How to Understand Isreal in 60 Days or Less

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In How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, Sarah Glidden shares her thoughts and experiences on a Birthright Tour she took to Isreal. Guarded and skeptical, Sarah agrees to go on a Birthright Tour with her friend Melissa. The title is deliberately tongue in cheek and Glidden certainly knows no country can be understood after a short bus tour.

The purpose of the tours is to educate Jews from other countries about the history of Israel. Growing up with little teaching about her faith or the history of Israel, Sarah was quite skeptical. She’s got a Muslim boyfriend who worries that she’ll return a Zionist.

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At every stop, Sarah expects to hear just a bunch of propaganda. She questions everyone and everything. She is surprised to learn the complexity of the issues inherent in Isreal’s politics and history. She also winds up admitting that her tour guide and other speakers are genuinely understanding of the other side or know much more about the problems than she does.

The narrative is sincere and authentic. I did feel the book is a truthful, considerate story of an American girl’s tour of Israel. The end isn’t pat. Sarah continues to struggle with what to think about Israel and its history. I appreciated how genuine the story was. The illustrations are realistic and fitting.

November

1419418Since I’m taking the MasterClass David Mamet teaches I thought I’d read some of his plays. This week I got his play November (2008) which is about an American president Charles Smith who’s up for re-election with no funds for campaigning. He’s been cut off by his party. He’s getting no help from his speech writer either. He has one person who’s still advising him, Archer.

Archer provides a reality check (if we can call information on the absurdity of how DC works reality) for the President. Smith would like to strong arm his opponents and betrayers as they cut off his funds or call in sick.

A main plotline here is the President’s traditional pardon of a turkey before Thanksgiving. According to the play, the turkey farmers’ association gives the president a stipend, a hefty stipend for the pardon. Now Smith strives to up the amount by threatening to have his speechwriter convince the public that it’s not PC to eat turkey.

The play moves quickly and has a robust humor, colored with profanity, as you’d expect from Mamet. The story is outlandish and now a bit dated because we’ve resolved some of the issues it tackles. I wouldn’t say this is a must read or that the play’s a must see. It does exemplify Mamet’s rules for writing, e.g. don’t bore the audience with exposition and start in medias res.

Blind Date

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Lucky for me my friend’s husband isn’t a theater lover. That’s how I got invited to see Blind Date at the Goodman Theater. Blind Date shows us how Ronald Reagan convinced Mikhail Gorbachev to attend a summit meeting to talk about the weapons race. My understanding of this page of history was foggy, but the performances brought clarity and interest. The play opens with a monologue by George Schultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State. Due to his education and experience in economics, Shultz was able to figure out how Russia would struggle and what the consequences would be. Thus he realized this was a key time to contact Gorbechev, Russia’s youngest General Secretary.

Next Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, shares his thinking with the audience before sharing cocktails with Shultz. (In their conversation, which begins awkwardly Shultz tells Shevardnadze about a cocktail called The Kangaroo, which most of us know as a vodka martini.

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We see a lot of negotiating and one step forward, one back action as the two governments and two men figure out whether they should meet and where. It’s quite a chess game and quite interesting. Both powerful men are married to driven women. Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev have some of the plays best scenes and lines. These women know their minds and masterfully can read situations.

The play has humor but adroitly manages not to canonize or lampoon Reagan. The playwright Rogelio Martinez was born in Cuba and lived there till he was 9 and came to the US. Hence Martinez is fascinated with the ideologies of democracy and communism and has written a series of plays about events like the ping pong competition between China and the US where communism and democracy intersected. It would be easy to make a play that bored or had the wrong tone, but with Blind Date Martinez entertains and enlightens. The play’s pace is good and I could see this show on Broadway. I could see watching this again, which I think is the ultimate goal of a good play.

Kudos to Director Robert Falls and all the performers. Bravo!

State of the Union

While watching my MasterClass in Dramatic Writing by David Mamet, I got curious about Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, whom he mentions. So I found the DVD for State of the Union, (1948) a film adaptation of their play. I found it delightful, even though there’s plenty of jokes that you just couldn’t say today.

State of the Union stars Spenser Tracy as Grant Matthews, a successful business man whose young mistress, played by Angela Lansbury, is a newspaper owner with political savvy in spades. She sees that he’s got the background and charisma to become President. She convinces Jim Conover, her partner in political maneuvering to take on Matthews’ campaign. The one problem is Matthew’s wife Mary, played by Katharine Hepburn. Viewers know when they see Hepburn in the credits that the newspaper owner’s met her match.

