Volume 3, Number 40
"There's a Jewish story everywhere"
FROM THE SIDELINESLieberman's Arab views cancel his religious issues appeal
JERUSALEM—Though I find the politics of Kadima much more congenial than many of its alternatives, I’ve never been convinced that its leader Tzipi Livni has what it takes to be Prime Minister. Though she seemed to have been a competent Foreign Minister, it must be remembered that in reality foreign affairs are largely conducted by the Prime Minister. Her performance on election night, when she proclaimed herself as the next Prime Minister without doing her electoral sums, suggests that she tends to peak far too early.
JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE
JERUSALEM—When the leaders of Rabbinical Assembly planned its international convention in Jerusalem I am sure they had no idea that it would take place during an Israeli election. Being here during this special time gave us a unique opportunity to observe the Israeli political process close up. To say that it is messy would be an understatement!
Unlike the United States, which has two main political parties, Israel has a multitude. Voters do not opt for individual candidates, but rather slates of candidates advanced by the individual parties. The Knesset is formed according to the percentage of votes each party receives. For example, if a party receives 50% of the votes it would have 60 representatives (out of a total of 120) in the Knesset.
Unfortunately, no single party has every received a majority of Knesset seats so the party chosen by the President of Israel (usually, but not necessarily, the one receiving the largest number of votes) tries to form a coalition with other parties to insure that 61 Knesset members will support proposed legislation.
At best this is difficult. After these elections it will be nearly impossible. No single party received enough votes to give it an unequivocal mandate. Furthermore, the parties that received the largest numbers of votes in many ways have opposing agendas. Kadima, which favors pursuing an aggressive peace process with the Palestinians, received 28 Knesset seats. Likud, which is much more right wing and lukewarm to cold on a two state solution, received 27 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu, which favors a two state solution but wants to require Israeli Arabs to sign a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish State, received 15 seats. Labor, traditionally more left wing and at one time the favorite party of the majority of Israelis, dropped down to 13 seats.
Even though Kadima won the largest number of seats, the right wing parties as a whole outnumber it. However, many of the right wing parties are smaller religious parties with their own agendas, and it is difficult seeing how a coalition that contains them would be stable in the long run. It would seem the best thing for the state would be a national unity government which includes Kadima, Likud, and Labor, which overall have more centrist agendas than the other parties. However, politics and egos may make such a coalition impossible. It may be several weeks before it is known if and how a new government will be formed.
Yet for all of the problems of its electoral system, Israel is a democracy and will weather the current state of affairs. Unlike some of its neighbors, Israel elections are open, transparent, and free of violence. Whatever the coalition that emerges will be we can expect that Israelis
IMAGE AND REALITY—Former President Bill Clinton's image was projected to over 1,700 luncheon guests at the Manchester
Hyatt Hotel in San Diego, where he addressed delegates to the International Franchise Association. As seen by a comparison
of his expression and that on the screen, there was a slight delay in the projection. (Photos by Donald H. Harrison)
THE JEWISH CITIZEN
That might help explain the reasons several theatre companies have chosen, as part of their scheduling, to mount something that can take our minds off the financial mess we are in if but for a few hours, make us laugh and forget about what’s going on outside the theatre. After all, most of us live within the conformities of our society, but in the make believe world of the movies and stage plays we can escape for a time and live vicariously through the actors.
As part of the 2009 subscription series at Moonlight’s Avo, in Vista they are staging Moon Over Buffalo. South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa is currently mounting Noises Off and Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado just opened its current season with the zany comedy Room Service by Allen Boretz and John Murray. According to Lamb’s Artistic Director Robert Smyth, the schedule was planned in 2008. That’s either perfect foresight or just plain good timing!
But how apropos it is to be staging a farce about a theatre company on the verge of going under if it doesn’t get funding in time for it to open? How timely is it for the cast of this imaginary, soon-to-be defunct company to be thrown out on its collective rear ends if the hotel bill (The White Way Hotel) the 22 or so actors have accrued isn’t paid?
