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  • Originally published 08/09/2013

    1924 Leopold and Loeb Case: Murder Mania Returns

    Credit: Wiki Commons.Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two brilliant Chicago college students, have lived in infamy as the brutal slayers of 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924, a student whom they kidnapped and murdered just to prove that they could commit the perfect crime.The pair planned the murder for seven months. They were certain they could get away with it because they believed they were “supermen” and were smarter than everyone else. They abducted Franks after school. He was beaten to death and dumped in a culvert near a Chicago area lake. Then the kidnappers sent a letter to his millionaire father demanding ransom. They did not know that the body had already been found; no ransom was paid.

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    Slave Revolt Rides on Broken Down Railroad

    Tellin’ Man Midtown International Theater Festival Dorothy Strelsin Theater 312 W. 36th Street New York, N.Y. Each summer, the festival stages fifty or so plays of different varieties at the midtown theater complex.There were five well known slave revolts in America prior to the Civil War: in New York in 1712, along the Stono River, in South Carolina, in 1740, in Richmond, Virginia in 1800, the Denmark Vesey revolt in Charleston in 1822 and the Nat Turner revolt in Virginia in 1831. Paul Gray’s new play, Tellin’ Man seems to be based most closely on the rebellion led by Gabriel Prosser in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. In Gray’s play, as in the Prosser revolt, other slaves secretly told the owners of the rebellion and the slave owners worked with law enforcement to quash it.The Tellin’ Man is the story of James, who betrayed his fellow slaves, and what happened to him, his family and his friends after the leaders of the revolt were arrested. It is a narrow focus play about slavery and the eternal hope of those in bondage that they could be free.

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    Fighting to Save a Sleazy Motel in Boston in the 1940s

    Motel Rasdell June Havoc Theater Midtown International Theater Festival 312 W. 36th Street New York, N.Y.Each summer, the festival presents fifty or so plays with a variety of themes as well as historyIn the 1940s, all proper Bostonian scoffed at the sleazy Motel Rasdell, a fictional hotel on the edge of the city. It was home to drug dealers, drug addicts on their “reefers,” derelicts, the homeless and hard edged hookers. Nobody ever mistook it for a dorm at Harvard, on the other side of the Charles River.It is also home to a bouncy new musical, Motel Rasdell, with an exuberant cast, a solid book and a charming, if harrowing, story.John is a reporter for a Boston newspaper and a womanizer in his personal life. He begins an affair with a hooker, Eve, who works at the Rasdell. He learns all about the wild life at the motel, and the illegality of just about everything that goes on there and writes a story about it. At the same time, his wife Jane catches him in his double life and leaves for Cape Cod, where she sulks on the beach. His two teenaged kids then try to run the house without her.

  • Originally published 07/29/2013

    Five Hundred Years of Food in Theater and Movies

    Most of us go to the theater and the movies to see drama, action, sturdy heroes and despicable villains. Francine Segan goes for the food.Segan, a former school psychologist, is the author of six cookbooks, all connected to history, theater and opera and delivers talks on food and theater and movies around the country. I caught up with her recently at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires, where she gives a half dozen talks each year on food in the movies and theater (she will be there again August 12 to talk about food and Shakespearean England).Segan, a delightful speaker with an easy charm and a walking encyclopedia of dining, discovered food on stage and in film years ago when she was watching a Shakespeare play.“I was fascinated by all the eating that went on in the plays,” the thin, black-haired speaker said at the gorgeous old Mahaiwe theater. “I thought about other plays and realized the same thing. Then I thought about movies. In movies, there is even more eating. Everybody thinks like I do. We all get intrigued by all the eating on film.”

  • Originally published 07/06/2013

    Moving New Play on the Rosenbergs and 1950s Atomic Secrets

    Ethel Sings: Espionage in High CWalker Space Theater46 Walker StreetNew York, N.Y.The summer of 2013 is the 60th anniversary of the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, accused of selling American atomic secrets to the Soviet Union from about 1943 to the early 1950s. Even though it was later proved that they were guilty, the pair remains political celebrities today.Ethel Sings, by Joan Beber, is a moving drama about the couple, who died in their mid-30s (Ethel was 38, Julius 35), leaving behind two small children, Michael and Robert. Their case brought on several rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, several delays of execution and even a last minute plea to President Dwight Eisenhower. Beber paints a fine portrait of the couple, who went from joining the Communist Party to organizing labor and political rallies to espionage. They were, like some other ultra-liberals of the era, convinced that world was in better hands with the Soviets than the Americans. So they decided to do what they could to help the Soviets. That was their downfall.

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Shakespeare a tax-evading food hoarder?

