The 2001 – 2002 Season
Table of Contents A Streetcar named Desire
Brighton Beach Memoirs
A Lesson Before Dying
The Real Thing
The Syracuse Stage Season Guide was prepared by Richard Keller, Director of Dramaturgy and Education, 443-3105; Pat Pederson, Education Associate, 443-1150; and Rachel Edwards Harvith, Literary Assistant
A Streetcar named Desire Special thanks to Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY, (for their Streetcar Named Desire study guide, 1990) and Charles Schiller, Laguna Beach High School (for his South Coast Repertory Streetcar Named Desire Study Guide, 1994), for graciously permitting us to quote and reference their fine work. Playwright: Tom “Tennessee” Williams Thomas Lanier Williams, the second of his parents’ three children, was born March 26, 1911, at his maternal grandparents’ home in Columbus, Mississippi, where his family lived while his father was a traveling salesman for the International Shoe Company. When Tom was eight his father was promoted to sales manager of his company’s St. Louis branch, to which the family moved. Compared to his blissful rural existence in Mississippi Tom recalled his childhood in St. Louis as “miserable and lonely” because the local boys tormented him over his southern accent and disinterest in athletics. In 1929 Williams entered the University of Missouri but was forced to leave at the end of his junior year for having failed ROTC. Rather than send Tom to college again (it was 1932) his father found him a job at his company’s warehouse, where he worked for three years until he was diagnosed with a heart condition that necessitated his recovery with his grandparents in Tennessee (which nickname he soon adopted in honor of his forebears’ political involvement there). Tennessee had already been writing short stories and poetry since his college days; a short play of his was presented by a Memphis theatre group during his convalescence and he never looked back: once recovered from his heart ailment, he studied drama at the University of Iowa. (The year he graduated, 1938, was the year his sister Rose was given one of the first prefrontal lobotomies in the United States as treatment for a mental breakdown she had suffered.) The New York-based Theatre Guild awarded him $100 soon thereafter for a series of one-acts he had submitted to a contest; he then received a Rockefeller grant that enabled him to move to New York City where he supported himself through a series of odd jobs (he also received an award from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts). Battle of Angels, produced by the Theatre Guild in 1940, closed during tryouts in Boston. For one six-month period during the next few years Williams worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter though none of his writing was produced. He did complete a screenplay titled The Gentleman Caller which became The Glass Menagerie, his second professionally produced play. It earned the 1945 New York Drama Critics’ Circle prize for best play. From this point on Williams was one of America’s most produced playwrights although he did not always meet with success onstage; still, his plays A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Night of the Iguana, not to mention his many one-acts, remain very popular with audiences everywhere. Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won Pulitzer Prizes; Tennessee was presented with the Medal of Freedom for a lifetime of achievements. Tennessee Williams died in 1983. 1
Setting The scene is the interior and exterior of the two-room Kowalski apartment in New Orleans’ French quarter. The action of the play takes place in the spring, summer and early fall one year in the late 1940s. Synopsis Following the loss of their ancestral home, Blanche DuBois visits her younger sister, Stella, and Stella’s husband, Stanley. Blanche’s frail mental health collapses under Stanley’s vulgar behavior and unremitting scrutiny. Characters A neighbor who shares a laugh with Eunice over Stanley and Stella and lets Stella know that Blanche has arrived is one of the first people we see. Eunice Hubbell – Stanley and Stella’s upstairs neighbor, to whom Stella turns for comfort when Stanley mistreats her. She is married to Steve Hubbell (see below). Stanley Kowalski – a brash young man in his twenties who earns his living as a traveling salesman. He is prone to react physically when angered. He and Stella have not been married long, and so are quite comfortable in their 2-room apartment. Stella Kowalski – Blanche’s younger sister, who left their home, Belle Rive, some time ago. She likes Stanley’s energy and strength, but not the violence. She stands up to him in her way, but has not told him that Blanche is coming to visit. Steve Hubbell – a poker-night and bowling buddy of Stanley’s who lives upstairs from the Kowalskis with his wife Eunice. Harold (Mitch) Mitchell – a bachelor poker-night buddy of Stanley’s who lives with his aged mother. He is fascinated by Blanche and wants to protect her. Blanche DuBois – Stella’s older sister, who lived at Belle Reve as the elderly relatives passed away, holding onto their ancestral home until she could no long support it on her teacher’s salary. She tells Stella that she just needs a bit of rest from all she’s been through but there is an air about her that suggests she may be looking for a more permanent haven. Pablo Gonzales – a poker-night buddy of Stanley’s. The Newsboy – a teenage boy collecting for the local paper. Something in his face or voice so reminds Blanche of a former beau from her Belle Rive days that she returns to that time and flirts with him. Doctor and nurse from the sanitarium.
Vocabulary (Excerpted in part from Geva Theatre’s Streetcar study guide.) belle reve
French, beautiful dream. This is the name of Blanche and Stella’s family home in Laurel, Mississippi.
The name of the apartment building the Kowalskis live in. In Greek mythology this was where the blessed spent eternity. The phrase has come to mean a place or condition of ideal happiness.
tasteless and showy.
a whole consisting of unlike parts, for example, a community of people from different backgrounds.
out of place.
ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir
a weir is a barrier placed in or across a stream of river to either create a pool or otherwise divert the stream’s flow; to redirect the water (a tarn—see the end of the quote—is a small lake). Blanche’s reference is a quote of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “Ulalame,” in which a young man is led to his lover’s tomb on the year anniversary of her death by a deceptively bright star. The last cheery little stanza is: Then my heart is grew ashen and sober As the leaves that were crispéd and sere— As the leaves that were withering and sere, And I cried—“It was surely October On this very night of last year That I journeyed—I journeyed down here— That I brought a dread burden down here— On this night of all nights in the year, Ah, what demon has tempted me here? Well I know, now, this dim lake of Auber— This misty mid region of Weir— Well I know, now, this dank tarn of Auber, This ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”
something granted as a favor or privilege.
Spanish: Don’t mention it, it was nothing.
a civil code of law carried over into Louisiana from its French origins. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, “the Napoleonic Civil Code, an ambitious work of legal codification, . . . consolidated certain basic principles established in 1789: civil 3
equality and equality before the law; the abolition of feudalism in favor of modern contractual forms of property; and the secularization of civil relations. Codification also made it easier to export those principles beyond the borders of France. In the area of family relations, however, the Napoleonic Code was less a codification of revolutionary innovations than a reaction against them. By reverting to patriarchal standards that strengthened the prerogatives of the husband and father, it wiped out important gains that women had made during the Revolution. The code's spirit on this subject was summed up in its statement that ‘a husband owes protection to his wife; a wife owes obedience to her husband.’ Wives were barred from signing contracts without their husbands' consent, and a wife's portion of the family's community property fell completely under her husband's control during his lifetime. . . cut the rebop
Stanley is telling Blanche to stop buttering him up and say what she really thinks about him (during their scene together before the poker game).
sex between a man and woman not married to each other. Blanche simply means that the men in her family practically gave away their property over foolish whims (which may have included payments to mistresses but may have been gambling debts, for example.).
adorn oneself carefully; primp.
to exist in a suppressed state that suggests emotional heat.
French: dressing or grooming.
a treat for a small child. Stanley is telling Mitch he’s a mama’s boy.
Yiddish: to offer unasked for advice to others, especially card players.
Lucky Strikes, a popular brand of cigarette in the Forties and Fifties.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, British 19th century poet who had to overcome her father’s disapproval to marry Robert Browning, an equally famous poet.
French Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries. Blanche and Stella’s forebears may have fled Catholic France when the Huguenots were persecuted there in the 17th century.
formal courtesies a man pays a woman.
concerned with only what is apparent or obvious; not a deep thinker.
Latin American musician known as “King of the Rumba” (a rhythmical dance that originated in Cuba) who introduced Latin American rhythms into the US.
a puppy or other young, untrained animal. Eunice tells Stanley he has no manners.
a barrel of gunpowder, therefore, a very combustible object. Stella is explaining to Blanche that tempers can flare during a poker game as money changes hands and alcohol is consumed (especially when Stanley is playing, one would guess).
“Is this some Chinese philosophy you’ve cultivated?” Blanche wonders if Stella has developed an esoteric acceptance of Stanley’s behavior enabling her to rise above it. Bromo
Bromo seltzer was a popular hangover/upset stomach remedy which basically worked like Alka-Seltzer.
Blanche’s opinion of Stanley, that he is like a beast or wild animal.
scientific explorations of mankind’s origins, especially, in this case, the search for our common humanoid ancestor.
“I wouldn’t mind if you’d stay down at the Four Deuces . . . but you go up!” Eunice believes that the rooms above the Four Deuces bar are either rooms to rent by the hour or that they are hooker’s apartments, and it upsets her that Steve is spending time in them (as she assumes). coquettish
characterized by concern with unwholesome matters such as death.
an old expression meaning that a girl or woman would have sex with a man she was not married to.
The Arabian Nights – Blanche is referring to the Middle Eastern fables told by Scherezade; she means that the paper carrier has an exotic, romantic look to him. my Rosenkavalier
Blanche romanticizes Mitch by casting him as the hero of Strauss’ waltz opera of the same name, which character is an archetypal chivalrous object of desire of several of the women.
a false belief.
cluster of seven stars (also known as the Seven Sisters, esp. among Native Americans) in the constellation Taurus historically thought to symbolically represent “sweet influences.”
joie de vivre
French: literally, joy of life; figuratively, to enjoy life, to live in a spirited way.
not the ancient Eastern European province but referring to a “loose” lifestyle usually attributed to artists and freethinkers, in which people freely put out, for example.
“Je suis la Dame aux Camelias! Vous etes —Armand!” Blanche refers to Camille, the popular 19th century French melodrama of a high-class prostitute and her lover Armand, who remains true to her despite the fact that his family forbids the relationship. She ultimately dies of tuberculosis. Voulez-voux couches avec moi ce soir? Voux ne comprenez pas? Ah! Quel dommage! In this remarkable passage Blanche asks an uncomprehending Mitch if he’d like to go to bed with her (shades of Patti LaBelle), whether he understands her or not (he does not) and then sighs, “What a shame!” She is certainly at the end of her rope psychologically and financially, and has probably had too much to drink, allowing her desperation to show through albeit in a foreign language. alpaca
the South American llama’s wool coat was very prized in the 1950s, so Mitch is wearing a fine jacket.
a waltz playing in the background at the casino where Blanche’s homosexual husband committed suicide after she admitted to him that she had seen him with his lover. This music haunts Blanche during the play.
despicable; worthy of hate.
Louisiana senator and governor whose motto, “Every man a king,” was the emblem of his wealth distribution program. As Governor 6
Long he soon assumed total control of the state, and as the Thirties wore on his fascist sympathies became obvious, leading to his assassination in 1935. “Are you boxed out of your mind?” flores para los muertos
Mitch isn’t sure if Blanche is drunk or nuts.
Spanish: Flowers for the dead. The woman is selling flowers for people to place on their loved ones’ graves, but confronting her is too much for Blanche, caught up as she is in the memory of her dead husband, and facing her own future without Mitch or anyone to protect her from the truth.
something handed down from an ancestor or past history. Blanche’s legacy is “dying old women remembering their dead men.”
French; a type of yarn that, when woven, creates a rough-textured cloth.
Williams’ Work 1940 1944 1945 1945 1947 1948 1951 1953 1955 1957 1958 1961 1962 1966 1967 1969 1971 1972 1973 1975 1976 1977
Battle of Angels Stairs to the Roof; The Glass Menagerie: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award You Touched Me (Co-authored with Donald Windham) "This Property is Condemned"; Portrait of a Madonna Summer and Smoke (Later retitled Eccentricities of a Nightingale); A Streetcar Named Desire: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize American Blues: Five Short Plays The Rose Tattoo: Tony Award: Best Play Camino Real; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award; Pulitzer Prize; "27 Wagons Full of Cotton"; Player of a Summer Game Orpheus Descending (Revision of Battle of Angels) Garden District (incl. Something Unspoken and Suddenly Last Summer); Talk to Me Like the Rain Sweet Bird of Youth; I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix; Period of Adjustment The Night of the Iguana: NY Drama Critics' Circle Award The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore Slapstick Tragedy (incl. The Mutilated and Gnadiges Fraulein) The Two Characters Play (later revised as Outcry); The Seven Descents of Myrtle In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel; Dragon Country: A Book of Plays "I Can't Imagine Tomorrow" and "Confessional" Small Craft Warnings A Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot The Red Devil Battery Sign; The Putrification This Is (An Entertainment) Vieux Carre 7
1978 Creve Coeur (revised as A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur) 1979 Kirche, Kutchen Und Kinder 1980 Clothes for a Summer Hotel; Will Mr. Meriwether Return from Memphis; Williams' name was added to the Theatre Hall of Fame. 1981 Something Cloudy, Something Clear 1982 A House Not Meant to Stand Williams also wrote numerous screenplays, short stories, essays, a novel and a memoir. Many of his letters have also been published. Following is a poem from Williams’ collection In the Winter of Cities that truly expresses the loneliness of the urban dweller. Those Who Ignore the Appropriate Time of Their Going Those who ignore the appropriate time of their going Are the most valiant explorers, Going into a country that no one is meant to go into, The time coming after that isn’t meant to come after. In the winter of cities The chalk-drawn sign of the fish, jaws agape on huge Tongueless outcry Of suffocation Burns over their white iron beds and gradually brightens, Casting violent light on them. . . . The sister of Rimbaud, Like a white bird, snow-blinded, wanders among the multitude Of the unsleeping Bearing a warm teacup of a brew from the seeds of the poppy, Rushes, breathless, and kneels Once more to implore them to accept absolution and to be Sweetly enfolded In the blue robe of Mary. . . . Often, toward morning, Their respiration quickens. Violets are exchanged Between their unlidded eyes and the folds of their disordered Bedclothes. Drawn window blinds Release to the late-watching street A luster softer than the pearls of a mother . . . Discussion Questions/Activities 1. Recognizing Streetcar’s setting is crucial to understanding what motivates the characters, particularly Blanche but not only her. Exploring the Deep South culture of Laurel, Mississippi, where Blanche and Stella lived during the 1920s and ’30s, as well as that of New Orleans’ French Quarter and Louisiana’s history as a refuge for immigrants of many kinds, will go some way to revealing why Blanche, Stella, Stanley, Mitch and even the Hubbells act and react they way they do. 8
2. Williams chose his words very carefully; it is no accident that even he felt that of all his characters Blanche, the English lit. teacher, spoke for him most clearly. Do you suppose that the DuBois family history, whose immigrant ancestors included Frenchmen fleeing religious persecution, informed Blanche and Stella’s growing up, from their names (“DuBois . . . means woods and Blanche means white, so the two together mean white woods, like an orchard in the spring!” “Stella! Stella for star”) to Belle Reve (beautiful dream)? Williams also made careful use of real place names in New Orleans’ French Quarter, as in the directions Blanche follows to reach Stella: “They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and then transfer to one called Cemeteries and ride six blocks and get off at—Elysian Fields!” Considering the poems Blanche quotes and her general use of poetic language will reveal quite a bit about her self image, just as Stanley’s blunt, forceful speech tells us much about him. 3. The use of music, both real and imagined (Blanche is haunted by the dance music she heard the night her husband committed suicide), creates a certain emotional setting as well as indicating the time period. As the Geva theatre staff noted in their study guide, “from as early as his play The Glass Menagerie, Williams was interested in a concept he called "the new plastic theatre," a theatrical type of expressionism incorporating lighting, music, sound, and other dramatic elements. His brilliant use of symbols to underscore, enhance and contrast the content and action of his plays influenced the designers of his productions and became Williams' trademark. Many drama critics considered Tennessee Williams to be one of the greatest American playwrights of the century and certainly one of the most popular, most shocking, most prolific, most controversial and most richly-rewarded.” While this was a fairly new concept in the forties, it’s one common approach among many today. Are there elements of our production that Williams would have considered appropriate? Does our production serve his play? 4. Students may respond to the inherent class conflict between Stanley and Blanche: while we don’t know very much about Stanley’s background, it is obvious that he has worked his way up in the world, while Blanche certainly carries herself as if she were still a member of the “Southern aristocracy,” rather like Amanda in Williams’ Glass Menagerie. This was a tension Williams saw in his own life, between his parents, between the way he lived in his grandparents’ home and what his own experience was when he first moved to New Orleans. How do you suppose Stella has made this transition—or did she? It is clear that Blanche cannot reconcile the two lifestyles. Some students may feel, like Stanley, that Blanche has simply “put on airs” and that her background is really pretty ordinary. What do you suppose Mitch’s young life was like? He seems to yearn for Blanche’s world, or at least is ready to protect it for her (before Stanley tells him about the Flamingo). Does this kind of class conflict still exist? 5. Streetcar was presented in 1947; Williams did most of his work on it in the late Forties. Aside from the specifically southern moires I have already alluded to, American society’s strictures on race relations, sexuality and women’s roles were obviously very different then than now, but, for Williams’ audience, Stella, Stanley and their friends represented a new generation with new attitudes toward was acceptable at least in part formed in the crucible of their involvement in WWII, while Blanche’s public persona, Mitch and Mitch’s mother represent the older generation and their ideas about what was right and wrong. Do students see a similar disparity 9
between their peers and their parents, or older brothers/sisters/cousins? Does Streetcar seem to be a period piece to them, or do the issues and conflicts still seem current? (Could they picture Eminem as Stanley, JLo as Stella, Courtney Love as Blanche . . . ?)