How fitting is it for those very same executives to be counting on a bailout from an unknown moneybags bigwig or financial backer as they prefer to be called? And finally how coincidental is it for all of this to be happening in 1937 depression era New York? The play was then staged by George Abbott and produced by Sam Levine. Abbott happened to be in San Diego when The Old Globe staged Damn Yankees which later went on to New York. He was in his 90’s then.
Welcome to the Lamb’s Players Theatres’ production of Room Service.
Room Service, ‘in its original version ... ran on Broadway for 500 performances and led to a succession of Hollywood screenwriting offers for the pair’. In 1938 the film version was released starring Lucille Ball and the Marx Brothers.
Murray and Boretz knew their subject matter. .Murray worked as lyricist, composer and playwright writing songs and sketches for musicals revues, radio and television. He was head writer for the Eddie Cantor and Phil Baker radio shows. He was a playwright and screenwriter and an active member of ASCPA, Dramatists Guild and the American Guild of Authors and Composers. His songs and sketches were included in popular musical revues like Sing for your Supper and Straw Hat Revue. In the ‘40’s some of his musical contributions were included in the Ziegfield Follies.
Boretz, the songwriting son of Moishe and Hanna Boretz, was born in 1900. He began his career in the Tin Pan Alley era and later wrote Broadway revues for publisher Billy Rose. Beyond Room Service he wrote The School Teacher, Off to Buffalo and The Hot Corner. He also wrote the musical adaptation of Room Service (Step Lively) starring Frank Sinatra. He was a good moving target for the anti-Semite Joe McCarthy who led the witch-hunt in the U.S. Senate looking for Communists under every bed. In the 1950’s, Boretz was blacklisted by the House Committee Un-American Activities, which ended his career even though he continued to write. His last film was Tonight We Sing. Both Boretz and Murray were Jewish.
One of the few notes I managed to jot down during the opening night production recently was a reference to the name of the hero in the play within the play, Godspeed, whose name was Conrad which, according to the popular Senator Blake (David Cochran Heath in one his many wonderful roles as hotel owner in Room Service) should be changed to Joe because of its similarity to the word Comrade.
Something I learned early on in my theatre reviewing days is that the less said about the details in a farce, the better. There is so much going on that even trying to explain the craziness happening on stage to an interested party is like trying to explain the new Stimulus Bill just passed by the Senate. That might even be easier.
It’s important in farce to have at least four doors. Scenic designer Mike Buckley has the required four doors including a closet door, which when opened (as it is often) showing a selection of period suits (Jeanne Reith) overcoats and other sundries and a bathroom door with a shower curtain seen from my vantage which was diagonally across the stage. There is a hotel room door and another door off to the side that supposedly sidesteps any confrontation with those coming out of the elevator. Make no mistake, when any of those doors is opened or closed, it is done with a hearty BANG! reinforcing the need for immediacy.
Opposing cast of characters:
The cast of characters is like the set of clowns in Stephen Sondheim’s "Send In the Clowns” ballad from A Little Night Music. “Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair? Me here at last on the ground, You in mid-air. Where are the clowns?” The conflict of the two opposing forces both traveling in opposite fast lanes on a collision course, is the essence of farce.
Gordon Miller (Jon Lorenz is convincing) is the director of this new play “Godspeed” by the young and naïve playwright, Leo Davis (Dan Amos) whose hometown of Oswego is one of the running jokes. Miller is in dire need of backup money to move the show along and pay his bills; his brother-in-law Joseph Gribble (Lance Arthur Smith) is conned into and allows the entire theatre group to eat, sleep and rehearse at the failing hotel at the risk of sending the director of the hotel, Gregory Wagner’s (John Rosen) blood pressure through the roof.
His hope is that the money from a backer or backers will come in time for the bills to be paid before Wagner gets wind of what’s going on. The plot, of course is to see who gets whom to say chicken first without killing each other before play's end.
Robert Smyth’s direction is straight to the point and with his cast of, for lack of a better phrase, a discombobulated group of actors, directors and wannabe actors, hotel managers, love interests and all others vying for the same piece of the action in this very large hotel suite the play moves at hurricane, if not frenzied speed.