Grant and Mary haven’t been together for four months. Mary’s aware of her husband’s affair and has kicked out the mistress the one time the hussy visited her home. Mary still loves Grant and does believe that he’d be a good President — if he stays true to his beliefs. Mary leaves her home to travel the country so that Grant is seen with the loving wife the public expects. His first speech is a doozie and reaps accolades from the common voter. However, Conover & Co. only care about political movers and shakers who can deliver delegates. They know how to game the system by making the right promises to key people. Mary is leery of Conover’s tricks and the mistresses manipulations. Still she sticks with the campaign hoping for the best, hoping Grant doesn’t slide all the way down the slippery slope.

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I will say I was surprised by some of Grant’s political ideas. For example, he foresaw and believed in a world government. He thought that since the 13 colonies banded together and made the USA, that a bunch of countries should band together and create a world government. Well, the EU is somewhat like what he proposed, but Grant envisioned a more far reaching confederation. I wasn’t surprised that Conover practically blew a gasket.

The film has wonderful banter and some rousing speeches. State of the Union examines our political system which is corrupted by campaign financing. (Sadly, such films don’t have much effect because money still taints the government.) Tracy, Hepburn, Lansbury and the rest of the cast offer delightful performances and a bold look at infidelity. Yes, there are jokes about gender stereotypes but I was able to forgive those venial sins of another era.

It was odd to enjoy a film that promotes fidelity knowing that the stars had an affair for 27 years. It’s a troubling issue. On the one hand, it’s acting and what’s presented is the better scenario. On the other, many in Hollywood have made bad choices and tried to glamorize them. It’s a question well worth discussing.

The Minutes

Written by Tracie Letts, The Minutes stars Billy Peterson as the mayor of a middle American town called Big Cherry. The play focuses on a town council meeting where the newest member of the council can’t stop wondering why no one will answer his questions about Mr. Carp, a councilman who’s no longer on the council or why last week’s meeting minutes are delayed. No one is willing to explain this.

As the meeting on this stormy night proceeds, the audience is treated to jibes about small towns and their small minds. The Steppenwolf Ensemble members Francis Guinan plays the oldest council member who goes on and on, annoying many with his suggestion on what to do with the freed up parking space. This issue hints at the problem, the elephant in the room, which is the absence of councilman Mr. Carp. Whenever Carp’s name comes up, the council members get silent. What are they hiding?

Like a dark version of Parks and Recreation, Letts satirizes the trivial aspects of small town government. Should a Lincoln Smackdown be part of the town’s festival? Should the town pay for a new fountain commemorating their history and enabling people with disabilities to see clear to the bottom be funded? (Trivial to those on the council who aren’t the least bit PC.) Should Mrs. Innes be allowed to ramble on and on?

You know there’s more to Mr. Carp’s absence and, of course, the title clues you into the significance that last week’s meeting minutes have not been presented. But I highly doubt you’ll guess the disturbing end to the play, which finishes at the Steppenwolf January 7 and then will open on Broadway.

The performances, as is the case 99% of the time at Steppenwolf, were great. Both Billy Peterson and Cliff Chamberlain, who plays the town newcomer who wants to be active in town politics so he can make a difference, were excellent.

El Candidato

From a wealthy family, Martin decides to enter politics. We’re never told which office he’s running. El Candidato, an Argentinian film, begins with a strategy meeting as his team tries to figure out how to present Martin and incorporate the trendy environmental themes and present a winning political message although Martin himself isn’t clear where he stands. When asked if he’s left or right, center left or center right, Martin asks the new graphic artist.

The graphic artist is probably in his twenties and isn’t sure of his own political leanings. He’s not working for Martin because of a shared philosophy. He’s there to make money and during the first meeting, Martin, who can lip read, calls him out when he whispers a comment to his neighbor implying that Martin’s probably a rich simpleton.

Far from simple, Martin is a sympathetic character. He’s no Latin Donald Trump. He doesn’t exactly know why he’s running for office and part of the reason is no doubt his father issues, but his unwillingness to choose a spot on the political spectrum has to do with how crazy and ineffective politics is.

We soon learn that Laura, a senior team member and the man she hired to do sound work for the ads, are in cahoots and are collecting dirt and hacking Martin’s social media to insure he loses. Thus the story is about trust and betrayal rather than politics.