Jessica Tandy in the original production of Streetcar in New York.
Brighton Beach Memoirs Playwright: Neil Simon Born 1928, Marvin Neil Simon exhibited a knack for comedy early on when, as a boy, his impersonation of the family doctor earned him the nickname Doc. He is the second son of second generation Jewish-American parents; his brother Danny, who pursued comedy writing with Doc as a young man, is about five years older. Their father, like Jack Jerome, worked in New York's garment district; their mother was a full-time homemaker. In an interview with Paul D. Zimmerman, published in Newsweek in 1970, Simon revealed that, for reasons unknown, Simon's father walked out on the family more than once; as Doc told Zimmerman: “The horror of those years was that I didn't come from one broken home but five.” Danny tried to shield him from what was happening by treating him as an equal partner in his writing when Doc was as young as 12. (There are references to Eugene Jerome, the Neil Simon character, writing his memoirs as an adolescent throughout the Brighton Beach trilogy, particularly in Biloxi Blues but perhaps most notably in the first installment, Brighton Beach Memoirs.) Growing up in the Thirties, the radio would have probably been a constant in Danny and Doc's lives, as television is today. All the great comedy shows--with formats, performers and writers straight out of vaudeville and the movies--must have filled the well-kept air of the Simon household. The boys began writing simple jokes and then more involved stand-up material, which they sold to comics playing nightclubs in the Catskills (the famous Borscht circuit). They held a series of “day jobs" including Danny's in Warner Brothers' New York publicity department (and Doc's in their mailroom) until they submitted a synopsis for a bogus Joan Crawford movie (she falls in love with a gangster who is tried and sent to the electric chair; she promises to wait for him) to Goodman Ace, a top comedy writer, who hired them on an as-needed basis. They kept writing for comedians, but quit their day jobs, to their parent's horror. By the early Fifties Danny and Doc had written sketches for Phil Silvers, Jerry Lester and Jackie Gleason's shows, leading to them joining Sid Caesar's legendary Your Show of Shows, along with young Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner and Caesar himself. When that show broke up Doc stayed on with Caesar (for Caesar's Hour) but Danny moved to Hollywood, which was already becoming television's broadcasting center. After Caesar's Hour Doc moved on to Phil Silvers' Sgt. Bilko, but the grind of turning out high-quality comedy every week was taking its toll on him. In self-defense, 11
Neil Simon began writing his first play in his spare time, Come Blow Your Horn. Three years later its success enabled Simon to resign from the rat race of television comedy writing to take up the more leisurely pace and stress-free lifestyle associated with comedy playwrighting. Finally writing for himself, Simon naturally turned to what he knew best—a humorous look at his family. Zimmerman noted in his Newsweek article that “[Simon's own] mother, father and brother served as models for the characters, which was nothing less than a comic staging of his own post-adolescence,” a theme Simon has returned to more than once, not only in the Brighton Beach plays but in his Pulitzer Prizewinning Lost in Yonkers. Over the course of Simon's amazing career—it really has been a rare Broadway season that has not included a Simon play, just as it says in his official bio—the plays that have done well are those Simon could invest truth in: Barefoot in the Park was written soon after his own transition to married life; Chapter Two, about a widowed writer who accidentally meets a woman with whom he rushes into marriage was written for Marsha Mason, Simon's second wife whom he married soon after his first wife died of cancer; the title character of Jake's Women is a writer who is pleasantly plagued by his imagination's caricatures of the women in his life (whom he has previously fictionalized on paper as well as in his head). This is not to in any way denigrate Simon's funniest work—the side-splitting exchanges between Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, the banter between and the actual act performed by The Sunshine Boys, the hilarious absurdity that is Rumors—but these plays are derived from his extensive comedy writing experience, so long a major part of his life. (As his bio at the end of Chapter Two says: “By his own analysis, 'Doc' Simon has always been “that person sitting in the corner who's observing it all” for all of his fifty years, an insight he explores in his introduction entitled 'Portrait of the Writer as a Schizophrenic'. . . .") Nonetheless, Simon's real hits have their real-life integrity, which he learned to protect from any adverse effects from his wisecracking wit relatively early on, as he told Paul Zimmerman: During rehearsals [for The Odd Couple] we were all moved when Art Carney [playing Felix Unger] burst into tears as he talked with Walter Matthau about missing his wife and children. But when we got that scene in front of an audience, they howled with laughter. Up to that point, I had been relentless in my pursuit of laughs. But, after Odd Couple, I was convinced that I could make people laugh, so I no longer felt compelled to. While we were out of town with Last of the Red Hot Lovers, I cut 25 good laughs. I've learned to protect the serious moments in my plays. Simon also told Zimmerman, “My view is, 'How sad and funny life is.' I can't think of a humorous situation that does not involve some pain. I used to ask, 'What is a funny situation?' Now I ask, 'What is a sad situation and how can I tell it humorously?" As Simon concluded his interview with Zimmerman, he discussed playwrighting in general terms as still stressful for him, though he had been writing plays successfully for some ten years then, adding that despite the stress, he felt compelled to continue. Every time I start a play, I panic because I feel I don't know how to do it. I keep wishing I had a grown up in the room who would tell me how to begin. I still have all the fears I had in the beginning. I just hide them better now. . . . I believe that if I keep on working, I am going to unearth some kind of secret that will make it unnecessary for me to write again. But all I find is clues. And the more of them I find, the more fascinating and 12
frightening life becomes. If I stop writing plays, I've got nothing left to do. It's the only way I have of finding out what life is all about. Currently Neil Simon lives in California with his wife Diane Lander. He is father to Ellen, Nancy and Bryn. Setting The Jerome-Morton household in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, near the beach. It is September 1937, with blitzkrieg storm clouds beginning to gather in Europe while the US still concerns itself with economic recovery from the recessions that have followed the Depression. Synopsis After living with her sister’s family for sometime now, due to the sudden death of her husband, Blanche Morton feels she must find some way to move herself and her daughters on, though, like most women in the Thirties, she really has no work experience. She is determined to go although neither her sister Kate nor her brother-in-law Jack want her to leave; they are quite willing to help Blanche and her girls indefinitely. But Blanche sees daughter Nora turning away from her and relying on Uncle Jack for advice, and knows they must find their own place. Meanwhile, our guide Eugene sees most, tells most, and serves as his brother Stanley’s confessor when Stanley loses his job for standing up for his principles. Characters Eugene Morris Jerome – 15-year-old Eugene, our guide to his own memoirs, is at a nexus point in his life: boyhood ardor for baseball in general and the Yankees in specific is starting to give way to adolescent longing for girls. In the meanwhile he’s his mother Kate’s chief errand boy, and his brother Stanley’s sounding board and confessor when he isn’t simply in awe of Stanley. (He also happens to be Neil Simon’s mouthpiece.) Blanche Morton –Widowed Aunt Blanche is 38 and still grieving for her late husband Dave, who passed away suddenly, leaving her to care for their daughters Laurie and Nora. Like most women of her age in the Thirties, Blanche has no marketable skills but picks up some money sewing in an effort to help support her family. She feels very grateful to her sister Kate and Kate’s husband Jack, even rather guilty for invading their home. She is still very attractive, but her self esteem has seemingly eroded since Dave’s death. Kate Jerome – Eugene and Stanley’s mother, Jack’s wife, Kate is a domestic engineer in every sense of that phrase, and years before the idea existed. As Blanche’s older sister Kate still feels obligated to protect Blanche and care for her and her daughters. While Kate appears to be tough on Eugene, she is really trying to foster in him a responsible adult, which certainly seems an uphill task when faced with the imaginative Gene. Under that strict disciplinarian exterior beats the heart of a woman who loves her husband, her sons, her sister and her nieces unconditionally. Laurie Morton – Blanche’s 13 year old daughter has been diagnosed with a heart “flutter” since her father’s death, prompting her mother and Aunt Kate to treat her delicately. 13
Laurie makes the most of her special treatment and is not above letting the adults know when Gene is up to something. Nora Morton – Laurie’s big sister Nora is only a junior in high school, but she is already considering life after public school, particularly after a Broadway producer sees her dancing and invites her to audition for him. (She has also attracted Eugene’s newlyawakened attention to the opposite sex, though she doesn’t know it.) She misses her father and has come to rely on her Uncle Jack for fatherly advice, although she’s already of the opinion that she can make her own decisions. Stanley Jerome – Eugene’s older brother is done with school and has his first real job at a warehouse. He takes his responsibility toward supporting his extended family very seriously but is still young enough to hold to his ideals passionately, which leads him into some difficulties. He is alternately proud of his brother and driven to distraction by him, but feels he can confide in Gene. Jack Jerome – The head of this household is holding down two jobs as the play opens, cutting ladies’ raincoats during the day and selling novelties in the evening and on weekends to help make ends meet, which is proving to be a strain on his health but he doesn’t complain. He is even patient with his sons, and tries to be a father figure for Blanche’s daughters as best he can without treading on her parental authority. Providing his wife Kate’s sister and her children with a home is perfectly natural to him; he harbors no animosity or ill-will for bearing what some might feel an unjust burden. This is not to say that people don’t drive him crazy—he wouldn’t be a member of this house if that were the case! But he may be the calmest member of the household because he is internalizing the stress he’s under. . . . Vocabulary cossacks
Slavic warriors living chiefly in southeast Russia; an elite corps of horsemen in czarist Russia
bread made from rye flour often baked with caraway seeds
an American film icon who starred in movies from the 1920s through the 1940s, especially renowned for his westerns
felt hat with broad rim and high crown
an exclamation to express surprise or wonder
a major thoroughfare in the Lower East Side of Manhattan; many Jewish immigrants operated business in this area
nicknamed the “Iron Horse,” he was one of the New York Yankees greatest players, played on the championship teams of the 1920s; died of ALS (a neuromuscular disease) which is often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease
a neighborhood in southwestern Brooklyn bordered by the Atlantic Ocean which saw a large influx of Jews in the 1920s 14
successful residents of the Lower East Side flocked to this desirable location from the 1920s through the 1940s; it was considered the jewel of the Bronx
an infectious disease caused by an organism that may affect almost any tissue of the body, especially in the lungs
an insulated cabinet used for preserving or storing food, had widespread use before the refrigerator
Simon’s Work Come Blow Your Horn - 1961. Little Me - 1962. Barefoot in the Park - 1963. The Odd Couple - 1965. Sweet Charity - 1966. The Star-Spangled Girl - 1968. Plaza Suite - 1969. Promises, Promises - 1969. Last of the Red Hot Lovers - 1968. The Gingerbread Lady - 1969. The Prisoner of Second Avenue - 1970. The Sunshine Boys - 1973. The Good Doctor - 1974. God's Favorite - 1975. California Suite - 1977. Chapter Two - 1979. They're Playing Our Song - 1979. I Ought to Be in Pictures - 1980. Fools - 1981. Brighton Beach Memoirs - 1984. Biloxi Blues - 1985. (Tony for Best Play.) Broadway Bound - 1987. Rumors - 1990. Lost in Yonkers - 1991. (Won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony.) Laughter on the 23rd Floor - 1994. Proposals – 1997. Questions 1. Although Brighton Beach Memoirs is set nearly seventy years in the past, Eugene’s adolescence seems familiar. What is it that makes Eugene’s story appealing and easily accessible to a contemporary audience? 2. Brighton Beach has long been a point of destination for Jews immigrating to the United States. Most recently, Russian Jews have settled in this neighborhood. Research the history of immigration your own community. What ethnic groups settled where? Who are the most recent immigrants to your community? Why do you think they’ve chosen this location? 15
3. During the Depression, it was not unusual for extended families to live together in one house or apartment. Talk to your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents about their childhood. Did they live in urban areas or rural areas? Did they live with relatives? Draw a timeline of your family’s history in this country. Include the places they lived and how they supported themselves. 4. Memoirs are a collection of significant memories from one’s life. If you were to write your memoirs up to this point in your life, what are some of the events that you would include? Talk about how those events made you feel and how they shaped you into the person you are today. 5. Looming large in the background in Brighton Beach Memoirs is Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the displacement of Jews in Europe. It wasn’t that long ago that most of the Western countries were engaged in a war that ended six million Jewish lives and lead to the horrific destruction caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. Try to interview some people who were approximately Eugene’s age at the time (Approximately 75 years old today). How did the World War II impact their childhood?