Timing, speed and reoccurring gags are key elements in farce. David Cochran Heath who plays at least four different characters in Room Service is a pro with each character he assumes. In one of the funniest exchanges, Heath who is a waiter in the play claims to be an acclaimed actor from Russia. To prove his point to Miller, his character, Sasha, pulls out a review of a part he played in Uncle Vanya in Russia and begins to babble in a foreign language. He also plays a bill collector, the Senator and a bank messenger.
Lance Arthur Smith and John Rosen play well off one another as boss and subordinate. Smith has the look and the body language to pull it off as does Rosen whose job it is to be the spoiler who takes no prisoners. Danny Campbell is perfectly hilarious as Dr. Glass, the hotel doctor, who at the end of a trying night of being gagged and tied up by Faker Englund (Jason Heil does good yeoman work as a sidekick and assistant to Miller) and Harry Binion (Kürt Norby is gruff looking as the director of the play) struts off telling manager Wagner to remove his advertisement from the elevator walls, as he will be resigning as hotel doctor.
Both of the female characters, Sara Zimmermann as Christine Marlow and Elizabeth Pennington as Hildy Manney are window dressing for the rest of the all male ensemble. Dan Amos is youthful looking enough to be just out of high school and missing his mother left behind in Oswego and Ralph Johnson is a hoot as Simon Jenkins a surrogate for the wealthy Zachary Fiske.
Room Service is a juicy little slice of history for those interested in the back-story of both show business and the political climate of the early twenties. It contains references to the financial woes of the common man, and the complexities of putting on a Broadway Show and making money from it. It is also a chance to see what the making of a farce really looks like through the eyes of the two talented men who penned this work.
It’s worth a try. Room Service continues through March 22 at the theatre in Coronado.
See you at the theatre.
Critic Davis may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
After identifying myself, I asked her: “So, Janet, tell me what you’ve been doing these last 45 years?” Which eventually led to “Janet, do you remember the dances at the JCC?”
“The JCC!” she said, “we were all so jealous - you were the only girl who got asked to dance. Everyone was so shy. No one ever got asked to dance but you and that one boy who just loved dancing with you.”
Well, Janet, not quite……
The stores were almost entirely Jewish owned. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, beauty salons and tax preparers operated out of the basements of their homes. The several dress shops kept track of who bought which dress for which wedding, Bar/Bas Mitzvahs (we didn’t say Bat Mitzvah in those days). No matter what the weather, the bakery always kept its door open. People walking by or waiting on the corner for the bus couldn’t resist the smell of the freshly baked bread (rye, challah, pumpernickel sliced by the teeth of a hand cranked contraption), bagels, salt sticks, Kaiser rolls, cinnamon buns and rugelach.
Even my public school was ninety percent Jewish and taught by mostly Jewish public school teachers. On Yom Kippur the school was virtually empty – I always felt sorry for the Christian children who still had to attend that day. Despite pleading with their parents to allow them to stay home, Christian parents simply weren’t convinced that Yom Kippur was an official school holiday – but to their credit the kids kept trying. However, while we got the day off (and several other Jewish holidays too) - we also were ipso facto eliminated from the “Most Perfect Attendance Award” contest.
The only real contact we had with the larger Christian community was the lineup of proselytizers who stood on our main street and tried to talk to the children on their way from public school to Hebrew School. We turned resolutely away – knowing that’s what our parents expected us to do, but with no real knowledge as yet of the history of why.
The seat of power in our Jewish neighborhood was the Jewish Community Center – the JCC. It didn’t have a sanctuary- services took place in a large room that metamorphosed from a temporary sanctuary to a gymnasium to a community room to a dance hall on Saturday evenings as well as a senior activities center in the mornings (which after only one visit my 70 year-old grandfather refused to attend; he said it was for old people). The congregation had rightly decided that providing a facility for various activities took precedence over the immediate need for a dedicated religious sanctuary.
The salient importance of the JCC for kids my age (13-14) was the Saturday evening dance. There was a brouhaha between the adults concerning what time the dance could begin in the summer. Was it more important to fully observe the Sabbath when the sun set at 8 or 9 p.m. or was it more important not to have young teens out so late? Safety won out and the dances began at 7 p.m. the earth’s orbit notwithstanding.
