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Tag Archives: 1950s

First They Came For The Poor Women

women

Wisconsin is imprisoning pregnant women who admit to using drugs. This is being done under the guise of “protecting the fetus.” Before we discuss how stressful and unwholesome prison life is for a fetus(!) let us be crystal clear; we’re only talking about women who admit to using drugs of which the court does not approve. We are not talking about psychotropic medication or even prescription pain medication. What is really at issue is that illegal drugs are being used. It is not clear that there is any medical data that even posits let alone confirms that illegal drugs are more damaging to a fetus than prescription drugs. But what is clear is that vulnerable and/or poor women are an easy target.

There is no ignoring, no matter how hard the media tries, that women’s reproductive rights are dissolving in front of our eyes. Bit by bit access to health care and choice is slipping away, particularly for the poorest women in this country. It might not be an organized and coordinated effort but there’s definitely a sophisticated marketing machine at work. Who is going to argue with “protecting the fetus?” It’s right up there with “it’s for the children” or the flag, motherhood and apple pie. Treacly sentiment aside, no one is interested in protecting the fetus. If they were there would be free and excellent healthcare for all reproductive aged women. Nobody would be poor and/or hungry in this country either. Every woman would have a safe wholesome environment in which to gestate and raise her children. There would be no slums, or crime-ridden housing developments. Violence against women and children would be treated like the hate crime it is. In short, it wouldn’t be such a lousy world to be a woman or a child.

We live in a society that screams on the top of its lungs about the unborn, but doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass once they arrive. Everyday children go hungry, are neglected and abused and have access to weapons, alcohol and drugs. Every year another batch of children fall through the public education cracks and don’t graduate high school, or worse, graduate illiterate. Fifty years ago we waged a war on poverty in this country and we lost. We now are in the midst of a long drawn out war against women. It is not a coincidence that this attack is occurring as women make groundbreaking progress in almost every traditionally male bastion. Women must shake off the Barbie mantel that’s been thrust upon them in recent years. We need to shift our focus from physical perfection, put down all things pink and pick up this fight. We must recognize media pandering (e.g., television channels, websites, and merchandising directed to women, as if we were a separate species) for what it is, offensive and distracting. Creating women centric genres could be positive if the ones being created weren’t so damn insipid. The “chicklit” section in your chain bookstore are not shelves filled with; Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir, Shirley Chisholm and Our Bodies Ourselves. Nope. It’s shelves of light romantic “beach” reading. The television channels and (the majority) of websites designed for women are not for anything remotely serious (or even good.) There has been a steady pervasive patronizing campaign underway as women’s rights have been chipped away. Color me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t believe it’s a coincidence.

We needn’t lose our sense of humor or even stop enjoying a good An Affair To Remember viewing. But we do need to resist buying into the 1950s model of womanhood we’re being sold. We have become a serious threat to those in traditional power positions. A woman came this close to being the democratic nominee for President! If that doesn’t scare the pants off the status quo I don’t know what does. We cannot tolerate the chipping away of our progress. We may not feel that a pregnant Wisconsin woman in handcuffs has much to do with us or is a feminist issue, but we’d be very very wrong. They are coming after her because they can. First it’s the poor and disenfranchised, that’s the way it always works. Those women who do have a voice must use it. We must recognize that the Spanx, push-up bras, Botox, and body sculpting are the corsets, garters and pointy bras of the 1950s. Those instruments of torture, popularized after women took men’s jobs during World War II, are a symbol of something insidious afoot. This is not a call for bra burning (heaven forbid!) but merely an urging to recognize what we’re being sold and how it’s being used to distract us from a much more serious issue.

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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

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The Endurance Of No-Neck Monsters

intermission

The squalling band of no-necked monsters in Tennessee William’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof makes their presence known. They screech and howl and run amok in an attempt to get on our very last nerve. And oh what a fine job they do. They evoke a mental “get the hell off the stage” audience response. They are to Cat what the Save the Soul mission band is to Guys and Dolls: a loud grating interruption of what we came to see. And that is the point. We are to experience those no-neck monsters, as do the primary adult characters. Their mother is a familial terrorist and her children are her weapons. It is a testament to Mr. Williams that his monsters still horrifying in the 21st century.

The 1950s (when Cat On A Hot Tin Roof was written) was a period known for “seen but not heard” children. Adults enjoyed a post-war life and children had their place, and that place was often upstairs in their rooms. Children were introduced to adults (whom they called by their surname) and were ushered out of the room/party. The manners and behavior of a child was a direct reflection of the parent. The fifties were nothing if not the exaltation of propriety. Manners and appearances mattered (which goes a long way in explaining girdles and white gloves.) For children this manifested itself in a clear understanding of limits. Adults belonged to the world and knew best. It was a frustrating but secure paradigm in which to grow.