Oliver! Authors’ Biographies Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812, the second child in the family, his sister Fanny being one year older. At the time, the Dickens family was living in Kent, relatively solvent, but by Charles' eleventh year they were forced to move to Cheapside, London. Charles was kept out of school in an effort to save money, although he was not sent to work at this time. He continued to read on his own, and spent hours walking the London streets (and getting lost) when he wasn't reading. However, within a year things were bad enough that his father placed him at a bootblacking factory managed by a family friend. This must have been an act of desperation, for two weeks later his father was jailed in Marshalsea Debtor's prison; the rest of the family, except Charles, followed soon after. (As an adult he rescued his father, mother and other family members from their creditors regularly, with growing bitterness.) Charles continued to work after his family paid their debts and left prison, until his employer received an insulting note from his father and fired him. He then returned to school for three more years until 1827. He then spent some time as an office boy in an attorney's office, learned shorthand, and even became a freelance reporter but drifted until 1830, when he obtained a “reader's ticket” to the British Museum and became a staff reporter for The Mirror of Parliament. His impressions of London and its social scene, and his sharpened writing skills, led him to produce his first sketch of London in l833, published in Monthly Magazine. Subsequent articles were attributed to Boz (Dickens' brother Augustus’ nickname for Charles). Sketches by Boz, the collection of these essays, was published February 7, 1836. Dickens the author was on his way. On April 2,1836, he married Catherine Hogarth. The pair at first set up housekeeping in a conservative fashion, taking only four rooms, but as time passed and children began to arrive with some frequency, Dickens found himself writing more with an eye to supporting his family than depicting London or any creatures of his imagination. Sketches by Boz was followed by The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, which appeared in monthly installments simultaneously. With Pickwick finished and Oliver Twist half done, he began Nicholas Nickleby. Serial publication of The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock increased that magazine's sales to a hundred thousand a week. Its first Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, sold 6,000 copies the first day. Over the years Dickens wrote several Yuletide stories, including The Cricket on the Hearth and The Chimes. Increasingly Dickens worked on theatrical projects in the midst and in between literary ones, sometimes writing them but often producing them among his family and circle of friends. When his troupe performed publicly the proceeds went to charity. David Copperfield came in 1849; Dickens was surprised to learn that close friends found it autobiographical. Bleak House, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations came more slowly than earlier books had, and he increased his public readings of A Christmas Carol, Cricket on the Hearth, and excerpts of other works, combining his love of acting with his need to earn money. The public readings began to take over writing, although his health became increasingly delicate during 1868. He began Edwin Drood, although it was interrupted by his heavy reading schedule and his bouts of ill health; doctors counseled him that he was risking paralysis and a stroke. He was forced to stop the readings in March 1870. In June he moved to the Kent countryside, but it did not restore him; he died June 9, 1870, surrounded by his children. 17
Lionel Bart, the British composer, playwright, and lyricist, was born Lionel Begleiter on August 1, 1930 in London. His greatest success was the musical Oliver!, which opened at the New Theatre on June 30, 1960 and received 23 curtain calls. It ran for 2618 performances in London. It opened on Broadway in 1963 and ran for 774 performances. The 1968 film version won several Oscars, including Best Picture. Cameron Mackintosh revived the musical at the London Palladium in 1994 in a version rewritten by Bart. Setting The play takes place in London England in the mid 1800s, often referred to as Victorian England. (Some Background on the State of Children in Victorian England) In 1840 perhaps only twenty percent of the children of London had any schooling, a number which had risen by 1860, when perhaps half of the children between 5 and 15 were in some sort of school, if only a day school or a Sunday school; the others were working. Many of the more fortunate found employment as apprentices to respectable trades (in the building trade workers put in 64 hours a week in summer and 52 in winter) Oliver asking for more . . . or as general servants—there were over George Cruikshank, Illustrator, 1846 120,000 domestic servants in London alone at mid-century, who worked 80 hour weeks for one halfpence per hour—but many more were not so lucky. In the iron and coal mines, children, both boys and girls, began work at age 5, and generally died before they were 25. Most prostitutes (and there were thousands in London alone) were between 15 and 22 years of age. (Excerpted from http://landow.stg.brown.edu/Victoria/history/hist8.html David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College) Synopsis Oliver Twist, published in 1837 through 1840 by Charles Dickens, follows the travails of an orphan imprecated by the institutions entrusted with his well being through his life on the streets to his reconciliation with his past. Raised in the workhouse and named by a corrupt church beadle, Oliver Twist flees his tormentors, only to fall in with a gang of scoundrels. Among these rascals and hardened criminals are some of Dickens’ most memorable characters: Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes to name a few. Eventually Oliver crawls out from underneath the underbelly of Victorian England with the assistance of some kindly strangers. In 1960, Lionel Bart adapted Dickens’ indictment of Victorian England’s child welfare system into Oliver!, the less than scathing musical. By omitting some of the plot and writing catchy tunes such as “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “It’s a Fine 18
Life,” and “I’d Do Anything,” Bart transformed the novel into family entertainment suited for young children. Although the story’s darker moments have been muted in the musical, the play, as with A Christmas Carol, retains the essence of Dickens’ story telling and contains lessons that are especially well suited for the holiday season. Characters Oliver Twist
a workhouse boy about 13 years old
a pompous man in his fifties
a sharp-tongue widow in her fifties, the workhouse mistress
the undertaker’s pimply apprentice
the undertaker’s wife
the Sowerberry’s disreputable daughter
the pickpockets’ elderly ringleader
The Artful Dodger
a pickpocket, Fagin’s brightest pupil
a villain in his prime
Sykes’ beaten-down helpmate
a gentleman of wealth and breeding
Mr. Brownlow’s housekeeper
the basic monetary unit in England
a young child hired by an undertaker to follow a funeral procession for a child’s funeral
a state of depression or irritability (used to be attributed to an excess of black bile)
suffering from extreme poverty
delicate or fine; delicious to the taste
to address someone in a rude manner 19
a miserable person, one who has had great misfortune
a minor church official
improper, below the standards
a British coin of very little value
a drink taken at bedtime, usually alcoholic
a person who occupies a rented room in another’s house
a mean, worthless person, a villain
an exclusive or special right
Oliver meets Fagin
Questions/Discussions 1. How is Oliver’s childhood typical or atypical of a Victorian child’s upbringing? Research Charles Dickens’ life. How are Oliver and Dickens’ childhood similar? 2. If Oliver was an orphan today, how would his situation differ from what it was like in England in the 1800s? Are there factors that haven’t changed? What is the plight of an orphan in this country who never gets adopted? 3. In Oliver Twist, Fagin is repeatedly called “The Jew” and referred to in derogatory terms (references that are omitted in the musical Oliver!). Look at other accomplished literary works that contain racism, such as Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice or Samuel Clemens’ Huckleberry Finn. Discuss the nature of the racist remarks in these and other texts. Are they representative of the authors’ beliefs? Are they indicative of the times? Put into the context of the story, are the authors’ intentions or remarks something other than what appears on the surface? 4. Dickens was a master of revealing the hypocrisy of people and institutions in Victorian England. Victorian society might have viewed Fagin and Sykes as criminals, but some of the characters in Oliver Twist who held legitimate jobs were just as criminal. Discuss the behavior of Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney. Could an argument be made that their behavior was even more criminal than that of the street scoundrels? 5. How did transforming Oliver Twist into a musical impact the story? Did the tone of the story change? Are all the characters that were in the novel in the musical? Is the plot of the story the same? 20
6. Choose your favorite scene from the novel and turn it into a musical number. Write the lyrics to a song and devise a melody. Determine which characters you want to participate in the musical number. Remember that a song in a musical is usually written to capture a moment of intensity or heightened drama. Review some of the existing songs in Oliver!. Stylistically, your song be similar to the existing ones. 7. Using the song you wrote, stage a musical number. One student should act as the musical director and one as the choreographer. Perform the song for those students in your class who arenâ€™t in the musical number. See if they can determine which scene you are portraying. 8. Give some examples of the comic portrayals of the characters in Oliver!. Which characters did you find the most enjoyable? In the case of the more fiendish characters, how does comedy make them less threatening? There are certain types of comedy, such as slapstick, satire, black comedy, etc. Define these. Which type is most frequently employed in Oliver Twist? 9. Oliver! takes place in several locations: on the street, in the workhouse, Sowerberryâ€™s funeral shop, the London Bridge, etc. A designer must be economical when designing a set, often using certain pieces to serve more than one function. If there are too many set changes, the play might become clunky. In addition, there is a limited amount of money for sets. Keeping these factors in mind, design a set for Oliver!. Either draw your design or build a miniature set model. 10. If you were to update Faginâ€™s gang of petty thieves, how would they appear? Describe their dress, the way they would speak, the items they would wear, and how they might live.
Copenhagen Playwright Mr. Frayn is a British playwright, journalist and novelist. His plays include Noises Off, Benefactors, Donkeys’ Years, Balmoral, Clouds, Look Look, Alphabetical Order, Make and Break, Now You Know, La Belle Vivette and Here. His translations include Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (titled Wild Honey) and Platonov, and Leo Tolstoy’s The Fruits of Enlightenment. Mr. Frayn’s most recent novel, Headlong, concerns Martin Clay, an art historian writing a treatise about 15th century Dutch art whose boorish neighbor reveals what looks to be a lost Pieter Bruegel painting that he is anxious to sell; Clay determines to get the painting without letting on what it’s really worth, but his wife suspects Clay’s plans. Other novels by Frayn include The Book of Fub, On the Outskirts, The Trick of it, A Very Private Life, Clockwise, Landing on the Sun, Sweet Dreams and Celia’s Secret: An Investigation. Essay collections such as The Original Michael Frayn, The Additional Michael Frayn and Speak after the Beep: Studies in the Art of Communicating with Inanimate and SemiAnimate Objects are also parts of his oeuvre, as are the titles First and Last (“an examination of the courage of old age and the prickly affection which can knit a family together,” according to bn.com), Great Railway Journeys of the World and The Copenhagen Papers: An Intrigue, in which Mr. Frayn recounts his receiving a mysterious package from a British housewife that contains pages of faded writing in German that seemed to describe what happened at the Heisenberg-Bohr meeting—or was it all a hoax? Setting A nondescript place serves as the Bohrs’ residence, where they recreate the evening they hosted Heisenberg, as well as the no-place in which all three comment on and try to recall the actual events of that evening. Synopsis Margrethe and Niels Bohr, later joined by Niels’ former student Werner Heisenberg, try to grasp what actually happened between the men during a mid-WWII reunion meeting at the Bohrs’ home in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, Denmark. Naturally there was some discussion of progress made by both Allies and Axis scientists in studying the atom and the atom bomb, but there had been some political discussion as well, outside the house, away from Nazi surveillance, and some accusations of a personal nature—or were there? In attempting to recreate the visit, both the Bohrs and their guest Heisenberg discover that the more they grasp at the meaning of their discussions, to arrive at their positions on the war, on nuclear weapons, on the responsibilities scientists have toward society, the less sure any of them are of what went on between them.
Characters Margrethe Bohr – the former Margrethe Norlund, who married Niels Bohr in 1912, a year after he was granted his doctorate in physics. Aside from raising their 6 sons, Margrethe was integral in making their home the entertainment center of his students and fellow scientists visiting the Institute for Theoretical Physics. She does not particularly like Werner Heisenberg but still welcomes him to their house (to please Niels). Niels Bohr – the renown Danish physicist who redefined the atom in such a way as to prompt 20th century theories and atomic exploration (a fuller biography may be found below). He was known throughout the scientific community for his warm personality and love of entertaining as much as for his groundbreaking theories and research. Werner Heisenberg – a German physicist who spent some time at Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics (together they developed the concept of “complementarity” [see below]; also see his biography below) before he became head of a Nazi-sponsored physics lab back in Germany. Vocabulary Copenhagen
the capital of Denmark, which was occupied by German forces during World War II
a branch of physics that studies atomic systems, whereby particles are destroyed and created; the science of atomic weapons
the German secret police during the Nazi reign
a scientist that studies matter, energy, motion and force
the splitting of the nucleus of an atom causing the release of energy
an accelerator in which atoms move in a spiral path under the influence of alternating voltage and a magnetic field
a diplomat with the authority to transact business for his/her country
Schrodinger proposed the cat paradox: put a cat inside a box, add a container of poison gas which is activated by the decay of a radioactive atom, and close the box. Since the radioactive atom obeys the rules of quantum mechanics and since therefore its state is indeterminate until measured by an outside observer, opening the box and observing the atom (a microscopic quantum system) instantly determines the status of the cat (a decidedly macroscopic, non-quantum concept). The feline is neither alive nor dead until the radioactive atom is measured by an observer.
a radioactive metallic element used chiefly in atomic and hydrogen bombs 23
capable of being split or divided
radioactive element capable of self-maintained explosive fission
a temple or sacred building in Asia
a statement that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth
Niels Bohr A life-long resident of Copenhagen, from his birth in 1885 till he death in 1962, Bohr received his doctorate in physics from the University of Copenhagen in 1911, just 15 years after his post-graduate mentor, J.J. Thomson, had discovered the electron. (A year later he married Margrethe Norlund, a fellow Dane; in time they became the proud parents of 6 sons.) Working from Ernest Rutherford’s premise that an atom was actually comprised of a small dense nucleus in the midst of a cloud of electrons, Bohr combined that idea with Max Planck’s 1901 theory that electrons are held at certain distances from the nucleus according to the levels of energy contained in the atom, arriving at a newly defined, dynamic description of electron “behavior”: if the atom radiates or loses energy, its electrons “fall” closer to the nucleus; if the atom absorbs or gains energy, electrons “jump” further away from the nucleus. This greatly spurred atomic experimentation since it reconciled theories about an atom’s nature with the evidence physicists had uncovered in the lab. It also earned Bohr the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922, when he was only 37. Other theories Bohr proposed included the idea that an atom’s nucleus behaves like a drop of liquid (as regards cohesion, for example), and “complementarity,” the concept that objects may have dual natures (an electron behaves like a particle at times, but may also act in accordance to wave theory) but only exhibit one aspect of that nature at a time. The latter idea he developed together with his protégé Werner Heisenberg. A good deal of Bohr’s work was done while he was a physics professor, first at the University of Copenhagen, and later, at the Institute for Theoretical Physics (where he first worked with Heisenberg), founded in 1920. As is evident in Frayn’s play, Bohr was not “all work and no play” by any means: Many of Bohr's collaborators in those [pre-WWII] years have written lovingly about the extraordinary spirit of the institute, where young scientists from many countries worked together and played together in a lighthearted mood that concealed both their absolutely serious concern with physics and the darkening world outside. “Even Bohr,” wrote H.B.G. Casimir, one of the liveliest of the group, “who concentrated more intensely and had more staying power than any of us, looked for relaxation in crossword puzzles, in sports, and in facetious discussions.” (Martin J. Klein, Britannica.com) When Hitler assumed power in Germany Bohr recognized the threat Der Fuhrer posed to Jewish scientists and invited many to join him in Copenhagen, even going so far as to donating his gold Nobel medal to Finland’s anti-Nazi efforts. In 1939 Bohr carried news to US scientists from Austrian physicist Lise Meitner that German scientists were actively trying to split the atom, and thus create an atom bomb, which news led to the 24
development of the Manhattan Project, the US’ own atomic bomb program. Soon thereafter Nazi forces overran Denmark as part of their blitzkrieg throughout Europe. Still, Niels and Margrethe Bohr hosted Heisenberg one evening in 1941 while he attended a scientific conference the Nazis had organized in Copenhagen (see The Famous Meeting, below). The Bohrs were ostensibly under house arrest at that point, but still had their champions, for, as Martin Klein relates, in 1943, under threat of immediate arrest because of his Jewish ancestry and the anti-Nazi views he made no effort to conceal, Bohr, together with his wife and some other family members, was transported to Sweden by fishing boat in the dead of night by the Danish resistance movement. A few days later the British government sent an unarmed Mosquito bomber to Sweden, and Bohr was flown to England in a dramatic flight that almost cost him his life. During the next two years, Bohr and his son Aage (who later followed his father's career as a theoretical physicist, director of the institute, and Nobel Prize winner in physics), took part in the projects for making a nuclear fission bomb [though Niels had strong reservations about the consequences of using such a weapon]. They worked in England for several months and then moved to Los Alamos, N.M., U.S., with a British research team. Following the war the Bohrs returned to their beloved Copenhagen, where Niels continued his research (grateful Danes renamed Institute for Theoretical Physics in his honor), and, in 1955, organized the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Bohr was also instrumental in founding CERN, Europe’s renown particle accelerator and research station. A man of good humor, great personal warmth and well-known hospitality, Bohr had two bits of advice for young scientists: “Never express yourself more clearly than you can think” and “An expert is someone who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a very narrow field.” Martin J. Klein, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and the History of Science at Yale University, contributed this wonderful article on Niels Bohr to Britannica.com.
