Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two Jews Wander Into War

Finding Faith Amidst Destruction in Afghanistan

"Two Jews Wander Into War:" it's not a pretty title for the first play of the 23rd season of Florida Stage, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan.
War is not pretty, nor is anti-Semitism or hate, and they are part and parcel of this world premiere by Seth Rozin.
Playwright Rozin was inspired by the true story of Zebulon Simentov and Isaac Levin, who were discovered by NATO troops in 2001 in the rubble of a ruined synagogue in Kabul, Afghanistan. The vicious zealots of the Taliban have been ousted from power, leaving the two men as apparently the only two surviving Jews in Afghanistan.
Instead of despairing, the men are preparing for the ritual of Channukah even as bullets still fly and bombs drop.
As unlikely as it seems, playwright Rozin has cast the story as a dark comedy of two bickering men fighting and surviving against the odds.
Director Louis Tyrrell has cast two master comic actors for the roles: Gordon McConnell as the Rabbi Ishaq and Avi Hoffman as his sole congregant, Zeblyan.
Rabbi Ishaq is so learned he knows the entire Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) by heart.
In order for a synagogue to be consecrated, it must have a Torah, written by hand on parchment.
The last Torah in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and with the Rabbi's total recall and Zeblyan's deft hand, they will improvise their own Torah, with Zeblyan the skeptic challenging the Rabbi every word and punctuation point of the way.
It helps to be somewhat knowledgable of the Bible to get the clever criticisms offered up by pugnacious Zeblyan. The play is performed without intermission in just 80 minutes, so it demands close attention of an audience.
Avi Hoffman has made a career celebrating the joys and foibles of being Jewish in his "Two Jewish?" one-man shows. Here he is perfectly cast as the skeptical Everyman, unafraid to question and argue with a man of superior knowledge and faith, yet knowing in his heart the traditions he is grudgingly preserving are worth life itself.
"Two Jews Wander Into War" is not everyone's cup of tea. I found it curious, yet provocative and stimulating, and ultimately life-affirming- for that is what faith is all about.
And no, you do not have to be Jewish.
Tickets are $45-$48. Call 800-514-3837 or visit www.floridastage.org.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eliot Kelinberg's "Wicked Palm Beach"

When Films are Slow, Read a Book

It's a slow week for new movies.
The most promising is the Amelia Earhart biopic "Amelia," starring Hilary Swank, but due to my new day job, I was unable to get to an advance screening.
The good news for film buffs is the 24th annual Fort Lauderdale Film Festival begins tonight at Miniaci Performuing Arts Center in Davie.
FLIFF continues through Nov. 11 with screenings at Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. Go to www.fliff.com for details.

Life During Prohibition

One of the good things about a book is that you can read any time you want, as time permits.
"Wicked Palm Beach: Lifestyles of the Rich and Heinous," is the latest from journalist and history buff Eliot Kleinberg.
Each chapter of "Wicked" is an expanded version of columns that originally appeared in the Palm Beach Post, where Kleinberg still works.
Most of the tales occurred during the Prohibition Era, from 1919-1933.
It is very difficult to legislate morality, and just about impossible if laws prohibit something most people want.
The "Noble Experiment" of the prohibition of alcoholic becverages, enacted as the Eigtheeth Amendment, turned the United States into a nation of criminals. It made bootleggers and gangsters rich and transformed ordinary people who simply wanted to relax with an alcoholic beverage, scofflaws.
Because of Florida's proximity to the Bahamas, where alcohol has always been readily available, the state became a hotbed of illegal activity, which bred crime and lawlessness.
Kleinberg chronicles such well-known crime lords as Al Capone and John Dillinger and their Florida connections, as well as lesser-known figures like John Horace Alderman, the ruthless "Gulf Stream Pirate." A whole chapter is devoted to the infamous Ashley Gang of Jupiter.
Rubbing elbows with the unsavory were such celebrities as George Gershwin, Babe Ruth and Hoagy Carmichael, all of whom had Palm Beach County connections.
Then there are tales of ordinary life: the boom-time buildings of West Palm Beach (some still standing), era movie theaters and boxing venues, mail service, bridges and highways, the first radio station and even license plates.
As a lifelong history buff with a particular fondness for Florida and its wild and wooly past, I find "Wicked Palm Beach" both fascinating and educational.
Write on, Eliot.
"Wicked Palm Beach" ($19.95) is published by The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina. Go to www.historypress.net.

Overseas Highway an "All-American Road"

In other Florida history news, the Florida Keys Overseas Highway has been declared an "All-American Road" by the Federal Highway Administration.
If you've ever driven down to Key West, you know there is no other highway in America remotely like the stretch of U.S. 1 from Key Largo south to Mile Marker Zero at the southernmost point of the USA.
I first visited the Keys as a Boy Scout on a camping trip in 1959. Back then a trip on the narrow, rickety highway, built atop 1912 trestles of the Florida East Coast
and opened in 1938, was quite an adventure.
I first drove the road in 1970 and have been back many times, most memorably by motorcyle.
The ride became safer, more comfortable and less white-knuckle in 1982 when 37 of the original bridges were replaced with wider, DOT-approved spans.
Many of the old bridges stand alonside the new, in mute testimony to the many who suffered and died building this "Eighth Wonder of the Word."
The Florida Keys Overseas Highway is one of only 20 in the country designated All-American Road.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Gerard Butler Dirty Harry Sans Badge

