wouldn’t KILL (nee lynch) him, when all rational EVIDENCE points to the contrary.

This brings us to Oklahoma!, a show we mostly know as the vintage Technicolor movie musical of the same name about the infinite joys of the American heartland.  (Note:  Oh, come on – Surrey With The Fringe On Top??  Oh What A Beautiful Morning????).

Who knew all this time that what this story was really telling us was how quickly the people inhabiting our heartland would turn their backs, and very American guns, on the most unfortunate among them and literally erase them with their own bullets when they are unable to make lemonade out of the very real sour lemons life has handed them – AND jump for all the joy in America while doing it.

More like WOKE-lahoma!

If it seems all three of these are of a theme simply because my taste verges on the, well… angry, timely and political – not really. (Note:  Though, admittedly, yes they do).

I had to be dragged to Oklahoma!, a show I never liked or related to in the least, kicking and screaming.  Nor was I at all interested even a little in Greek mythology or up to revisiting the racism of the Depression era south by way of The West Wing.

At least initially.

Proving once again that every seemingly distant, dystopic time period produces valuable work that in some way (okay many ways) directly reflects what’s going in the streets and hearts of those inhabiting it… and well beyond.  Because if done particularly right a handful of these works will live on and the truth of their stories will get reimagined and reinterpreted in countless forms as both an artistic expression and, perish the thought, teaching tool and salve for future generations.

And they will seem as timely as hell while doing it even when, in the case of Oklahoma!, not one single word has been changed.

ummm.. what?

How can this be????

Because especially great art comes out of experience, passion, pain and point of view.  And paying attention.  Often it’s born from the ashes of despair or a twisted take about that which deep down sticks in our craws, inflames us and/or seeks to destroy us.

A very wise mentor once told me early on that there are only a handful of stories out there – it’s all in the way you tell them and just how much truth you are telling.

Amen!

As artists, and for that matter, citizens, we reconfigure our handful of stories with dark and light magic that not only reflects the contemporary world around us but is also informed by it.

To watch these events then play out on a stage after they’ve played out in life, or even in the political arena, at a time when all we want to do is to turn away, is one way to know that —

1. We are not alone

and

2.  The recipe for catharsis is never to live in a pretend world.

Rather it is to face our demons (aka reality) en masse through another set of eyes able to express it differently.  It’s through that very kind of  group camaraderie that we can  go from desperately hopeless to happily hopeful in the space of just a few hours.

2019 Mashup from Oklahoma 

A Tribe Called…

A 2010 gray Dodge Challenger registered to and driven by a 20 year-old Ohio white man at a white supremacist/Neo Nazi rally on Saturday barreled into a crowd and mowed down more than 20 people, killing at least one.

Those white supremacists and Neo-Nazis demonstrated the night before in front of a black church in Charlottesville, Virginia – yelling out the phrases “blood and soil.” This was a Nazi chant – about purity of blood and an ownership of land in the country one was born into.

Torch bearing white supremacists. This is 2017.

The problem is America is a nation of immigrants and no one other than Native Americans were born here. This country is not by birth or ownership inherently white. It is, as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe stated on Saturday afternoon, an ever-evolving “mosaic.”

A few hours after the violence on Saturday, Electoral College POTUS Trump said it was time to heal and that for a long time there has been “hatred, bigotry and violence — on many sides.”

Say whaaaaaat? #twilightzone #TrumpAmerica

Well, actually, not in this case.

These demonstrators, with helmets, sticks, bats and loaded rifles, weren’t doing civil disobedience. They were doing intimidation. And at least one or more did domestic terrorism by getting into a car and using it as a lethal weapon.

All of this because the local city council voted to take down a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee – the Civil War military man who led the Confederacy fight to, among other things, preserve slavery.   Yup, more than 150 years after the defeat of the South and General Lee, a group of American representatives decided that it was finally time to take away the very public honorarium to a man warring in order to preserve the rights of wealthy white landowners to own and beat (and if they wanted to, kill) brown African humans at will.

Bet they are real proud of themselves #toolittle #toolate

What is this world coming to?