Werner Heisenberg Mr. Heisenberg was born in Wurzburg, German, in December 1901. He became friends with Wolfgang Pauli early on in his life, the two not only studying physics together at the University of Munich (under Arnold Sommerfeld) but collaborating in further studies afterward. After earning his doctorate in 1923 in Munich he joined Pauli at the University of Gottingen where they studied under Max Born, but the next year Heisenberg moved on to Niels Bohr’s Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen, intrigued as he was by Bohr’s model of the atom (see above) and realizing that, in the decade since Bohr formalized it, further atomic experimentation implied a new model was due. “In June 1925,” according to Patrick Aidan Heelan, “while recuperating from an attack of hay fever on . . . an island in the North Sea, Heisenberg solved a major physical problem” about energy states within an atom that led to “the development of the quantum mechanics of atomic systems” and, later, matrix mechanics. This was just the beginning of a brilliant career, for which Heisenberg is probably best known for his indeterminacy or uncertainty principle (quoted above). Later, he and Bohr described their concept of “complementarity,” which concept, Heelan says, “emphasized the active role of the scientist, who, in making measurements, interacted with the object and thus caused it to 25
be revealed . . . as a function of [his/her] measurement.” Heisenberg held that “active observation was not an absolute datum, but a theory-laden datum—i.e., relativized by theory and contextualized by observational situations” (Heelan). From 1927 to 1941 Heisenberg taught at the University of Leipzig, after which he served as director of Germany’s Institute for Physics in Berlin. (During this time he married Elisabeth Schumacher; in time they had seven children.) There, with Otto Hahn, who had been instrumental in discovering nuclear fission, Heisenberg tried to build a practical nuclear reactor without success. Some say that he focused on a reactor to further persuade the German military that an atom bomb was not feasible because he did not sympathize with the Nazi program; others say that he failed to create either because he was a theoretician and mathematician, not an engineer. He and his fellow physicists were captured by invading British forces at the end of World War II and were interned at Farm Hall, where they learned with the rest of the world that an atomic bomb was feasible when US forces dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Released by the British he returned to Germany where he became director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Gottingen (later in Munich) and served as Germany’s representative when CERN was organized. He long believed that his love of music was analogous to his devotion to physics. “Widely acknowledged as one of the seminal thinkers of the 20th century, Heisenberg was honored with the Max Planck Medal, the Matteucci Medal and the Barnard College Medal of Columbia University,” says Heelan, in addition to his 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for his advances in the field of quantum mechanics. 1927, Werner Heisenberg states his celebrated uncertainty principle: The more accurately a particle’s position is known, the less accurately is its velocity known, and vice versa.
The Famous Meeting Excerpted from American physicist Jeremy Bernsteinâ€™s Commentary magazine article, 1 May 1999 It seems that in September 1941 Heisenberg had come to Copenhagen, where he met Niels Bohr. Denmark was then an occupied country.âˆ— The ostensible reason for Heisenberg's visit was to take part in a conference of astronomers organized by the socalled German Cultural Institute, an outfit set up to distribute Nazi propaganda. Bohr boycotted the conference and there was some question as to whether he would see Heisenberg at all, even though in the late 1920s and early 1930s the two of them had hammered out together what is known as the "Copenhagen interpretation" of quantum mechanics, still in use today. It seems Bohr wanted at least to invite Heisenberg for dinner, but his wife Margrethe, who never much liked Heisenberg, objected; she felt that his whole visit was "hostile." Bohr evidently managed to persuade her. After dinner, he and Heisenberg had a private talk, the contents of which have become one of the most controverted aspects of Heisenberg's entire wartime record. Of this discussion, Bohr's son Aage . . . has written: In a private conversation with my father, Heisenberg brought up the question of the military applications of atomic energy. My father was very reticent and expressed his skepticism because of the great technical difficulties that had to be overcome, but he had the impression that Heisenberg thought that the new possibilities (perhaps an implicit reference to plutonium) could decide the outcome of the war if the war dragged on. Then what happened? According to my informant Hans Bethe, Heisenberg gave Bohr a drawing of something purporting to be the design of a German nuclear weapon. Later this drawing was "transmitted to us in Los Alamos." . . . He told me that he and Edward Teller, asked to analyze the drawing, saw at once that it was a nuclear reactor: "But our conclusion was, when seeing it, these Germans are totally crazy. Do they want to throw a reactor down on London?" . . . I made contact with the late Robert Serber, one of Oppenheimer's closest collaborators and a man noted for both his excellent memory and his extensive store of documents. Serber not only filled me in on what had happened but also sent me some corroborating papers. When Bohr got to England in September 1943, he was briefed by the British on the Allied nuclear-weapons program. Whether he told them what he knew about the German program is uncertain. But upon arriving in the United States in early December, he met with General Leslie R. Groves, who was in charge of the Manhattan Project, and apparently showed him some kind of drawing. Groves was sufficiently alarmed to alert Oppenheimer, and on December 31, just after Bohr arrived at Los Alamos with his son, Oppenheimer called together a select group of staff members to meet them. . . .
(*) Denmark was not the only occupied country Heisenberg visited in the course of the war. In December 1943, he went to Krakow on the invitation of his brother's old schoolmate Hans Frank, then enthusiastically engaged, as the governor-general of Poland, in supervising the extermination of Polish Jewry; one wonders what they talked about.
Serber . . . recalled coming in a little late and being told by Oppenheimer that they were discussing a proposal of Heisenberg's for a nuclear weapon and being shown the drawing, which he recognized as a reactor. No one I spoke with could say whether the drawing was supposed to have been made by Heisenberg or was done by Bohr from memory, and the drawing itself seems to have vanished. In any case, Bethe and Teller wrote up a report showing that such a reactor could never explode like a nuclear weapon. No reactor could: this is what Frisch and Peierls had understood in 1940. . . . Whether Heisenberg ever really apprehended this distinction is another subject of vehement debate. . . . The Farm Hall transcripts [recounting conversations between Heisenberg and other top German scientists during their captivity as British prisoners of war] record a discussion among the Germans just after they first learned about [the bombing of] Hiroshima, and it is clear to me that they lacked even a rudimentary understanding of how a nuclear weapon works. In a few days, Heisenberg figured it out and gave his fellow detainees a lecture; from their comments, it is obvious they were hearing about all this for the first time. In reading Bethe and Teller's report, I realized that this was not just any reactor they were analyzing but a particular design Heisenberg had clung to even though a number of junior theorists [with whom he worked] had demonstrated its inefficiencies. But how to reconcile all this with Aage Bohr's absolute certainty . . . that no reactor was discussed when his father met Heisenberg in 1941 and that no drawing changed hands? Here I will hazard a guess: the drawing came to Bohr from someone else on some other occasion. Indeed, the notion that Heisenberg gave Bohr the drawing simply does not fit his character. Although never a Nazi, Heisenberg was a patriotic German, and both during and immediately after the war he told several people he had wanted the Germans to win. As he confided to Bethe, he was afraid that if the Allies were victorious they would level Germany and destroy German culture; but if the Germans won, the "good Germans" would take over and restore things to the way they had been before the Nazis. What I think happened is that someone else from [Heisenbergâ€™s group] must have visited Bohr and given him the information. A likely candidate, it seems to me, is the physicist Hans Jensen, who was in Copenhagen in 1942 and did discuss the German program with Bohr. Since Bohr was then still persuaded that, in any practical sense, nuclear weapons were impossible, he probably filed Jensen's report somewhere in his head until he was briefed in England about the Allied project. Then he recalled what he had been told and, perhaps, drew a picture. I cannot prove this, but there are some things about this history that we may never know for sure. . . . Postscript. When I first saw the Farm Hall transcripts in 1992, I thought they had the makings of an interesting play. This is precisely what the well-known British playwright Michael Frayn has undertaken to do in Copenhagen, which is now enjoying a successful run in London. Frayn is not a physicist, but he has evidently read a great deal, and for the rest he has let his imagination wander. . . . Still, Frayn does seem to me to have captured something of Heisenberg's moral ambiguity. His Heisenberg is neither a Resistance hero nor a simple Nazi collaboratorâ€” in Copenhagen, he does not pass the drawing on to Bohrâ€”but something more interesting and perhaps more troubling. Frayn raises the question of why Heisenberg and, for that matter, Bohr never did the relatively simple calculation performed by Frisch and Peierls: the one that showed a bomb could be built. Certainly both of them were capable of it. The suggestion of Frayn's play is that somewhere deep in their psyches they were held back because they did not want to know the answer. 31
Perhaps so. In any case, this is another thing about the history I have been recounting that will probably never be known for sure. Jeremy Bernstein, who witnessed two nuclear tests in the Nevada desert in 1957, is the author of Hitler's Uranium Club, among other books. His "Science, Fraud, and the Baltimore Case," appeared in the December 1998 Commentary.
Frayn says An excerpt from “Creating Copenhagen,” from the Dramatists Guild website During a discussion between Dramatist Guild member Michael Frayn and director Michael Blakemore moderated by Dorian Devins (producer/host of a science-based radio-interview program), Mr. Frayn made the following observations about what he was trying to achieve in Copenhagen as well as his perspective on the two physicists: . . . The play has been glossed by critics, often kindly and favorably, as some moral debate about the rights and wrongs of nuclear weapons, the rights and wrongs of using science for practical ends and for destructive ends. That’s not quite what I intended with the play. [Some people, including] David Cassidy, Heisenberg’s wonderful biographer, [have said] I should have set Heisenberg’s behavior in Copenhagen more firmly in the context of the rest of his behavior during the war, of his visits to other countries and so on. Well, first, there’s a limit to how much you can get into a play. A play has to focus on some particular piece of action. I tried to suggest all that action in that one visit to Copenhagen. The play does indeed deal with the very bad impression that Heisenberg made in Copenhagen, by talking about the war situation, about how he thought Germany was going to win the war, about how he felt they had a moral right to invade Eastern Europe. The way I came to this play was not first through science. I’ve no background in science at all. My background is in philosophy, but of course if you study philosophy, you have to be interested in quantum mechanics, because quantum mechanics has so many philosophical implications, very difficult implications, for philosophy. So, I’ve always had some lay interest in the physics that Heisenberg and Bohr were doing in Copenhagen in the 1920s, [so when I came] across the story of Heisenberg’s visit to Copenhagen [during the war] . . . it seemed to focus something I’d been worrying about for years in philosophy, which is the difficulty of ever knowing what is going on inside other people’s heads. . . . It seemed to me that there was some parallel between the difficulties that Heisenberg and Bohr discovered in making any definite statements about the behavior of the physical world and the difficulty in saying anything about human motivation, about why we do what we do. . . . There is some theoretical barrier in knowing why people do what they do and in knowing why one does what one does oneself. This difficulty is what I hope the play is finally aiming at. Of course, it deals with the moral issues, but in a sense, the philosophical ones, the epistemological ones, are logically prior to the ethical ones, because to come to any judgment of people’s behavior, you have to make some estimate of their motives. At the end of the play, Heisenberg and Bohr suggest, ironically and sardonically, that perhaps you should judge human behavior in the way that quantum physics established you should talk about particles, by concerning yourself only with behavior that was actually observable and not with what was not observable. Heisenberg . . . makes the point that, although—we all understand and he understands and the judgment of history I’m sure will agree on this—Bohr was a good man in every way and there’d be many question marks over Heisenberg if you just looked at external behavior, [but
actually] Bohr was involved in the deaths of many people [through his work on America’s atom bomb] and Heisenberg—so far as I know—was never in involved in anyone’s death at all. Now, feelings about Heisenberg are so strong on either side—and almost entirely against him—that it’s very difficult to see the position in which he found himself. I am very cautious, both on general philosophical grounds and on the grounds of my experience, in coming to any judgment of Heisenberg. I respect people who do, but I think people who’ve not lived in a totalitarian society should be a little cautious in judging people who had to and have to deal with the intolerable problems it creates for them. I have no experience of Germany under the Nazis . . . but I’ve quite wide experience of the Soviet Union. I used to go there a lot. I used to speak reasonable Russian. I knew many people who were in severe difficulties and had severe problems about what they should do in coping with the situation in the Soviet Union. Some people behaved heroically. They risked imprisonment. They risked the loss of everything they valued in life, and they often suffered the punishment. I admire and feel very humbled by that heroism, but I don’t think you can demand heroism of people. You can hope that they will behave reasonably, but if you could demand heroism of people, it would devalue heroism. . . . When it occurs, we have to step back and bow before it. When people behave elusively and ambiguously and fail to display heroism if they’re facing an intolerable situation, I think one should be a little cautious in one’s judgment. I was struck by the confidence with which people judge Heisenberg and with which how many people have dismissed him, serious scholars who know far more about him and his behavior than I do. . . . Poor Heisenberg suffered agonies from actually teaching relativity in Nazi Germany when it was officially forbidden . . . . He made some compromise on it and probably agreed not to mention Einstein’s name, but he went on teaching relativity. So, . . . my play is an attempt to come finally at the epistemological difficulties rather than the moral ones and that the epistemological ones underlie the moral ones. You can’t get at the moral ones, you can’t make judgments about the behavior of people, until you can be reasonably confident about why they did what they did. Here are some of Michael Frayn’s ideas excerpted from his “Postscript” to Copenhagen. The actual words spoken by my characters are of course entirely their own. If this needs any justification then I can only appeal to Heisenberg himself. In his memoirs dialogue plays an important part, he says, because he hopes “to demonstrate that science is rooted in conversations.” But, as he explains, conversations, even real conversations, cannot be reconstructed literally several decades later. So he freely reinvents them, and appeals in his turn to [the ancient Greek historian] Thucydides. . . . [who] explains in his preface to the History of the Peloponnesian War that, although he had avoided “storytelling,” when it came to the speeches, “I have found it impossible to remember their exact wording. Hence I have made each orator speak as, in my opinion, he would have done in the circumstances, but keeping as close as I could to the train of thought that guided his actual speech.” Thucydides was trying to give an account of speeches that had actually been made, many of which he had himself heard. Some of the dialogue in my play represents speeches that must have been made in one form or another; some of it speeches that were certainly never made at all. I hope, though, that in some sense it respects the Thucydidean principle, and that speeches (and indeed actions) follow in so far as possible the original protagonists' train of thought. 33