    As well as writing many of the world’s greatest plays, he was a successful businessman and major landowner in his native Warwickshire who retired an extremely wealthy man.However, a new study has found that he was repeatedly prosecuted and fined for illegally hoarding food, and threatened with jail for failing to pay his taxes, The Sunday Times reported.Court and tax records show that over a 15-year period Shakespeare purchased grain, malt and barley to store and resell for inflated prices, according to a paper by Aberystwyth University academics Dr Jayne Archer, Professor Richard Marggraf Turley and Professor Howard Thomas....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Stalin theatre show sparks controversy

    A theatrical show at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Museum about Joseph Stalin — who died 60 years ago today — has sparked criticism from relatives of those who died in the Communist leader's prison camps.Stalin, who led the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, is being remembered in the exhibition, which features testimony by descendants of officials who were part of his regime. The officials' personal, anonymous accounts are read by actors, and identified only by numbers."My grandfather was in charge of the construction of the Moscow-Volga Canal," reads number 13, alluding to Stalin's giant project in the 1930s built by Gulag prisoners, tens of thousands of whom died in inhumane conditions."It is not good to be a head of a (labour) camp. But my grandfather sincerely believed in his mission . . . In the end, I am not ashamed," the testimony concludes....

  • Originally published 02/08/2013

    Shakespeare's historic war plays to be produced on battlefields across the country

    Shakespeare's Globe will perform the bard's three Henry VI plays at historic battle sites of the Wars of the Roses.As part of its new season, the theatre will stage the plays at Towton, Tewkesbury, St Albans and Barnet, which were all sites where battles took place.The plays – billed under their original titles: Harry The Sixth, The Houses of York and Lancaster and The True Tragedy of the Duke of York – will be directed by Nick Bagnall and embark on a tour from June 26 until September 26....

  • Originally published 01/28/2013

    A Gay Man, a Housewife, and Mussolini

    Working on a Special Day 59 E. 59 Theaters 59 E. 59th Street New York, N.Y.How do you turn a movie that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and starred Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren into a successful play?Very carefully.

  • Originally published 01/27/2013

    Jam On

    The Jammer Atlantic Stage 2 330 W. 16th Street New York, N.Y.It's Brooklyn, circa 1958. The Dodgers have been gone for two years, Eisenhower is president and rock and roll music is sweeping the nation. It's nighttime at a local sports arena, time for outlandishly dressed men and women to crash over rails, leap over fallen skaters and elbow each other. It is time for fans to lose their sanity and yell and scream at the top of their lungs for the hometown team.It is time for roller derby.From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, the brazen men and wild women of roller derby were skating in smoky arenas all over America on wooden ovals in a frantic race for points and time. Teams from New York to San Francisco drew crowds as large as 50,000 fans at indoor and outdoor arenas and millions more watched on television.The roller derby skating teams, with names such as the Jolters and Bombers, gave the country a very rowdy, fast paced sport, supposedly a little fixed at times. It was like professional wrestling, with roaring crowds, bigger than life stars and non-stop violence.

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    The Tragedy of Involuntary Commitment

    Airswimming Irish Repertory Theatre 132 W. 22d Street New York, N.Y.Airswimming is a jolting shocker about two women incarcerated in a mental hospital in England for fifty years due to their eccentricity and because they violated British society’s rules of conduct during the 1920s. At the same time, Charlotte Jones’s 1997 play is an enduring, enchanting story of the strength of the human spirit and how two people’s friendship helped them survive a living hell.In 1922, Dora (played by Aedin Moloney) was tossed into St. Dymphnas Hospital for the Criminally Insane and followed there two years later by Persephone. They mark the first few years of their imprisonment, but so many years go by they lose count. The hospital has teamed them up to clean the bathrooms one hour each day, and that is the time we see them on stage. There, scrubbing down the bathtub, the pair realizes that they need each other to survive the Hades they occupy.

  • Originally published 01/15/2013

    The Agony of the Soldier Returned from the Wars

    Water by the Spoonful Second Stage Theater 305 W. 43rd Street New York, N.Y.Elliot, a hulking war vet, has been back from Iraq for two years. He's still trying to find himself as he struggles to rejoin his deeply dysfunctional and drug addicted family in Philadelphia. He faces many of the same problems that vets faced coming home from Vietnam, Korea, all the way back to the American Revolution. He served his country honorably, but suffered physically and mentally. He arrived back a hero, but not to a hero’s welcome.Elliot is the centerpiece of Water by the Spoonful, the new play by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the author of the successful In the Heights. It's a confusing play that rambles through act one in fits and starts, and long stretches of boredom, before finding its way in the middle of act two. That;s is when Elliot lets down his warrior macho and emotional shield. That is when we see the torment he has lived through in Iraq. He was wounded several times and became addicted to pain killers during his recovery. He also has nightmares about the first man he killed in Iraq -- the man’s ghost keeps getting off the ground to struggle with him.

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