Let’s stop pretending that Trump’s qualifiers like on many sides aren’t in the same family as his racist dog whistles of bad hombres and people who come here who don’t speak English and that all of them aren’t a strategy to anything more than this:

A re-whitening of America through government mandated exclusion based on race.

Let’s also refrain from the make believe that his proposed mandate to ban transgender people from the military is anything more than homophobic hate support to mollify those who believe LGBT people don’t have the same rights to their country that they do.

And while we’re at it, let’s additionally not naively believe that because Trump has a Jewish son-in-law and a daughter who converted to Judaism – or a few Black people in his cabinet – that he won’t specifically malign and attack Blacks, Jews or any other race or religion as a whole if a particular member of that group publicly speaks out against him or disobeys a particular type of behavior (nee proposed edict) he wants normalized.

The garden is blooming

To qualify or allow for racism and hate is to lie down with it. To whit – the night before the guy in Charlottesville used the car to plow into the crowd – several hundred other white supremacists and neo-Nazis also assembled on a nearby University of Virginia quadrangle, shouting:

You will not replace us, Jew will not replace us.

When your chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is a man who ran a vast media platform admittedly for the alt right – an invented polite word for white supremacists and Neo-Nazis – and your deputy assistant in the White House is Sebastian Gorka – a man who openly wears a medal from a Nazi-linked Hungarian group to your inauguration – there’s not much left to be said. This is because you’ve already said it by NOT SAYING anything about whom you’re associating yourself with and what you’re enabling.

This reference never gets old.

Tribalism is not pretty but to some extent we’re all guilty of it. Meaning – we are all a part of something even if we don’t want to be or forever, to the nth degree, choose to be. This starts with family and continues or discontinues up or down depending on your point of view.

This week I found myself binge-watching all three seasons of Amazon’s acclaimed series Transparent. Yeah, you’d think I’d have seen it already and been a big fan.

I mean, I’m a gay Jewish guy from a family with more than its share of scandals and the fictional Pfeffermans in Transparent are a scandal-ridden Jewish family with not only a transgender patriarch but two lesbian sisters (well, maybe bi but one leaning far towards lesbian).

the real “modern family”

Still – full confession – after watching the pilot when it first appeared three years ago – there was something about this family that I SO DID NOT want to be a part of. I mean, they were too selfish, too neurotic and way too privileged for my taste. I mean, I grew up middle to lower-middle class and knew exactly who these people were despite the gay and the Jewish parts of them. They were the very people that, all through my life, annoyed the hell out of me. And looked down on me. I mean, I couldn’t..can’t…bear people like them.

Well, suffice it to say I was WRONG.

Because to some extent, yeah — they are me – or parts of me – no matter how much I may have wanted to run away from it.

Pretty much.

There is something about their cultural Jewishness – even with them being from affluent Pacific Palisades and me from middlebrow Flushing, Queens – that was undeniable in the bagels and shmeers and overwrought over-intellectualizing.   My family may have been far less outrageous sexually (well, that I know of) but we made up for it with other outrages of taboo behavior that I will save for another time.

As for neurosis, privilege and sheer self-involvement, they slowly became only a mere artistic exaggeration of behavior I had always known, too often exhibited and too often chose to forget, the more I watched. This was my reality, no matter how much I didn’t ever want it to be. And I sort of loved them for it, and in spite of it.

Now I’m not saying Trump or anyone in his White House should take a hard look at Saturday’s alt right (ahem) Neo Nazi demonstration of death and embrace that part of them the way I’ve done with the Pfeffermans. First of all, that analogy wouldn’t be fair to the Pfeffermans, even though I’m sure at least one of them would think nothing of pushing the same metaphor, and even worse, on you about me if they were real and I was fictional.

ahem…. Ali

What I am proclaiming is that each and every one of us – from every possible family and ethnic group there is – every last one of us – do that work for each and every last one of them. Make the analogy, claim the metaphor and push daily the very truth we see before our eyes in the White House and its association with the alt right/white supremacist/Neo-Nazi groupthink.

Trump rose to power and is now the president of American racism and Neo-Nazi/white supremacist behavior. So it behooves us all – every last one of us – who do not want this to continue to be our familial reality – to speak out against IT. Every day. Maybe even more than once a day. Before we no longer have the chance to safely do so.

Cher – “Half Breed”