But how far is it possible to know what their train of thought was? This is where I have departed from the established historical record—from any possible historical record. The great challenge facing the storyteller and the historian alike is to get inside people's heads, to stand where they stood and see the world as they saw it, to make some informed estimate of their motives and intentions—and this is precisely where recorded and recordable history cannot reach. Even when all the external evidence has been mastered, the only way into the protagonists' heads is through the imagination. This indeed is the substance of the play. . . . What about my characters? Are they anything like their originals? It's impossible to catch the exact tone of voice of people one never knew, with only the written record to go on, especially when most of what their contemporaries recall them as saying was originally said in other languages. There are also more particular problems with all three of my protagonists. Bohr, for a start, was as notorious for his inarticulacy and inaudibility as he was famous for his goodness and lovability. He was fluent in various languages, but I have heard it said that the problem was to know which language he was being fluent in. [Austrian physicist and 1933 Nobel winner Eric] Schrodinger . . . described Bohr as often talking “for minutes almost in a dream-like, visionary and really quite unclear manner, partly because he is so full of consideration and constantly hesitates—fearing that the other might take a statement of his (Bohr’s) point of view as an insufficient appreciation of the other's . . .” My Bohr is necessarily a little more coherent than this—and I have been told by various correspondents who knew him that in private, if not in public, he could be much more cogent and incisive than Schrodinger evidently found him. The problem with Margrethe is that there is relatively little biographical material to go on. She and Niels were plainly mutually devoted, and everything suggests that she was as generally loved as he was. She had no scientific training, but Bohr constantly discussed his work with her, presumably avoiding technical language—though she must have become fairly familiar with even that since she typed out each draft of his papers. I suspect she was more gracious and reserved than she appears here, but she plainly had great firmness of character—in later life she was known as Dronning (Queen) Margrethe. She was always cooler about Heisenberg than Bohr was, and she was openly angry about his visit in 1941. According to Bohr she objected strongly to his being invited to the house, and relented only when Bohr promised to avoid politics and restrict the conversation to physics. Bohr himself always refused to be drawn out about Heisenberg's trip in 1941, but she insisted, even after the war, even after all Heisenberg's attempts to explain, “No matter what anyone says, that was a hostile visit.” The problem with Heisenberg is his elusiveness and ambiguity, which is of course what the play is attempting to elucidate. The one thing about him that everyone agreed upon was what Max Born, his mentor in Gottingen, called “his unbelievable quickness and precision of understanding.” The contrast with Bohr is almost comic. “Probably [Bohr's] most characteristic property,” according to [American physicist] George Gamow, “was the slowness of his thinking and comprehension.” As a young man Heisenberg seems to have had an appealing eagerness and directness. Born described him as looking like a simple farm boy, with clear bright eyes, and a radiant expression on his face. Somebody else thought he looked “like a bright carpenter's apprentice just returned from technical school.” [American physicist] Victor Weisskopf says that he made friends easily, and that everyone liked him. Bohr, after their first meeting in 1922, was delighted by Heisenberg's “nice shy nature, his good temper, his eagerness and his enthusiasm.” There was something about him of the prize-winning student, who is good at everything required of him, and Bohr was not the only father34
figure to whom he appealed. He had a somewhat similar relationship to Arnold Sommerfeld, his first professor in Munich, and in his difficulties with the Nazis he turned to two elders of German physics for counsel, Max Planck and Max von Laue. His closest friend and colleague was probably Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker, who was younger than him, but it is striking that during his internment [under the British, at Farm Hall] the person he chose to confide his explanation of the Hiroshima bomb to was not Weizsacker, who was interned with him (although he may well have discussed it with him already), but the 66-year-old Otto Hahn. The American physicist Jeremy Bernstein says that “he had the first truly quantum-mechanical mind—the ability to take the leap beyond the classical visualizing pictures into the abstract, all-but-impossible-to-visualize world of the subatomic . . .” [His biographer David] Cassidy believes that a great part of his genius was his “ability to adopt a serviceable solution regardless of accepted wisdom.” Rudolf Peierls, [the German-born British physicist who was integral in determining how much uranium-235 would fuel an atom bomb,] stresses his intuition. He would “almost always intuitively know the answer to a problem, then look for a mathematical solution to give it to him.” The obverse of this, according to Peierls, is that “he was always very casual about numbers”—a weakness that seems to have contributed to his downfall—or his salvation—in the atomic bomb program. Margrethe always found him difficult, closed, and oversensitive, and this propensity to be withdrawn and in-turned was exacerbated as life went on—first by his political problems in the Thirties, and then by his efforts to reconcile the moral irreconcilables of his war-time work. His autobiographical writing is rather stiff and formal, and his letters to Bohr, even during the Twenties and Thirties, are correct rather than intimate. . . . I can't claim to be the first person to notice the parallels between Heisenberg's science and his life. They provide Cassidy with the title (Uncertainty) for his excellent biography (the standard work in English). “Especially difficult and controversial,” says Cassidy in his introduction, “is a retrospective evaluation of Heisenberg's activities during the Third Reich and particularly during World War II. Since the end of the war, an enormous range of views about this man and his behavior have been expressed, views that have been fervently, even passionately, held by a variety of individuals. It is as if, for some, the intense emotions unleashed by the unspeakable horrors of that war and regime have combined with the many ambiguities, dualities, and compromises of Heisenberg's life and actions to make Heisenberg himself subject to a type of uncertainty principle . . .” Thomas Powers makes a similar point in his extraordinary and encyclopedic book Heisenberg's War, which first aroused my interest in the trip to Copenhagen; he says that Heisenberg's later reticence on his role in the failure of the German bomb program “introduces an element of irreducible uncertainty.” . . . The concept of uncertainty is one of those scientific notions that has become common coinage, and generalized to the point of losing much of its original meaning. The idea as introduced by Heisenberg into quantum mechanics was precise and technical. It didn't suggest that everything about the behavior of particles was unknowable, or hazy. What it limited was the simultaneous measurement of “canonically conjugate variables,” such as position and momentum, or energy and time. The more precisely you measure one variable, it said, the less precise your measurement of the related variable can be; and this ratio, the uncertainty relationship, is itself precisely formulable. None of this, plainly, applies directly to our observations of thought and intention. Thoughts are not locatable by pairs of conjugate variables, so there can be no question of a ratio of precision. Powers seems to imply that in Heisenberg's case the uncertainty arises purely because “questions of motive and intention cannot be established more 35
clearly than he was willing to state them.” It's true that Heisenberg was under contradictory pressures after the war which made it particularly difficult for him to explain what he had been trying to do. He wanted to distance himself from the Nazis, but he didn't want to suggest that he had been a traitor. He was reluctant to claim to his fellow-Germans that he had deliberately lost them the war, but he was no less reluctant to suggest that he had failed them simply out of incompetence. But the uncertainty surely begins long before the point where Heisenberg might have offered an explanation. He was under at least as many contradictory pressures at the time to shape the actions he later failed to explain, and the uncertainty would still have existed, for us and for him, even if he had been as open, honest, and helpful as it is humanly possible to be. What people say about their own motives and intentions, even when they are not caught in the traps that entangled Heisenberg, is always subject to question—as subject to question as what anybody else says about them. Thoughts and intentions—even one's own—perhaps one's own most of all—remain shifting and elusive. There is not one single thought or intention of any sort that can ever be precisely established. What the uncertainty of thoughts does have in common with the uncertainty of particles is that the difficulty is not just a practical one, but a systematic limitation which cannot even in theory be circumvented. It is patently not resolved by the efforts of psychologists and psychoanalysts, and it will not be resolved by neurologists, either, even when everything is known about the structure and workings of the brain, any more than semantic questions can be resolved by looking at the machine code of a computer. And since, according to the so-called “Copenhagen Interpretation” of quantum mechanics— the interconnected set of theories that was developed by Heisenberg, Bohr, and others in the Twenties—the whole possibility of saying or thinking anything about the world, even the most apparently objective, abstract aspects of it studied by the natural sciences, depends upon human observation, and is subject to the limitations which the human mind imposes, this uncertainty in our thinking is also fundamental to the nature of the world. . . . One of the forms of indeterminacy touched upon in the play is the indeterminacy of human memory, or at any rate the indeterminability of the historical record. There are various examples which I left out, for fear of making the play even more tangled than it is. . . . A minor one concerns whether there were two ships sent to load the Jews of Copenhagen for deportation, as some witnesses recall, or a single one . . . . A more significant point of dispute is the drawing which Heisenberg did or didn't make for Bohr during their meeting in 1941 [see Bernstein]. . . . If the story is true it might help to explain Goudsmit's insistence, in the teeth of the evidence from Farm Hall, that Heisenberg couldn't tell the difference between a reactor and a bomb. It would certainly cast doubt on Heisenberg's recollection that the entire discussion with Bohr in 1941 took place during the walk, and that Bohr broke off the conversation almost as soon as it was broached. It seems improbable to me that Heisenberg would have risked putting anything down on paper, and if even so he had then I can't see why he didn't seize upon it after the war, to support his claim that he had hinted to Bohr at the German research on a bomb. I suppose it's possible that Bohr made the sketch himself, to illustrate to his colleagues at Los Alamos what he thought Heisenberg was getting at, but the truth of the matter seems to be irretrievable. . . .
Questions 1. The race to establish nuclear supremacy could have ended very differently if it wasn’t for the “brain drain” from Germany that occurred prior to and during the beginning of World War II. Research the backgrounds of the scientist involved in the Manhattan Project. Where were they living prior to coming to the United States and why did they leave their homeland? 2. Copenhagen is set in a non-specific future. How did the set designer in Syracuse Stage’s production envision that future? Did the design make sense to you considering the nature of the play? 3. It was the United States that developed the first atomic bomb, and to this date it is the only country that has used nuclear weaponry against an enemy. What were some of the factors that went into Truman’s decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki? In retrospect, was this the best way to bring this prolonged war to an end? Was it morally justified? 4. Having seen and read the play, try to answer the question that Margethe raises at the beginning of the play, “Why did Heisenberg come to Copenhagen?” Was he trying to enlists Bohr’s assistance in developing the bomb, or was he assuring him that he would stall the process?
A Lesson Before Dying Playwright Romulus Linney is the author of three novels and more than 30 plays, which have been seen over the past 30 years in resident theatres across the United States, as well as in New York, Los Angeles, London, Vienna, Oslo and other European cities. They include The Sorrows of Frederick, Holy Ghosts, Childe Byron, Sand Mountain, Three Poets and 2. Six of his one-act plays have appeared in the Best Short Plays series. Mr. Linney has received two Fellowships from the NEA as well as Guggenheim, Rockefeller and National Foundation for the Arts grants, a 1980 Obie Award, three Hollywood DramaLogue Awards, the Mishima Prize for Fiction, the 1999 Award of Merit Medal from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and a 1992 Obie Award for sustained Excellence in Playwriting. He is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and Oberlin College, and has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from Oberlin College, Appalachian State University and Wake Forest University. He is currently Professor of Playwriting in the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School, and at the Juilliard School. He lives in New York City. Romulus Linney and Ernest J. Gaines Meet Ernest J. Gaines Ernest J. Gaines was born in 1933 on River Lake Plantation, in racially segregated Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. Because there were no schools in Pointe Coupee that would teach black children past the eighth grade, at the age of 15 Mr. Gaines was sent to San Francisco to continue his education. He graduated from San Francisco State University, published a handful of stories and went on to win a coveted fellowship to Stanford University. Since then, Mr. Gaines has written eight novels, including Catherine Cormier, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, A Gathering of Old Men and A Lesson Before Dying, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the 1993 National Book Critics Award. Other honors that have been awarded Mr. Gaines include the highly esteemed John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (1993) for lifetime achievement, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship (both in 1971). He holds honorary doctorates from Brown University, Bard College, Tulane University, and Loyola University, among others. Mr. Gaines now divides his time between San Francisco and Lafayette, Louisiana, where he is Writer-in-Residence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. 38
Setting A variety of locations in and around Bayonne, Louisiana, including a storeroom in the Parish Courthouse, the Rainbow Club, Grant’s schoolroom and an area in front of the Courthouse. The time of the play is the fall and winter of 1947 and the spring of 1948. Synopsis Jefferson, a young African-American man, unfortunately found drunk at the scene of a triple murder has been charged with the murder of a white store owner despite the fact that he was unarmed and obviously had not fired any gun. Jefferson offered no defense, and none was asked of him from the white community. His public defender, in an effort to avoid the death penalty, told the all-white male jury that to execute Jefferson would be like leading a hog to slaughter. While awaiting his execution, Jefferson’s godmother Miss Emma brings herself, Rev. Ambrose and his former teacher Grant Wiggins to him to prepare him to die with dignity, to reverse the terrible slight Jefferson has suffered at the hands of white justice. But Grant has no more self-respect than Jefferson, and it’s only out of his sense of obligation to Tante Lou and Miss Emma, compounded by his fiancee Vivian’s urging, that he meets with his former pupil at all. Meetings between teacher and student continue even though Jefferson won’t even to respond to Miss Emma, until Grant unwittingly reminds him of what’s good in life. Characters Grant Wiggins – a 30ish black man raised by Tante Lou, not his parents (who left Louisiana for California, leaving Grant in Tante Lou’s care, just as Grant’s mother was left in her care). Grant was sent to college by Tante Lou and Miss Emma Glenn (and others in their community) to become a teacher and bring it back home, but Grant hates the Deep South and its racism, and hates teaching because he sees no future for his students, and neither do they, growing up on the former plantation, far from any city, surrounded by white oppression. However, Grant does love! Vivian Baptiste – 30ish black woman with children from a marriage she is ending. She and Grant met when she was expecting her second child, about 3 years before the time of this story. She is also a teacher, loves teaching (teaches in town), loves Grant but dislikes his strong urge to flee. Vivian has a strong sense of obligation and responsibility to her community, and is very conscious that her relationship with Grant will be considered taboo by some until her divorce is final, very socially conscious.. Miss Emma Glenn – Older black woman who has worked in some important white homes while raising Jefferson, the man accused of murder (his parents felt they couldn’t raise him, like Grant’s parents). Her best friend is Grant’s Tante Lou. Miss Emma is compelled to work within the racist system, but she manages to work it to her satisfaction. She can’t imagine any other way, but she knows that there must be something better for the younger folks, which is why she helped send Grant to college and is anxious to impart a sense of personal dignity to Jefferson. Paul Bonin – The sheriff’s deputy whose instinct is to treat Jefferson compassionately, even though, since Jefferson’s under a death sentence, the sheriff’s policy is not to become involved. Paul abides by the rules and regs but recognizes the fact that prisoners 39
are people, in part because he is relatively untouched by the racism that colors many of the other white people in his community. Sheriff Sam Guidry – A real dyed-in-the-wool white southern lawman, up for re-election. He is the boss of the jail and don’t you forget it; he does listen to his political betters, though, and jumps when they say. The Reverend Moses Ambrose – Miss Emma’s minister, a simple man of God who reads only the Bible and does not appreciate Grant’s worldly outlook, which he feels is infecting Jefferson. Vocabulary The Lord is my Shepherd/ I shall not want. Miss Emma is quoting the 23rd Psalm from the Bible to buoy her spirits and her resolve so she won’t betray how tired she is to the white jailer. public defender
You think he know the gravity?
a lawyer appointed by the court to represent someone who cannot afford a lawyer. Public defenders are not paid well, and often consider such work volunteer; consequently some of them spend less time on these cases than on those for which they are specifically hired.