Unpleasant Revenge Thriller Strains Credulity

Circumstances prevented me from atteding screenings of tbe Maurice Sendak adult/kid fantasy "Where the Wild Things Are" or the Coen brothers latest dark comedy, "A Serious Man." Bummer.
I had to settle for "A Law Abiding Citizen." Double bummer.
Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is a modern-day Dirty Harry without a policeman's badge.
Clyde is a Philadelphia tinkerer/inventor whose wife and daughter are sadistically raped and murdered in the first frames of this revenge thriller by F. Gary Gray ("The Italian Job").
As unpleasant as that is, it gets worse. The chief bad guy plea bargains and shifts the blame to his accomplice. The accomplice gets the death penalty. The real murderer gets five years.
Clyde's lawyer, the politically ambitious Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), tells Clyde that's the way it is with the American justice system.
"You can't fight fate," the real killer sneers, tauntingly.
Oh yes you can- if you are Clyde Shelton.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer's ("The Recruit") yarn flashes forward ten years. Clyde has been very busy. His inventions have made him millions, and he has invested that into revenge. The master plan is to take out everyone involved in the massacre of Clyde's family, starting with the gruesome torture and dismemberment of the leering killer.
I saw this film with two avid film buffs, both women. I felt embarassed that they were being subjected to the sadistic violence and gore, but they admired Butler's performance and some of the trickier intracasies of the plot.
Clyde Shelton is not a man to be admired or even liked, but with Butler's earnest portrayal of him as a kind of righteously vindictive Old Testament prophet, we almost feel we understand him. However, in the Bible in Leviticus in the Old Testament and Romans in the New, "Vengeance is mine" spoken by the Lord means that God, not people, is the ultimate judge. Revenge is never the answer, Clyde.
The intrcasies of the plot degenerate into absurdity as we discover the complexity of Clyde's schemes. Some of them are kind of cool (A cell phone that kills!). Others are patently rediculous (Tunneling into every single cell of a large prison).
Somehow it makes one yearn for the simplicity of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry.
Feeling lucky, punk?
I don't think so.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Give Peace a Chance in Delray Beach

Like John Lennon?

You have until Sunday, Oct. 11 to see "Give Peace a Chance," a 40th anniversary celebration of the Bed-In for Peace at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, Canada mounted in the 1925 Gymnasium of Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach.
On display are approximately 40 large scale photos by Gerry Deiter, who was on assignment for Look magazine and was invited by Lennon to document the week-long event.
Deiter's photo spread never appeared in Look. He filed away the negatives and sadly died in 2005.
The photos were catalogued posthumously by Deiter's friend Joan E. Athey, who has published a book on the subject. The Delray Beach exhibit, which also features vintage guitars identical to those played by Lennon, as well as other artwork and memorabilia, is only the second public exhibition.
A highlight of the Oct. 5-11 event was a Friday, Oct. 9 reenactment of the Bed-In recorded by press and camera crews and culminating with the singing of "All We are Saying is Give Peace a Chance." That date would have been Lennon's 69th birthday.
Korean-born Sung Knowles and Delray Beach librarian Christopher Leary played the parts of Yoko and John and gamely posed for photos, flashing peace signs from bed the entire evening. At 8:15 p.m. a video camera was set up and everyone was invited for a mass singing of "Give Peace a Chance." I was invited to play Timothy Leary, who had sat at the foot of the bed, shirtless, playing an Indian drum.
I gamely doffed by shirt, assumed the position, and we performed the song once without rehearsal by the crowd of young and old adults and children of all ages. I thought it went well.
The aim was to get the video posted on YouTube. The video can be accessed by going to YouTube.com and typing in Give Peace a Chance Delray Beach.
Meanwhile you can more information about the exhibit by calling 561-243-7922 or by visiting www.oldschool.org.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Gotta Dance" a Force of Life

Hip-Hop a Tonic for Seniors

My first encounter with the documentary "Gotta Dance" was at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.
Gee, I thought, what an entertaining, life-affirming movie. My gut feeling was reinforced when it won the audience favorite award at the 2008 Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Now more than a year later, "Gotta Dance" has been picked up by foreign and art film houses here in South Florida. What a perfect place for a film that says life does not end after age 60.
"Gotta Dance" is a documentary by Dori Berinstein about the first-ever over-60 hip-hop dance team, performing for fans of the New Jersey Nets NBA team.
The Nets already had a professional dance team of young babes, but it was thought the sight of a bunch of old codgers attempting teenage hip-hop moves would be an amusing sight. It is.
Team team consists of 12 women and one man ages 59-83. We meet each of the performers and the coaches who teach them. they are a jolly lot; a cross-section of humanity from a plucky kindergarten teacher who blossoms into a star and group leader, to 83-year-old Marge, whose granddaughter Marla Collins is a Nets dancer and coach.
As kind of comic relief we have the lone guy Joe, who admits to having no sense of rhythm whatsoever.
"Gotta Dance" is not about choreography or perfection. It is about being fully alive.
"Six of the original dancers still dance with the team," reports Dori Berinstein. "They are so vibrant and filled with life. Fortunately we have suffered no casalities."

Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

We didn't get a television set until I turned seven, in the summer of 1954, so I missed out on the opening of the Golden Age of Television.
"Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg" shows me what I missed.
Gertrude Berg was a woman before her time. She first appeared on radio in "The Rise of the Goldbergs" in 1929. The show ran 17 years and she was hailed as "The First Lady of Radio."
"The Goldbergs" debuted on television in 1949. Gertrude Berg not only starred, but wrote the scripts(12,000 in all in her lifetime),produced and even cooked the food.
The television series lasted less than two years, thanks to the big Red Scare of the early 1950s. Berg's co-star Philip Loeb, who played her husband Jake, was accused of being a Communist.
Berg stood by Loeb, but it essentially destroyed her career. Loeb died in 1955, a suicide, and Gertrude Berg in 1966, largely forgotten by the American public.
"Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg" restores Gertrude Berg's status as actress, feminist, writer, business innovator and folk hero.