My mother walked me to my first teen dance at the JCC – and being new to the neighborhood we couldn’t find it. Seeing another young teen girl we asked her for directions and that’s how I met Janet. She not only supplied directions (it was just around the corner) she also told me that the fancy party dress I had so thrillingly put on was incorrect attire. Jeans (we called them dungarees in those days) was the “costume of choice” along with a white blouse and saddle shoes. Both my mother and I ran home so I could change and then we ran back. I spent the rest of that evening standing next to Janet - part of a bevy of girls as we surreptitiously glanced at the male creatures across that very large room.
We automatically segregated ourselves; boys occupied the north wall, girls occupied the south wall. We all came to dance but very few actually knew how and none had the nerve. Boys made themselves look busy doing whatever boys do when not doing what they think they want to do, but are not sure how to do it. And the girls were busy chattering, chirping, and discussing, with many giggles, how unimpressive the boys were while really hoping one of them would get up the nerve to cross that gap.
The only break in the non-action was a trip down the hall to the public phone (cost a nickel then) to check-in with anxious parents wanting to know if everything was going well, if we were safe, and an admonition to call before leaving so daddy could come by and walk his daughter/son home. There was actually more mingling between boys and girls at the public phone than in the dance room. But this was the Big Saturday Night Dance, so back we went to the activity for which we had all put on our dungarees and saddle shoes.
Finally one of the adult males chaperoning our Big Dance thought it would be a good idea to actually get the boys to ask the girls. First he demonstrated to the boys the correct way to ask a girl to dance (in those days a girl asking a boy to dance was unheard of). Then he lined the boys up and called for a volunteer to ask a girl to dance. After a significant pause, one boy put up his hand. To my immense surprise I realized he was my cousin, Harry! Not having the nerve to have really looked at the lineup of boys, I hadn’t noticed his presence. Harry and I knew each other well, sharing lots of laughter and family holidays as well as attending the monthly meetings of the Bella Family Circle.
The community room went deathly quiet as he walked across that ocean of empty space and down along the line of girls. To my astonishment (and everyone else’s, I’m sure), he stopped in front of me and asked me to dance. Harry had solved the problem of asking a girl to dance, he had chosen a cousin he knew well while scoring “bravery points” amongst his fellow males. The chaperone beamed. My “credits” with the girls went ballistic, too.
Harry took my hand, the music started, and we slow danced. In those days there was this thing called “slow dancing” where the dancing couple was close enough to actually see one another – even touch - and the music, unlike today, was at a pitch where conversation could actually take place. Well, Harry and I didn’t have a conversation while dancing – even though we were cousins; this was still a shaky venture.
As part of the strict rules of “costume” that teens impose upon themselves, the girls wore a cinch belt around the waist – a broad elastic band with a row of huge decorative “hook and eye” closures in the front. Harry and I were the same age and at thirteen the average girl was taller than the average boy. I topped Harry by an inch. So, there we were slow dancing all by ourselves in front of all our peers, the chaperones smiling at their/our success.
The music stopped, and Harry stepped back – or tried to. I tried to step back, with equal lack of success. Peering downward to our horror we could see that one of the hooks of my cinch belt had hooked into the eyelet of his belt and we were joined at the waist. Our fumbling hands as we tried to unlock ourselves were the death knell of the savoir faire we had just so recently enjoyed. Finally, after an agonizing eternity fortune had mercy and we were able to part - long after the music had stopped. He hurried to the north wall and I to the south. After that no one – no one at all – volunteered to ask a girl to dance.
But at the next Saturday night dance, and the one after that, brave Harry again crossed that Grand Canyon of a room and asked me to dance. Our credit was restored. My female colleagues were once again impressed with how consistently Harry asked me to dance. Though we never discussed it, we kept our cousinship a secret.
Yesterday, during our phone conversation, even after forty-five years Janet was still impressed and said: “You used to dance every dance. That one boy just couldn’t resist you. You were so popular. We were all so jealous.”
“Janet, there’s something I should tell you……” But I didn’t.
This is written in fond memory of Harry Snyder who died in a tragic auto accident in the midst of a busy life – he was thirty years old.
Columnist Orysiek may be contacted at email@example.com
CAROL ANN GOLDSTEIN
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