Rev. Ambrose is asking Grant if he thinks Jefferson knows how serious his situation is spiritually; that is, Does he know that his soul must be ready to meet God?
trouble, bother, pester. Jefferson feels that Grant is bothering him by bringing up the fact that he is actually innocent yet is expected to walk to the electric chair like a man, so Jefferson “vexes” Grant by putting down Vivian.
parish is an old French designation for what most of us call a county.
a sin box
Rev. Ambrose does not like popular music, so he calls Jefferson’s radio a sin box.
the part of the community where Jefferson, Grant and the children who go to the plantation school live is called the quarter because it’s where the slave housing or quarters were when their ancestors lived on the plantation.
any true player of marbles knows that an aggie, a large, colorful, lucky marble is not to be parted with, while a small pee wee, which won’t earn you any marbles during a game, may be easily parted with. 40
a favored vegetable of the South, often dipped in batter and fried. (Yum-ditty!) Miss Emma must be good with okra, because Jefferson includes it in the last meal she’s going to cook for him.
a moon pie
a large cookie, perhaps a descendant of a s’more, because it’s basically marshmallow between two graham crackers or similar cookie dipped in chocolate.
a Southern stew thickened with okra. The word is based on an African word and was first used in Louisiana.
The Brown Bomber was heavyweight champion of the world from 1937 till 1949 (when he retired, undefeated), and, as a black man, a hero to African-Americans for much longer. At age 23 he was also the youngest man to win the title (so far).
Louisiana History and Facts From The Stevens Family webpage
Some Flat Facts Located in the southeastern United States, Louisiana lies entirely within the Gulf Coastal Plain. It is shaped like a capital L, approximately 530 km (330 mi) at its widest, and about 450 km (280 mi) from north to south. Louisiana is bordered by Mississippi on the east, the Gulf of Mexico on the south, Texas on the west, and Arkansas on the north. Sighted by the Spanish in 1519, Louisiana was first explored by Panfilo de Narvaez of Spain, who navigated its coast in 1528. Later, Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, named the region Louisiana in honor of the French King Louis XIV, claiming it for France in 1682. The state's long and varied history, diverse population, abundant energy resources, and strategic location at the mouth of the Mississippi River are valued attributes. The problems that exist in Louisiana stem from its prolonged recovery after the Civil War, its relatively slow industrial growth, and its heavy dependence on extractive industries. . . . STATE SYMBOLS. Statehood: Apr. 30, 1812; the 18th state. Nickname: Pelican State; bird: pelican (Eastern brown pelican); flower: magnolia; tree: bald cypress; motto: Union, Justice, Confidence; songs: "Give Me Louisiana" and "You Are My Sunshine."
LAND. Area: 123,677 sq km (47,752 sq mi); rank: 31st. Capital: Baton Rouge. Largest city: New Orleans (1990 census, 496,938). County equivalents (parishes): 64. Elevations: highest-163 m (535 ft), at Driskill Mountain; lowest--minus 2 m (minus 5 ft), at New Orleans.
People of Louisiana There is a rich diversity of peoples in Louisiana. They include the original Indian inhabitants, plus the descendants of a variety of settlers, among whom were the French, Spanish, English, German, Acadians (from Canadaâ€™s maritime provinces), West Indians, Africans, Irish and Italians and now include almost every nationality on earth. The original French colonists were soon joined by the Spanish and Acadians, and later by French aristocrats fleeing slave revolts in the West Indies or the horrors of the French Revolution. As part of Louisiana's French legacy counties are called "parishes" and the Napoleonic Code (rather than Common Law) holds sway in the state's courtrooms.
Some Odd Facts Ironically, it was the Spanish who built many of the colonial structures that still stand in the "French Quarter" of New Orleans, and Spanish is still spoken in some communities, particularly in St. Bernard Parish below New Orleans. Hundreds of German families were recruited in 1719 by the Company of the West (which held the French royal charter for the development of Louisiana), and those sturdy pioneers settled upriver from New Orleans along a section of the Mississippi River that is still called the Cote des Allemands ("German Coast"). The parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain (the sixth largest lake in the U.S.) and east of the Mississippi River were once a part of British West Florida, occupied by English planters and military in the 1700s. Bernardo de Galvez, Louisiana's Spanish governor and an American ally in the Revolution, prevented the further development of a British stronghold in the Mississippi Valley by capturing British forts at Manchac and Baton Rouge in 1779. Among the other nationalities that have settled in Louisiana are the Yugoslavians who made a success of oyster harvesting along the Gulf Coast and the Hungarians who
became cultivators of strawberries and other crops in the Albany area. Free blacks amassed some of Louisiana's largest land holdings prior to the Civil War and blacks have major contributions to jazz and Louisiana cuisine in particular. And many of Louisiana's annual festivals are celebrations of particular ethnic contributions to the "cultural gumbo" of this unique state.
Copyright ÂŠ 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 by A Cajun in Texas, All Rights Reserved Last Updated 25 April 2001, Version 2.8
The following statistics are courtesy of links from the Stevens Family page to some census pages. They present some background to plantation life in 1940s Louisiana, as well as on capital punishment.
Decennial Census Population, by Race, Sex, and Male/Female Ratio Louisiana 1940-1950 Total Both Sexes
Black 94.8 92.8
Other 145.3 129.0
Males per 100 Females
Total 98.4 96.7
White 100.4 98.6
Prisoners Executed under Civil Authority United States and Louisiana 1940-1994 -------------------------------------------------------------------United States Louisiana
Louisiana as a Percentage of United States -------------------------------------------------------------------1940-49 1,284 47 3.7 % 1950-59 717 27 3.8% Includes 23 Federal executions not shown by State: 1940-49: 13; 1950-59: 9; and 196069: 1. Number of Acres Harvested By Selected Crop Louisiana Selected Years, 1930-1994 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Sugarcane Cotton All for Sugar Lint Corn and Seed (1,000) (1,000) (1,000)
Soybeans for Beans (1,000)
Sweet Potatoes (1,000)
Rice Strawberries (1,000)
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1930 1940 1950
1,953 1,130 715
1,190 1,548 834
191 242 295
16 15 40
60.0 86.0 107.0
491 469 563
22,000 20,700 13,300
1,200 2,900 1,200
Farm Average Season Prices Received by Major Commodity Louisiana Selected Years, 1930-1950 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Cotton Corn Sugarcane Lint for Grain for Sugar (lbs.) (bu.) (cwt.)
Soybeans for Beans (tons)
Sweet Potatoes (bu.)
Rice Strawberries (cwt.) (cwt.)
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1930 1940 1950
$0.09 0.11 0.40
$0.89 0.65 1.46
$1.71 1.89 5.07
$3.38 2.72 7.88
$2.73 $2.02 $14.22 1.46 1.38 9.94 2.35 1.34 27.30
$2.06 1.50 10.75
cwt. = hundredweight
Questions about the subject matter should be directed to the offices in the Economic Census Staff, Business Division or Industry Division specified below. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------44
Division of Business and Economic Research College of Business Administration University of New Orleans New Orleans, Louisiana 70148-1536 Tel:504-280-6240 Fax:504-280-6094 www.geocities.com/Heartland/Ridge/3021/links/louisiana.html Some Background to Louisiana Excerpted from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online Administration and social conditions: Government . . . The state’s earliest [constitutional] document (1812) secured the political power of the planters and business classes and gave great appointive powers to the governor; the antebellum documents of 1845 and 1852 extended suffrage and made every government office elective. Representation, based on [white] population, continued legislative domination by the planter masters. The constitution of 1861, which substituted the phrase “Confederate States” for “United States,” and its successors of 1864 and 1868, the latter extending the suffrage to all males, black as well as white, may be called the Civil War documents. The constitution of 1879, marking the end of the Reconstruction period, restricted the action of the legislature and granted executive powers rivaling those of 1812, while the constitution of 1898 effectively disfranchised the black citizens of the state. The constitutions of 1913 and 1921 were written by delegates of conventions called to grapple with the problems of the 20th century: in many respects they failed, primarily because of the shadows of the past that hung over them. A new state constitution was established in 1974. The governor of Louisiana remains the state's most powerful official, not only from the weight of tradition (and personal performance) but also because of the extent of patronage among the many executive agencies, boards, commissions, and offices filled by gubernatorial appointment. . . . Local self-government in Louisiana followed the Virginia system of county government. The parish (county), the municipality, and the special district are the units of local government. There are 64 parishes, with land areas that vary from the 199 square miles in Orleans parish to the 1,441 square miles in Cameron parish. The name of the elected parish governing board, “the police jury,” is not found anywhere else. . . . Louisiana's legal system differs from that of the other 49 states in that it is based not on common law but on civil law, which is code, or written, law. The state draws upon its colonial inheritance, whereby the adopted code was based upon the Code Napoleon of France and further influenced by Spanish laws, both of which had a common source in Roman law. The civil law consists of broad principles drafted by authorities in various fields of law. In Louisiana the law is enacted in the constitution, which vests in the legislature the authority to make law, whereas the functions of the courts are limited to the application of the law to given sets of facts. Courts are not bound by previous decisions [giving judges some measure of latitude in arriving at judicial decisions]. The law governs all personal and property rights and has been extended to civil and criminal procedures.
. Questions/Activities 1. One of the things Grant offers Jefferson to help him through his difficult last weeks is a journal, which serves to get Jefferson thinking about expressing himself and what’s important to him. It’s just one element with which Jefferson can think of himself as a human being of some worth; it helps build the self-esteem he needs to take on the mantle of manhood. Many writers keep journals, as do sociologists and other people who study humanity. Students could keep a journal for themselves, create what they think Jefferson’s might have been like, or create one for Grant, Vivian or Paul. The most famous journal may be Anne Frank’s diary; what other diaries or journals might the students look into (Go Ask Alice, perhaps, or Frankenstein, or, for ambitious students, the Samuel Richardson novel Pamela)? 2. What part do the students think music played in moving Jefferson from dwelling on his fate to considering the world around him? What music might he have listened to, in 1947 8and 1948? They should take into consideration the fact that all-music format radio was still a fairly new thing in the late Forties, and that AM was all that was available, so that music programs were mainly local, and featured local music. The Rev. Ambrose is opposed to the popular music played on the radio; why might that be so? (The students might like to know that the Baptists, for example, thought dancing and card playing sinful well into the 20th century.) Rev. Ambrose has even more shocks ahead of him, once rock and roll becomes Teen America’s favorite type of music, in the Fifties. 3. Have the students ever had to do something they thought was completely unfair (not taking out garbage, not babysitting, not doing laundry) but later found, having done it, that they are not only respected by others but feel more respect for themselves? (I realize this is asking a lot . . .) If they have heroes, they should consider what s/he did that built their self-esteem and self-respect. 4. Do the students know any young person in desperate straits like Jefferson? Or someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, not necessarily at a murder but some other serious situation? What did he or she do about it? What would the student have done? Did the student take any action to aid their friend/acquaintance? Ask the students to tell the story in whatever manner you prefer, written, orally (it could be done as a speech, you know, an exhortation for others to avoid a similar fate), enacted (could be a mock trial), visually, and so on. 5. Racism is still around us, and not just black/white. Do the students know of any incidents, perhaps among older relatives or from history? America’s civil rights movement is still years in the future at the time of Lesson, but it’s clear that Grant and Vivian, as representatives of their generation, are going to do what they can to fight against it, and President Truman had desegregated the armed forces. Maybe some enterprising student wants to look back and find out what things were like then, and during the early years, perhaps up to the famous court case, Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), that began public school desegregation.
The Dybbuk About the Playwright Shloime Zanvel Rappoport was born in Vitebsk, Russia, in 1863. Rappoport would later take on the pseudonym of Shloime Ansky. Ansky grew up as a Hasidic Jew, in a traditional Jewish Yiddish-speaking community. He became active in the Jewish Enlightenment, Haskala. Haskala encouraged Jews to turn away from their traditional lifestyle and beliefs, and to assimilate into the modern world. Ansky also became active in the Narodniki, a group of socialist revolutionaries. He wrote articles for the Narodniki’s journal, and worked among the peasants. Later, he became a member of the Jewish Worker’s Party, the Bund, and wrote articles and poems for their journal. In 1905, he joined the Socialist Revolutionary Party. Socialism forbids any sort of religious affiliation, but Ansky continued writing secular articles, poems, and short stories based on Jewish life. He wrote in both Yiddish and Russian. Around 1911, Ansky discovered that many Jews were abandoning their traditional lifestyle. There was little documentation of the Eastern European Jewish way of life because Jews passed down much of their tradition orally. Now, many of the sons were moving to major urban centers and assimilating into Russian society. Concerned that the old ways would disappear forever, Anksy organized an ethnographic expedition to take photographs, record melodies of prayers and songs, and collect folk tales, stories, customs, sayings, and antiques. From 1912 through 1914, Ansky led a group of ethnographers through 70 shtetls (small Jewish townships) in 3 provinces of the Ukraine (Podolia, Volhynia, and Kiev). Shloime Ansky in 1916
Ansky had no permanent residence in St. Petersburg, the center of the expedition’s research. He slept in relatives’ apartments or hotels, and wrote in restaurants. His only possessions were the suit he was wearing, a coat, and suitcases filled with ethnographic paraphernalia. All his waking hours were dedicated to gathering as much information as he could before it was too late. The expedition was cut short in 1914 because of Russia’s Socialist revolution. Ansky’s followers were accused of being spies. Fortunately, a friend of Ansky’s from the Russian Anthropologic and Ethnographic Museum of Peter the Great bailed them out, but the mission was over. Ansky continued collecting on his own, and began assisting Jewish refugees who had been deported to central Russia. In 1917, the St. Petersburg Ethnographic Museum was shut down by the Bolsheviks, and all the artifacts from the Jewish collection were shoved in boxes. The following year, Ansky escaped Russia disguised as a priest, and formed a museum in Vilna, the capital of Lithuania.
