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The Secret Garden at the Shakespeare Theatre

November 22, 2016

The Secret Garden was written in 1910 by Frances Hodgson Burnett and was first titled ‘Mistress Mary’ in the form of 27 individual chapters in the American Magazine. It was published as a children’s story one year later and quickly appealed to both children and adults.

 Charlie Franklin and Anya Rothman (Photo by: Courtesy The Shakespeare Theatre) Charlie Franklin and Anya Rothman

The story revolves around 10-year-old Mary Lennox who loses her parents to a cholera epidemic in the British Raj of India. She then travels to England and becomes the ward of her uncle Archibald Craven who is still grieving the death of his wife ten years earlier. Terrified of every nook and cranny of the haunted Craven Manor on the Yorkshire Moors, Mary seeks refuge in her late aunt’s mysterious walled garden, which she discovers holds some amazing secrets.

This musical version based on the children’s book A Secret Garden, was written by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon and won a Drama Desk and Tony Award when it was first presented on Broadway. It has been described as the story of hardship turned into hope, of beauty discovered in unlikely places, the power of the child’s imagination and the wisdom that accompanies growing up.

This production, superbly directed by David Armstrong, finds its way into your heart and one of the main reasons is its young star Anya Rothman who plays Mary Lennox. She is simply brilliant. A multi-talented young actress acting, singing and dancing. We are taken on Mary’s voyage through her young life where she shares her inner strength and belief things can be better.

The rest of the cast, and it is a cast of twenty-one, are wonderful with standouts including Charlie Franklin as Dickon whose beautiful voice and scenes with Mary bring hope to her life and warmth to the audience. Michael Xavier as Archibald Craven, Mary’s uncle, Josh Young as Dr. Neville Craven, and the grown-up Daisy Eagan as Martha, who won a Tony award when she played Mary Lennox on Broadway, are all wonderful. Lizzie Klemperer who plays the ghost of Lily Craven captures your imagination every time she sings.  

But then this production is more than the story or the cast. Their work is complemented with the incredible sets designed by Anna Louizos. While it took me part of the first act to get used to the constant movement of the set, there are five levels of movement, by the middle of the act I fully appreciated its brilliance and how it was used.  In the final scene of the show which takes place in the revived secret garden you could hear the gasp of the audience as the garden in all its revived glory was unveiled. 

Lizzie Klemperer (Photo by: Courtesy The Shakespeare Theatre) Lizzie Klemperer

The first act while strong moves a little slower than the second. The story unfolds slowly as Mary moves to Craven Manor and then discovers her young cousin, played by Henry Baratz, who is kept in his room being told and believing he is dying. Mary convinces him he isn’t and changes his life and that of her uncle leading to the happy ending by the end of the second act.

The costumes were wonderful designed by Ann Hould-Ward who also designed costumes for other Shakespeare productions including Man of La Mancha. These were not easy as most of the cast, after the first scene when they die of cholera, are ghosts dancing and singing around Mary and the Craven household.  They are all dressed in white yet Hould-Ward makes them memorable none-the-less. The lighting by Mike Baldassari enhances the set. There is an orchestra and one of the things occasionally distracting is the box at the front of the stage where the conductor’s hands pop up occasionally. But Rick Fox’s musical direction and arrangements and the beautiful voices of the cast make it a very minor distraction. 

The Secret Garden is at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall until December 31st. It is a wonderful holiday treat which you can and should take your children to see knowing you will enjoy it as much as they will. 

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An Open Letter to Ivanka Trump

November 16, 2016

I believe we must always keep an open line of communication with those we don't gree with and the person on your side of this election I would enjoy having a cup of coffee with is you.


As a supporter of Hillary Clinton the election didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. This isn’t the first campaign where my hopes were dashed. But the fight for the things I believe in and care about goes on.


Ivanka it would be great to have the opportunity to share with you how I lived my life. It is my conviction you would understand where those like myself are coming from and as senior adviser to your father that could be important and helpful as you help mold the administration.


My history is like many others who grew up in New York City as first generation Americans. My father immigrated from Germany and my mother from Austria to escape the Nazis. My dad’s parents were killed in Auschwitz. He joined the U.S. Army going back to Europe to fight.

Their experiences and teaching influenced how I live my life. Early on I got involved in Democratic politics. First supporting local New York politicians and then JFK. Demonstrating against the Vietnam War and graduating City College of New York during those turbulent times led to becoming a teacher in Harlem. From there, a career in government. First working for Rep. Bella S. Abzug, then coordinator of Local Government for Mayor Abe Beame. Then moving to Washington as executive director of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals/Implementation Unit in the Carter Administration. Then 35 years as CEO of national non-profits in the education and healthcare areas. Along the way fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, disability rights and, after I came out, for LGBT rights.


Ivanka, listening closely to your speech at the Republican National Convention it sounded like you would be a sympathetic ear.