The film takes place during a few days of intensive planning in seclusion at Martin’s vast ranch.

The unpredictable end blew me away and reminded me a bit of The Rules of the Game.

Here’s the film, but there are no English subtitles. Sorry.

El Candidato from Delfin on Vimeo.

What Circle of Hell does George Belong in?

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Wedding Bliss? Not for Morwenna

This week’s Poldark was full of action; many events were sad or troubling. We saw George slink lower and lower as he worried about not rising politically. When things didn’t go his way, he made sure others suffered.

Aunt Agatha was happily planning her 100th birthday party. Simultaneously, George was worrying about getting invited to the right parties and the social notice that would assure his rise in politics. While fussing about invitations he and Agatha exchanged pointed dialog that makes Violet of Downton Abbey sound demure.

When George and Elizabeth are invited to Sir Falmouth’s party, he is ecstatic to get offered the candidacy for Parliament though he’s unaware that he was Falmouth’s second choice. Ross was the first, but he foolishly refused, because he didn’t want to be Falmouth’s puppet. So Ross learned nothing from Drake’s narrow escape from the hangman’s noose, which Ross would have ruled against if he were the magistrate rather than George. Ross’ problem is he thinks there’s some perfect world out there. Not so. He still isn’t learning that if good men don’t participate in government evil ones like George will. Besides, if you’re not keen on government, you have nothing to lose. Vote as you like and if Falmouth plots to get you out after one term, so be it, Ross. To no avail, Demelza tried to convince Ross to accept the offer.

Seems I forgot about George, when the last paragraph should have been all about him. I’m afraid that’s the story of his life. Once Ross appears, all eyes are on him and George is neglected.

Dwight and Caroline made their marriage official by getting married publicly.  The reception was more about everyone else’s intrigues than the couple’s bliss. Since they eloped that’s fine. Hugh Armitage doted on Demelza as Ross, like an old married man, feels it’s no big deal. She’s just imagining Hugh’s adoration. I will say that since Ross saved Hugh’s life pursuing his wife is in poor taste and judgment. This doesn’t stop him from writing Demelza poetry. Another red flag that Ross dismisses.

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Back at Trenwith, George gets even with Aunt Agatha, for unknown reasons, he gets a feeling she’s not 99. So he has his servants turn the house upside down looking for evidence. In the end he finds a family Bible that proves she’s only 98. Agatha begs him to keep quiet. It was sad to see this strong woman weaken and beg George. He won’t have it. He cancels the party and for once must be “perfectly honest.”

She’s devastated not to have a party. She begs George, but he enjoys inflicting pain. To get revenge, she tells George that Valentine certainly wasn’t born early. He does not look like a preemie. How could that be? He knows he and Elizabeth waited till the honeymoon so . . . if Aunt Agatha’s right? Who’s the father? A seed has been planted, just before Aunt Agatha dies. She’ll be sorely missed. (Here’s a good interview with the actress who played Aunt Agatha.)

Morwenna lives the life of a sex slave with Osborne whose fetishes turn her stomach and all viewers too, no doubt. Demelza gets a glimpse of Morwenna’s displeasure when the newlywed tells her that Osborne is a monster and runs away. Elizabeth also understands that something’s wrong with Morwenna, but she’s too wound up in herself to get involved. Morwenna dreads going to bed with Osborne, which is a requirement. Praying with his daughters takes a back seat to doing her marital duties. Off with your shoes, my pretty! Ugh.

Post coitus Morwenna looks terribly sad. Osborne has a new idea of getting another woman in the house to “help” Morwenna so he announces he’s written to her mother and asked that her sister Rowenna come. Then he is off to sleep, while Morwenna just looks like her soul’s dead. She repeated says to herself, “I love Drake Carne.” This was the one part of the show that seemed extraneous. We know she’s miserable. We know she loves Drake. No need to repeat it.

Rowenna does come to town and she’s Morwenna’s opposite. She gets the scoop on Osborne quickly and then starts flirting with her brother-in-law. A breakfast she stoops down so he can see her decolletage and then she takes off her shoe and chat about her pinched toes to a man with a foot fetish. Where did she learn all this? It’s quite uncommon in the landed gentry. What is Rowenna going to be up to?

So it was a lively episode. With this series you can’t leave for a minute as you’ll miss three new plot points.