Throughout this period, pogroms (mob attacks on Jews and Jewish property) ravaged the region. In 1919, a pogrom killed one of Ansky’s close friends. Ansky never recovered from the shock, and suffered from heart trouble until his death in 1920. About the Adapter Joachim Neugroschel has translated 180 books from French, German, Italian, Russian, and Yiddish, including works by Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Sholem Aleichem, and Elias Canetti. A winner of three PEN Translation Awards, he has also received the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. In 1996 he was appointed chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters of the French Republic. His adaptation of The Dybbuk was published in his collection of Yiddish literature, The Dybbuk and the Yiddish Imagination: A Haunted Reader, published by Syracuse University Press. About the Director Barbara Damashek is best known for her musical Quilters, developed at the Denver Center. It received six Tony Nominations in 1985, three of which were for Ms. Damashek for Best Direction, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical with coauthor Molly Newman. Directing credits include: Silence by Moira Buffini (American Premiere), Bronte by John O'Keefe (West Coast Premiere),The Cryptogram by Mamet at the Magic Theatre, Vilna’s Got A Golem by Ernest Joselovitz, The Firebugs, by Max Frisch and Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The House of Atreus (Aeschuyles' Oresteia), Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind and A Mouthful of Birds by Caryl Churchill for the A.C.T. Conservatory M.F.A. program, The Cherry Orchard at the American Conservatory Theatre, She Stoops to Folly, The Faith Healer, Sunday In The Park With George and Happy End at South Coast Repertory Theater, All’s Well That Ends Well at Shakespeare Santa Cruz. Other of her plays include Whereabouts Unknown (with original score) created for the 1988 Humana Festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville and Two Suitcases for Milwaukee Repertory. In addition, Ms. Damashek has taught at colleges drama conservatories throughout the country, including American Conservatory Theatre, The Guthrie/ University of Minnesota Actor Training Program,Trinity Rep. Conservatory, The Hartman Conservatory, CarnegieMellon Drama Department, and The National Theater Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. She is profiled in the Dec. 1993 issue of American Theatre Magazine. Setting Jews began settling in Russia around 1000 AD. They were not welcomed by the local population, and the only jobs they were able to get were the ones that were considered undesirable, such as tax collectors and merchants. This is where the stereotype of Jews being greedy emerged. By 1400, Russian Jews lived in small towns they called shtetls (Yiddish for “small towns”). Each shtetl had its own unique character, but there were certain things that all shtetls had in common. Each had its own Rabbi (religious leader and decider of civil disputes), synagogue (house of prayer), and yeshiva (school/library dedicated to Biblical study), and lived according to the 613 mitzvot (Biblical laws dictating a spiritually and physically pure existence).
Russian nobility began blaming the widespread Russian poverty on the Jews. By 1700, burning and pillaging Jewish townships became so commonplace that many Jewish families spent their entire lives roaming through Western Russia, searching for a safe place to live. The places they found were often overcrowded and disease-ridden. At the same time, Jews were being persecuted in Germany and Poland. German and Poland territories were often annexed by Russia, becoming part of what was referred to as the Pale Settlement. This increased the dissemination of Yiddish, a language which blends Hebrew and German, throughout western Russia.
A group of women with a Polish girl, Lovich 1909
These harsh circumstances did not diminish the Jews’ belief in their God, but strengthened it. Religiosity grew, with many Jews spending more and more time studying the Torah (the Jewish Bible), and becoming increasingly determined not to assimilate into Russian culture. This further aggravated the rest of the Russians.
In 1861, Tsar Alexander II liberated the serfs with the Emancipation Edict. However, animosity against the Jews continued to increase. Things got so bad by the end of the 1800s that Russian Jews began fleeing to America in droves. Between 1870 and 1900, over half a million Russian Jews emigrated to the U.S. For those who stayed, the Russian Revolution meant more trouble. Russia, now the U.S.S.R., became communist and outlawed religion. Most of the Russian population complied, except for the Jews. Those who resisted were charged with treason and either killed or sent to Siberia. The 1990s brought yet another wave of migration to the U.S. In Russia today, only a tiny percentage is left of the once large Jewish population. Synopsis In a nutshell, The Dybbuk is the story of a distraught young Hasidic man, Khonen, who inhabits the body of his beloved, Leah, when he learns she is betrothed to someone else. Leah’s family responds by having her exorcised against her will. Through the process of exorcism, the sins of Leah’s father are revealed, and the community learns why Khonen and Leah are destined to be together. Ansky wrote The Dybbuk in 1914. In many ways, Ansky’s foray into playwriting was a culmination of his work as an ethnographer. The Dybbuk contains many stories of Hasidic folklore and demonstrations of religious practices, seamlessly integrated into a captivating story of demonic possession and the triumph of love. So, what is a dybbuk, anyway? In the Neurgoschel’s adaptation, the Messenger explains to Leah: 49
The souls of the dead do return to the world, but not as spirits within bodies. There are souls that transmigrate through several bodies, trying to purify themselves. The sinful souls come back as animals, as birds, as fish, or even plants — but they’re unable to purify themselves and so they wait until a holy man, a tzaddik, can liberate them and bring them salvation. And there are souls that enter a newborn baby and purify themselves through their own deeds . . . And there are homeless souls that find no rest, and so they enter living bodies to purify themselves. Such a soul is called a dybbuk . . . A more concrete definition of dybbuk can be found in the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine. There, a dybbuk is defined as “a restless soul or evil spirit that ‘impregnates’ a living person, usually for a limited period of time, causing mental illness and creating a separate personality for itself, and talking through that person’s mouth.” The term comes from the Hebrew word ledavek, meaning literally “to cling or adhere.” If the dybbuk does not leave the living person on its own accord, a Rebbe (a religious leader and holy man) will have to perform an exorcism. Such is the case in Ansky’s play. All this makes The Dybbuk sound pretty horrific — a strange blend of Fiddler on the Roof and The Exorcist. Well, in a way it is, but there’s a lot more to Ansky’s play than that. First of all, unlike the situation in The Exorcist, possession of one’s body by a dybbuk is not a satanic possession. In Ansky’s play, the possession becomes one of love. Second, the play is not about cheap thrills. It is a genuine work of art, and in Neugroschel’s adaptation the dialogue fuses poetry and prose. A great deal can be learned from the play in terms of Jewish historic and religious background. As a folk tale, it takes place in that never-never land of the group subconscious — a fairy tale, if you will. But this particular fairy tale was formulated in a very specific time and place. It speaks to the beliefs and experiences of Hasidic Jews who lived in Russia and Poland in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the unique backdrop of The Dybbuk doesn’t prevent it from having eternal themes that transcend time and place — the dangers inherent in greed, the ability of love to transcend everything, even death, and the belief that what is considered uniquely human can, in its purest form, become Godly. Most importantly, The Dybbuk is an engaging and magical play to watch. The worldly and the supernatural meet and become interchangeable, characters appear and disappear without warning, Rebbes communicate with the dead, and wandering souls take over living bodies. It all makes for a good story, but a marvelous play. Characters Leah
a young Hasidic woman whose mother died when she was born
a yeshiva student who has been dabbling in the cabala
Leah’s father, a greedy man 50
a mysterious visitor who portends the future
Khonen’s friend, a yeshiva student
an ancient wise man from a long line of holy men
the local rabbi
Gitl and Bessye
Leah’s terrified groom
Various yeshiva students, judges, townspeople, and wedding guests Vocabulary diaspora
the breaking up and scattering of Jewish communities
a Jewish spiritual leader or teacher
an ordained Jewish religious leader
a school for talmudic study
the quorum of ten male adult Jews required for communal worship
the basic monetary unit of Russia
the house of worship of a Jewish congregation
the body of wisdom and law contained in the scriptures; the five books of Moses
a Russian coin of little value
the authoritative body of Jewish tradition
an esoteric doctrine of Jewish mysticism
good luck!; congratualtions!
a member of a Jewish mystical sect formed in Poland about 1750 in opposition to rationalism and ritual laxity
a person inhabited by the soul of another 51
egg-rich yeast leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath (very tasty!)
an organized massacre of people
the number of people that when assembled can legally perform a ritual or act
Jewish Mysticism The Jews in Russia had few legal, social, or economic privileges. Gradually they saw their rights erode. Jewish boys between the ages of 12 and 25 were drafted into the army and initially required to serve thirty-year terms.
An amulet to protect women in childbirth. Starting in 1844, special schools were made for Jews, with the goal of bringing them “nearer to the Christians and to uproot the harmful beliefs which are influenced by the Talmud.” The Tsar even made laws which prevented Jews from wearing traditional Jewish clothing or styling their hair in traditional ways. Men were forced to cut their forelocks, and married women weren’t allowed to wear wigs or head coverings. Russian officials made routine check-ups in the shtetls to make sure that Jews were complying with the new laws. In order to gain a sense of control over their surroundings, Jews turned to God and defined a new manner of religious practice involving the use of magic. Healers emerged in the shtetls, who could remove disease or the “evil eye” by reciting prayers and spells in Hebrew. Amulets were used to ward off evil. And stories were told of Hasidic Rebbes (rabbis who served as the spiritual authority for their followers within a shtetl) with supernatural powers.
Jewish mysticism developed in the 12th and 13th centuries, but it became increasingly popular at the end of the 15th century. Jewish mystics still believed in the authority of the Torah and the Talmud (another Jewish holy book, the Talmud consists of commentary on Biblical meaning, and explanation of Jewish law), but in order to gain a deeper understanding of God they began turning to another holy source, The Kabbalah (sometimes spelled Cabala). In Hebrew, letters are also numbers. The Kabbalah analyzed the Old Testament using letter and number symbolism. Kabbalists counted up numerical values for significant words and phrases, drawing religious and magical significance from their findings. Actual magic was practiced by only a few, and was done by calling the name of God. Jewish mysticism is based on the premise that God is Ein Sof, Hebrew for “without end.” Mankind is with end, and can therefore only perceive God in a limited way, through His various emanations, or qualities. These qualities are called the Ten Seifrot. They are: Keter - crown Chochmah - wisdom Binah - understanding Chessed - kindness Gevura - strength Tiferet - beauty Netzach - victory Hod - awe Yesod - foundation Malchut - monarchy The Seifrot are the ways in which humans notice God in the world. Through the ten Seifrot, humans can study the words and actions of God, and therefore come to a greater understanding of God as a whole. But prayer is always directed to God as a unity, not to a particular quality of God.
Mane Katz, The Rabbi: a rabbi carrying the Torah scrolls accompanied by a young boy
Hasid means “pious” in Hebrew. It is derived from the noun hased, meaning “loving kindness, mercy, or grace.” The characters in The Dybbuk are Hasidic Jews. Hasidism is a strain of Jewish mysticism that was founded in the early-to-mid 1700s in Poland by Israel ben Eliezer, popularly known as the Baal Shem Tov (the Master of the Good Name). By the end of the 18th century, half of Eastern European Jews classified themselves as Hasidic. Before Hasidism, Biblical study was encouraged as the primary means to understand God. The Baal Shem Tov, on the other hand, emphasized more personal experiences. He believed that God can be served in all things, even in the pleasures of life. He said, “I 53
have come to teach you a new way, and it is not fasting and penance but joy in God, Israel, and in the Torah.” The Baal Shem Tov’s Judaism embraced the common man. It encouraged a renewal of experience without abandoning tradition. Hasidic communities sprang up all over Russia and Poland. In Hasidism, the Rebbe, or tzaddik (Hebrew for “righteous or just person”) is the religious leader. Rebbes are all descendents of the Baal Shem Tov. Each Rebbe rules over a court, which contains a synagogue, ritual bath, yeshiva, and the Rebbe’s home. Hasidic Rebbes differed from the Jewish religious leaders of the past. They had magical abilities and superhuman powers that gave their followers hope, even in the worst of times. They used these powers to bring aid to their communities. They embraced their followers, and preached a religion of warmth and inclusion. Most of the lessons they passed on were in the forms of stories. Through Hasidism, a synogogue became more than just a place to pray. It was a home, a place to sing and dance and rejoice in life. Principles of Hasidism Hasidic Judaism is based on four central principles: Hitlahavut (religious ecstacy), Avoda (service), Kavana (intention), and Shiflut (humility). 1. Hitlahavut is “embracing God beyond time and place.” The Baal Shem Tov believed that it was crucial to embrace God with your entire being, for to be able to experience paradise after death, you must first be able to have felt God on a deeper level than through study alone. Hasidim spend a great deal of time in deep, meditative prayer. 2. Avoda is “the service of God in time and place.” The Baal Shem Tov taught that you will only find God if you seek Him out through service. One serves God through obeying the 613 mitzvot. The mitzvot teach you how to live life so that every action is as holy as prayer, even eating and sleeping. 3. Kavana is “the mystery of a soul directed to a goal.” Note that it is a goal, not goals, for the only goal worth seeking is redemption. Hasidim believe that the messiah will come and redeem the world at any moment, and so the mission of man is to work towards the redemption of the world, when all souls will return home to God purified. 4. Shiflut is the recognition that all humans are important, but they are each only a part of a bigger picture. Hasidim believe that because everything only happens once, individuals are engraved in eternity. No individual is ever duplicated, and so each person has a certain unique quality that s/he must cultivate and make perfect. It is his/her contribution to the world. However, this contribution should not swell the individual with pride, because each person is only one part of the divine plan. Everyone should recognize the important contributions of those around them in bringing the world closer to redemption.
Hasidism Today Most of the Hasidim living in Eastern and Central Europe perished in the Holocaust. Many of those who were fortunate to survive emigrated to the U.S. A large number of Hasidic Jews came to Brooklyn. These émigrés were very different from earlier Jewish immigrants. In past times, those who came to the U.S. wanted to blend in with Americans. But for these Hasidim, America meant the opportunity to freely practice their religion in their own communities. They wanted to restore the world that had existed in the shtetls prior to the Holocaust, proving to themselves and the world that their enemies hadn’t defeated them. In Brooklyn, it is not uncommon to see Hasidic Jews strolling the streets wearing clothing similar to their ancestors, centuries ago. Boys and men have sidelocks, and those old enough have full beards. They wear long, dark coats, and black hats. The women wear long-sleeved, high-necked, long dresses with opaque stockings. Married women cut their hair short, and either wear wigs, kerchiefs, or turbans. Men and women are separated in religious services and go to different schools. The schools do not teach secular subjects. Members of the community are forbidden to attend college, or even go to a library. Each religious court has a Rebbe, who is still considered to have magical powers due to his deep connection with God. Once a year or on special occasions, each member of the court makes a pilgrimage to visit the Rebbe and ask for special blessings. The court also consists of Rabbis, who are elected from the community and paid a salary. Rabbis interpret Biblical law, and often settle disputes. It is difficult for Hasidic Jews to find jobs, because of their religious obligations. Their faith mandates that they not work on the Sabbath, which begins Friday at sundown and continues until sundown on Saturday — the biggest business day of the week. In addition, Hasidim must pray three times daily. To solve the dilemma of reconciling personal beliefs in a capitalist setting, many Hasidim teach at their community schools, or work in their own businesses. The most well-known Hasidic business is 47th Street Photo. Owned and run by Hasidic Jews, 47th Street Photo has become a multi-million dollar electronics enterprise. Its customers have learned to accept its irregular hours, and probably don’t even notice the irony that the people who own the store are religiously opposed to the televisions they are selling! Refusing to watch television is only one element of Hasidism that the majority of the American population might find “backward.” Women still hold few rights in Hasidic communities, such as being allowed to drive cars. For the Hasidim, the woman’s place is still in the home. Still, there is a younger generation that is challenging the ideas of the past. Nobody can tell for sure what the face of Hasidism will be in the future. Questions 1.