You are obviously an intelligent and successful woman. You would likely have been successful even if you hadn’t been born a Trump. Of course your success came quicker because of having a wealthy family and access to capital and connections. But life has proven to me many people with those connections can still relate to the rest of us.


My interest in meeting you is the chance to share some thoughts that could shed light on issues as you advise your dad.

The fact is your father and I are contemporaries. We both grew up at the same time in New York City. Due to the circumstance of our births our lives took incredibly different paths. We were impacted in dramatically different ways by what was happening in the world as we grew up.


From what I have read about your life your mom brought you up to understand a world a little different from that of your dad. Today you have adopted the religion I was born into and are bringing up three children. Money doesn’t exempt you from the issues involved in balancing work and family or the vagaries of daily life and making the myriad decisions to deal with the world around us.


Those who share my views will continue to fight hard for the world we believe in. As a gay man I will never go back into the closet. My mom and Bella educated me on how important it is to guarantee full equality to women. My parents’ lives and a meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was in high school helped forge my views on civil rights. My life, friends, and travel have shown me living in a diverse society makes us all better. My gut feeling is you wouldn’t disagree with that.


Demonstrations are important, as long as they stay non-violent. They are a way for people to speak out, release their frustrations and anger at the life that often hasn’t been fair to them, their families and friends. Our constitutional right to demonstrate and speak out is part of what makes America great.


I really believe having an opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you in a respectful conversation could be valuable. Ivanka, I hope you might consider giving me the opportunity to do so.


This article was first published in the Washington Blade.

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Defeating Trump is Imperative and Electing Hillary is the Only Way

October 9, 2016

We live in a world turned upside down and too many Americans are buying into the candidate who apparently escaped from the asylum. In Trump world his supporters wait breathlessly to hear about leaked documents from a wanted criminal, Julian Assange, who is apparently being fed information by the Russians. Trump claims to be brilliant and his surrogates, like the clearly deranged Rudy Giuliani, call him a genius for losing a billion dollars in one year, 1995, and then sticking it to the American taxpayer to cover his losses by not paying taxes. This was at a time 1990-2000 when the economy was great, income went up and roughly 23,672,000 jobs were created.


The media is so sexist they don’t even realize it anymore. Andrea Mitchell attacks Clinton for being sick and repeats Trump’s unfounded charges about her health. Chuck Todd calls Hillary over-prepared for a debate and Brit Hume complains she smiled too much and called her unattractive. They don’t comprehend talking about a woman’s stamina, how much she smiled and attacking her for trying to power through a bout of pneumonia as if it’s a world crisis is sexist. This has become so central to media reporting they no longer see themselves as biased.


We see Trump run a campaign playing to the worst aspects of American society; racism, sexism, homophobia and misogyny. Then a New Hampshire Senator, Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), tells parents in her state Trump is a good role model for their children.


The Trump campaign and its surrogates have degenerated so far into the gutter it is embarrassing. Attacking Hillary by attacking her husband for his infidelities twenty years ago and then suggesting she has cheated on him with not one iota of proof. Trump went even further by pantomiming Hillary stumbling when she felt feint in the same vein he joked about a disabled reporter.


Add to this Trump is running a fact free campaign. He denies climate change calling it a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese and submits a tax plan that continues to provide all the loopholes he uses to not pay taxes. Trump and his children get caught with their hands in the cookie jar of his personal foundation using it to pay personal legal debts and buying ugly portraits of him to hang in his for-profit golf club. Using money from the foundation to buy off the Florida AG. If all this isn’t the world turned upside down I don’t know what is.

On Tuesday night during the Vice-presidential candidates debate his running mate Mike Pence, the notorious anti-gay, anti-woman Governor, blatantly lies denying all the things Trump has said all of which are recorded on tape. Again the world turned upside down.

The only answer for decent Americans to all this craziness is to vote for and ensure Hillary Rodham Clinton is our next President. You may not love her and you may have bought into some of the twenty-five years of Republican smears against her trustworthiness; but this is not the year for a ‘protest vote’. This is not the year to take a chance your vote will help elect the person who appears at different times to channel a clown, Hitler or Mussolini.


You don’t have to be in love with Hillary to recognize she is the most experienced and intelligent person to run for President in our lifetime. Love her or not she has a nearly fifty-year record of public service from her days working to help children with disabilities get a good education with the Children’s Defense Fund to her time as Secretary of State when she worked successfully to get a cease fire between Israel and Hamas; keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons; and spoke out for the rights of the LGBT community around the world among many other successes. You don’t have to be in love with Hillary to recognize she fought for and won health insurance for eight million poor children; made adoption easier to help children get a loving home; and worked across the aisle when she was in the Senate to ensure our national guard had health insurance and first responders after 9/11 were guaranteed care.


So you may not love her or admire her as I have since first meeting her in 1990 when she worked successfully to improve the education of all children in Arkansas. But as a thinking person who wants America to continue to have the respect of the world; continue to see our economy grow; want a more equal playing field for all; and want to reject the politics of fear and division; you have only one vote to cast for President and that vote must be for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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