Just imagine the shock of the 1950s adult (children did not attend the theatre) audience upon seeing those no-necked monsters. Those grating little characters were hauled out and scattered like confetti on a parade. There they are playing Dixie at the airstrip to greet Big Daddy (who reacts with the same horror/disgust of the audience.) There they are “performing” at Big Daddy’s birthday party to which adult friends have been invited. (Big Daddy voices our wishes and asks for an intermission.) There they are barging into bedrooms and demanding adults engage in play. And there they are repeating hateful remarks to their aunt. It’s enough to evoke a gasp. That it still does that today is remarkable.

Children are not sequestered today. In fact if anything the world has become theirs and adults are seen but not heard. Adults can often not be heard over the din of children in restaurants, theatres, museums and funerals. Babies and children are not so much integrated into adult lives, as adults are integrated into the lives of children’s. We’ve created retail empires for babies and children. Broadway has discovered the steady income stream of children and the white way is dotted with flying people and talking teapots. Infants and children unfamiliar with the term “indoor voices” are dining out at 7:00, 8:00 and even 9:00 PM. They don’t shy from the highest end restaurants either. A simple dress code of: No Pull-Up Pants would put an end to that; but we digress. The point is that the world has changed tremendously since Mr. Williams created those no-neck monsters. Yet they still have the power to horrify. That is partly due to the scenic background of their terrorizing. They are clearly in an adult environment. The house in which they are running rampant is stately; there is no great room, there are no toys. It is clearly adult space.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is about living and dying and truth telling. The struggles within and between the characters are fascinating. The children are a reflection of the vulgarity of their parents: Gooper and Mae (the least interesting characters in the play.) The no-neck monsters’ antics threaten to get in our way as we try to learn about the adults. But by the middle of the play they are gone. Put to bed (or out to pasture); they are gone and that’s when things get really interesting.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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Lemon Sky – Review

Lanford Wilson’s Lemon Sky has been revived by the Keen Company and is playing at Theatre Row.  This play is considered the most autobiographical of Mr. Wilson and was last revived in 1985.  The play, told in flashback and predominantly set in the late 1950s, is the story of a brief reunion between a father and son.  Directed by Jonathan Silverstein, this very lovely play falls a bit short of brilliant.  There are some beautifully directed and acted moments, but there is also a small collection of distractions.

Our narrator, Alan (Keith Nobbs) is brimming with charisma and poignancy (I found him much more in his element than I did in Lombardi.)  His narration, and at times the drama, is intentionally self-conscious, a device considered quite novel in 1970.  (Narration and self-consciousness is now mainstreamed into reality television.)  The role of Alan needs to be entirely captivating and ingratiating, and in Mr. Nobbs he most definitely is.  While Mr. Nobbs does indulge in a small amount of Ferris Bueller interpretation, I found this less distracting than I did illuminating (I had not realized how effeminate Ferris Bueller was.)  Alan slips gracefully in an out of the narrator role and insinuates himself into the household drama.  A lengthy bus trip has delivered Alan (from Nebraska to San Diego) to the home of his estranged father Doug (Kevin Kilner.)  Mr. Kilner’s interpretation of a, not very likable Doug, is simply wonderful.  It would have been an easy one-dimensional portrayal, but Mr. Kilner goes deep.  He gregariously welcomes his heretofore ignored teenage son into his new family.  His light and cautious wife Ronnie (Kellie Overbey) is an eager step-mother, quick with the party line and a cup of coffee.  The household is rounded out by Ronnie and Doug’s two sons (a fabulous Zachary Mackiewicz as Jack and the older Logan Riley Bruner as Jerry) and two foster daughters (Penny, brilliantly portrayed by Amie Tedesco, and Carol, portrayed by Alyssa May Gold.)

The characters, their interactions and dialogue are drawn so realistically.  While we suspect what’s coming at every turn, the discovery is not really the point.  The point is how people connect, or disconnect, and what stories they tell themselves along the way.

This production has enormous potential, but falls just a bit short.  When mounting a small ensemble production, it is imperative that the onstage talent is in balance.  This is simply not the case with this production.  Eldest child Mr. Bruner is a very self conscious child actor.  Had he been the only child, one would chalk it up to child blindness (for some reason, casting directors often can not discern talent in children, going for appearance only) but Mr. Bruner is paired with the excellent Zachary Mackiewicz.  Ms. Gold is awkward and ill at ease, playing the fragile, potentially fascinating Carol with an extreme heavy hand.  Adding to this distraction is the fact that Ms. Gold is simply not the right physical type for this role.  She is not done any favors with the costume padding and “bump-it” hairstyling device.  Carol’s costuming doesn’t hit the right note any more than the set does.  Doug works third shift in a factory, the mortgage is paid with the foster child allotment.  There is no way that their home would be furnished with such obvious 1950s items.  Furniture was expensive back then, and new furniture would not have been within reach for a working class family.

Distractions aside, this is a very good play and a fine production.  If the past is any indication of the future, it does not get produced often.  For this reason, I encourage you to see it.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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