The Dybbuk was originally written in Yiddish. More so than other languages, Yiddish is a culture-based language as opposed to a country-based language. Jewish people spoke it in several countries, but it was never the official language of any one country. In fact, with the onslaught of the pogroms, the language was often repressed. Consider the many cultures that make up the United States. How important are their native tongues to each group’s identity? 55
In an attempt to retain English as the United States’ official language, some politicians have tried to pass legislation banning languages other than English in publications funded by the state, as well as in schools. Discuss this trend. How will this impact the fabric of our country?
Some words from the Yiddish language are in use by the general population, especially in urban areas like New York, where there is a sizable Jewish population. Try to think of other words that are now commonly used in your community that can be traced back to an ethnic group that immigrated to the United States.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is loosely based on The Dybbuk. What other stories are similar to The Dybbuk? Are there religious overtones in them? What are some of the lesser-known beliefs in your own religion that pertain to the afterlife, ghosts, exorcism, etc.? Do you have beliefs that run counter to your religion on these matters?
Staging The Dybbuk presents some difficult challenges for the director and the designers. How would you convincingly stage the merging of Khonen and Leah at the end of the play? How would you stage the Khonen’s voice coming from Leah? How would you stage the return of Khonen’s father from the afterlife?
Joachim Neugroschel translated and adapted The Dybbuk from Yiddish to English. Many plays produced in the United States have been translated from other languages: The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekov; A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen; and, more recently, Art by Yazmina Reza (which was produced at Syracuse Stage) to name a few. What plays or works of fiction written by American authors do you think merit being translated into other languages? Explain your reasons why.
Research some of the pogroms of the Jewish people. Create a timeline of the Jewish Diaspora and the events leading up to it. What countries did the Jews flee to when they left their homelands?
The setting of The Dybbuk calls for several locations. Design a set that would be adaptable to all the scenes. What is the most important feature that you could design the set around?
Music plays an important role in the telling of this story, especially Klezmer music. Had you ever heard Klezmer music before this play? How would you describe it? What specific types of music do you associate with ethnic groups in your area? Are there songs that you know of that are part of your ethnic background? Bring in a recording of some of these songs to play for your class.
In The Dybbuk, arranged marriages are a normal occurrence. This is still true for several cultures. Research some of these cultures’ marriage practices. What are the pros and cons of each?
The Real Thing Tom Stoppard Tomas Straussler was born July 3, 1937 in Zlin, a town in the former Czechoslovakia. His parents were Dr. Eugene and Martha Straussler. He had only one sibling, an elder brother. Much of Tomas's childhood was spent trying to escape the war zones of World War II. One of Tomas' parents was partially of Jewish descent. Accordingly, when a German attack became imminent in Czechoslovakia, the shoe company for which Eugene worked as a doctor (Bata Shoe Company) transferred him to Singapore. After only three years in Singapore, the Japanese took over Singapore's naval base from the British. The family was forced to move again, this time to India. Unfortunately, Eugene wasn't able to escape in time. He died in a Japanese prison camp. In India, Martha managed a Bata shop in Darjeeling. Tom Stoppard, 1983 Tomas attended an English-speaking school run by the U.S. In 1946, his mother married Kenneth Stoppard, an officer in the British army. Tomas took on the name of his stepfather, and henceforth became Tom Stoppard. The Stoppard family moved to England, where Kenneth became a successful machine tool salesman. In England, Tom continued his schooling at the Dolphin Preparatory School in Nottingham, and then went on to attend the Pocklington School in Yorkshire. He finished school at the age of 17, and decided not to go on to a college or university. Instead, he wanted to be a "big name, roving reporter" who covered international events. He began reporting for the Western Daily Press in 1954, and then switched over to The Evening World in 1958. Tom functioned in multiple capacities, serving as a news reporter, feature writer, theatre and film critic, and even a gossip columnist. He later claimed that a lot of the education he received was from the research he did for reporting assignments. Pretty soon, however, the reporting field lost its luster. In 1958, Stoppard changed his career goals from reporter to writer. He wrote his first play, A Walk on the Water, in 1960, which was televised in 1963. In 1962 Stoppard moved to Notting Hill, and became the drama critic for the short-lived London magazine, Scene. But in 1964, Stoppard's career as a creative writer really began to take off. His short stories started getting published, and he was commissioned to write more plays. In 1965, Stoppard married Jose Ingle, a nurse. The two were divorced in 1972, and Stoppard married his present wife, Dr. Miriam Moore-Robinson. But before his second marriage, Stoppard had already made national headlines with his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967). In this hilarious play, Stoppard follows the story of two minor characters in Shakespeareâ€™s Hamlet to expose what is going on behind the scenes in Elsinore. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern continues to be produced by theatres and colleges all over the U.S. It is perhaps Stoppard's most well-known play to date. Recently, Stoppard helped write the screenplay for the Acadamy Award winning movie, Shakespeare in Love.
Tom Stoppard is now one of the most well-known and influential English playwrights working in the theatre. His works blend the absurd and the hysterical with the lyric and profound. Setting A city in England, presumably London. Synopsis Henry and Annie have an affair, and end up leaving their spouses in order to marry each other. Annie is on a committee dedicated to freeing Brodie from prison. In order to convince the authorities that Brodie is a talented individual, she insists that Henry adapt a play that Brodie has written. Annie stars in the play along with Billy. While the play is on tour, she and Billy have an affair. In the end, Annie decides that her love for Henry is worth more than a little fling. The Real Thing explores the concept of life imitating art (excerpts from Henry’s plays foretell what will later happen in the characters’ real lives). On a more fundamental level, Stoppard poses the question of what love means in this day and age, when relationships can be considered as disposable as paper plates. Characters Max – 40-ish, actor Charlotte – 35-ish, actress Henry – 40-ish, playwright, married to Charlotte Annie – 30-ish, actress and activist, married to Max Billy – 22-ish, actor Debbie – 17, Charlotte and Henry's daughter Brodie – 25, political activist who is in prison Vocabulary abhor
a strongly dislike; detest
mountain range in south-central Europe running from the Riviera on the Mediterranean through Northern Italy, Southeastern France, Switzerland, Southwestern Germany, and Austria into Northwestern Yugoslavia
one who sets buildings on fire with a malicious purpose 58
a therapy designed to modify antisocial habits or addictions by creating a strong association with something disagreeable
an antagonistic reaction to a prior action
light, playful conversation
lacking freshness or originality
city of Northern Switzerland, on the Rhine river
casually or cheerfully
an English swearing adjective, akin to “damn”
a borough of south central England on an inlet of the English Channel.
(English slang) champagne
to break and enter, with the intention of stealing
famous auction house.
a trite expression or idea; devoid of freshness or appeal due to overuse
part of the inner workings of a non–digital watch. One of a series of teeth on the rim of a wheel that by engagement transmit motive force to a corresponding wheel
able to keep everything on friendly terms
to forgive or disregard an offence
(English slang) crazy
raw vegetables, such as carrots and pepper strips, served often with a dip as an appetizer
something lacking tact, refinement, or taste
a famous girl band of the 1960s, whose best–known songs include “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me” 59
an extended version of “damn”
a city along the French coast
(slang) a digital watch.
a person with a superficial interest in the arts or a branch of knowledge
to refuse to act according to someone’s wishes
to use up
jewelled – a jewel is a small gem or gem substitute used as a bearing in a non–digital watch. A fifteen–jewelled watch has fifteen of these bearings
a novel published by James Joyce in 1939. Much of the language is made up by Joyce, and is very difficult to decipher.
an apartment on one floor of a building
form of currency used in Switzerland, Belgium, France, and numerous other countries.
city of Southwest Switzerland, on the Lake of Geneva and bisected by the Rhone
a verbal form in Latin that functions as a noun. When Max says “save the gerund and screw the whale,” he is referring to the environmentalist movement of the 1970s which took on “save the whale” as one of its credos. Max is more concerned about saving language than the earth; it is his response to extremism.
a man or boy employed to take care of horses
(English slang) very (i.e. “jolly good”)
a small space between parts
an empty space or missing part
“Let’s call the whole thing off”
a famous song from the 1930s written by George and Ira Gershwin
a freshwater lake in the Highland region of northwestern Scotland, rumored to contain the fabled Loch Ness Monster, a sea creature measuring 40–50 ft.
center of Roman Catholic pilgrimage, in Southwest France, where the virgin was said to have appeared in 1858 to a 14-year-old peasant girl, now known as St. Bernadette
a group of five brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Gummo, and Zeppo) who became involved in vaudeville in 1912, and later became famous in movies. Two of The Marx Brothers were known for their hilarious antics. Their most famous movies are Duck Soup (1933) and A Night at the Opera (1935). Between 1929 and 1949, the Marx Brothers made thirteen films.
(English slang) fool around
an area of wet, soggy, and muddy ground; bog
a horse which is used for riding
an island of the Pacific, a territory of Australia
French for “new cooking.” Refers to a trend in cooking formulated by Fernand Point that became very popular during the 1970s. Nouvelle cuisine champions the use of fresh ingredients, shorter cooking times so that vitamins and minerals in the food are not lost, experimenting with new equipment such as the blender and food processor, investigating regional recipes, and cooking with less fat. Those who stereotype nouvelle cuisine associate it with miniscule portions and artistic presentation being valued over taste.
goods taken by force
(English slang) an idiot
theatre lingo for helping someone with memorizing their lines by reading the lines of the other characters in the scene
the scene in a play when all of the disagreements or misunderstandings are resolved
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669) was a famous Dutch artist who painted in the Baroque style. His most famous painting is the Mona Lisa
a famous girl band of the 1960s and 70s who made famous such hits as “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” and “Walking in the Rain”
Jean–Paul Sartre (1905–1980) was one of the leading exponents of existentialism in France. Existentialism believes that existence precedes essence, and there is no God. Man is alone in the world, and everything that happens to him and by him is a result of individual choices.
(English slang) Scottish
a series, as on T.V.
a famous auction house
a ring-like muscle that ordinarily maintains constriction of a bodily passage or orifice that relaxes as required by normal physiological functioning
a game played in a walled room with a racket and a rubber ball
(354–430) – Christian theologian and writer; the most prominent of the Latin Fathers of the Church. He wrote several influential books on Christian philosophy and the history of the world.
resort city of southeast Switzerland
1. Johann Strauss II (1825–1899) was a famous Austrian composer noted for his waltzes. 2. Richard Strauss (1864–1949) was a famous German composer and conductor, the last of the great Romantic composers (Romanticism was a 19th century European movement that favored great emotionalism in the arts). What Stoppard means by “alpine Strauss – or sub–Strauss” is unclear. He could mean one of two things – a) “alpine” could refer to Johann Strauss, the “summit” of waltz composers, while “sub” would be one of his inferior waltz–composing contemporaries; or b) “alpine Strauss” could be Richard Strauss, who wrote the Alpine symphony, whereas “sub–Strauss” would be Johann Strauss, who only dabbled in waltzes.
August Strindberg (1849–1912) was a famous Swedish playwright who wrote such classics as Miss Julie, A Dream Play, and The Stronger.
a quartet of musicians playing stringed instruments, usually including a first and second violinist, a violist, and a cello.
someone whose love for another is not returned
a series of spans or arches used to carry a road or railroad over a wide valley or over roads or railroads. 62
Plays by Tom Stoppard include . . . A Walk on the Water (revised as Enter a Free Man in 1968) 1960 The Dissolution of Dominic Boot 1964 "M" is for Moon among Other Things 1964 The Gamblers 1965 If You're Glad I'll Be Frank 1966 A Separate Peace 1966 Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead 1967 Albert's Bridge 1967 Teeth 1967 Another Moon Called Earth 1967 Neutral Ground 1968 The Real Inspector Hound 1968 After Magritte 1970 Where Are They Now? 1970 Dogg’s Our Pet 1972 Jumpers 1972 Travesties 1974 Dirty Linen 1976 New Found Land 1976 Every Good Boy Deserves Favour 1977 Professional Foul 1977 Night and Day 1978 Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth 1979 The Real Thing 1982 Hapgood 1988 Artist Descending a Staircase 1988 Arcadia 1993 Adaptations Mrozek’s Tango Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba Schnitzler’s Das weite Land as Undiscovered Coutnry Nestroy’s Einen Jux will er sich machen as On the Razzle Molnar’s Play at the Castle as Rough Crossing Schnitzler’s Liebelei as Dalliance Havel’s Largo Desolato
1966 1973 1979 1981 1984 1986 1987
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Alvin Theatre, New York, 1967. Brian Murray and John Wood.
The Real Thing contains many different examples of life imitating art. What situations can you find in the play that mirror the plays written by Henry and Brodie?
The Real Thing can also be approached as an example of art imitating life. Some critics claim that The Real Thing is a semi-autobiographical play, with the character of Henry representing Stoppard. Research Stoppard’s life. What similarities do you find between Stoppard and Henry? Where do the similarities end?
Henry and Annie fight about what makes a real work of art. Is it having something important to say, or is it having the skill to put the words together? This leads us into the next question – what is an artist’s duty? Is it enough to merely write in support of what you believe in, or is further action necessary? What do you think?
The jokes and situations Stoppard deals with frequently refer to very specific information that might be foreign to the average play-goer. For example, in The Real Thing characters refer to Strauss, Finnegans Wake, and Sartre. In addition, Stoppard uses a great deal of British slang. Do you think that Stoppard’s language and sophisticated subject matter distance his work from the audience, making the plays lose their universal appeal? How does this influence how the director should approach a Stoppard play?
Many directors choose to change a play’s setting in order to get audience members to look at the play in a different light. Shakespeare in particular is frequently staged outside of Elizabethan England. Do you think that the themes in The Real Thing are universal enough for it to be staged in another time and place? What about the use of British slang? 64
Pick a scene from the play and adapt it for a contemporary American audience. How do the characters communicate to each other differently? What elements still remain the same, regardless of nationality? Is it possible to retain the “Stoppard feel” after removing it from its British context? Perform both scenes back-to-back for your class.
Sometimes characters who are prominent at the beginning of a play disappear and are never heard from again. What happens to Max after Annie leaves him? In groups, come up with your own answer to this question and write another scene that shows or explains Max’s fate. Try to keep it fitting with Stoppard’s writing style. Be specific about where in the play it takes place, between which scenes. Assign parts and act it out for your class. See how many different ideas come out!
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A Streetcar named Desire Brighton Beach Memoirs Oliver! Copenhage A Lessn Befre Dying The Dybbuk The Real Thing Sources