Public Selves

August 21st, 2017

A young man has decided not to attend Boston University this fall after being outed as a Charlottesville marcher. He’s received death threats which he considers “a liability to [his] brand” and his “academic success.” He’s troubled that the threats come from people he’s “never met…never had a conversation with.”

Conversations with people you disagree with are, of course, to be encouraged (though you might struggle to find common ground with someone for whom “Sieg heil!” is an appropriate public utterance). But the suggestion that people who’ve never met this young man don’t know him bears further examination. It’s a little Trumpian. One of Trump’s responses to Khizr Khan was that Khan had “never met [him].” During the campaign, he frequently complained that people who criticized him didn’t know him, as if his public self weren’t amply on display.

It’s often said by those who know Trump that he’s more reasonable in private; he’s kind to his family; genial to his friends; promotes talented women in his businesses. Only the last has real public implications, and it exists in the context of a long public record of misogyny. Some of Trump’s supporters seem genuinely confused by the differences between his public self and his private one. When during the campaign Chris Christie declared that Trump had dropped the birther stuff a long time ago, he may have been lying; or he may have been thrown by a disconnect between his friend’s private statements and his public ones.

This blurring of the line between public and private has always been a hazard of those with access to wealth and power. It’s too easy to assume that your friends and acquaintances, not to mention your Dad, could never be forces for evil in the world. It’s too easy to forget that the qualities that make someone a good dinner companion or golf partner don’t necessarily translate into goodness in the public sphere.

But the complaint that “they’ve never met me” seems to reject the idea of a public self altogether. We’re not to be judged by our public actions or rhetoric but by who we are inside or in our living rooms. Trump may be right that there were some “very fine people” in the march at Charlottesville—generous to their friends, devoted to their families, supportive of churches and charities. But their public selves were horrendous. And, at the moment, their public selves were what mattered.

On some level, our would-be student understands this. He’s worried about his “brand.” Here, too, he echoes Trump, whose career can best be understood as the development and marketing of a brand. But a brand is not a self. It elides the responsibility of a public self, which is profoundly still a self, perhaps even the most important self. And that might go a long way to explaining the trouble we’re in.

Letter to Delta

June 13th, 2017

Below is my letter to the CEO of Delta Air Lines regarding the Julius Caesar controversy:

June 12, 2017

Edward H. Bastian

Delta Air Lines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001

Dear Mr. Bastian,

I recently flew back from Rome on Delta and remembered again how much I enjoy your airline’s calm, efficient service. I will have difficulty flying Delta again, however, unless it reinstates its sponsorship of New York’s Public Theater.

I understand you’re in a difficult position. People like me won’t fly Delta because you withdrew support. Others won’t if you continue your support. But the stakes here are much higher than which set of customers you lose.

Support of the arts entails grave responsibility. When you bow to loud voices and withdraw funding from an arts organization, you give those voices a power to silence that goes beyond one production of Julius Caesar. You send a message to arts organizations around the country that if they take on controversial material they risk losing funding. You’re not required to fund the arts, but if you do, you need to think carefully about the consequences of your decisions. Here you’re allowing one very vocal group to dictate how the arts are allowed to speak.

I applaud your past support of the Public Theater, one of New York’s most important arts institutions. I understand that the current controversy has tested that support, but it seems to me that it requires a response not just more courageous, but more nuanced: a ringing endorsement of freedom of expression tempered with an understanding of art’s complexity. As many others have pointed out, Julius Caesar is a play in which assassination and political faction plunge a nation into chaos. Of the assassins, the one with the most “noble” motives ends up physically and morally destroyed. Forcing us to engage with that kind of complexity is one of the most important things that art does. Those railing against the Public’s production seek to reduce that complexity, which should worry us whatever side of the political spectrum it’s coming from.

As I say, it’s a difficult position for an airline to be in, but I believe you should come down firmly on the side of complexity.


David Foley


I Like Hillary

July 26th, 2016

“I like Hillary,” I said to some friends over lunch last Christmas Eve.

“What do you like about her?” one asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

I did know, more or less, but my reasons weren’t going to stand up long in the conversation we were having. We were having a conversation in which a dear friend had just suggested that Hillary, once elected, would turn Social Security over to Wall Street. My reasons for liking Hillary weren’t going to stand up to that, and they’re not going to stand up to all the what-abouts I can hear ringing in my ears as I type: what about Libya? Goldman Sachs? The Clinton Foundation? Welfare reform? I have only an impression to offer in return. Having followed Clinton’s career for 25 years, I’ve formed the impression that she’s smart, tough, hard-working, deeply informed, compassionate, and funny. She has some less attractive qualities, but who doesn’t?

Since this impression is essentially apolitical—it doesn’t take a stand on this or that issue—it may be unimportant, or worse, a distraction. Who cares if she’s funny if she invades Syria? And yet arguments about Hillary keep falling into the realm of impression. “The lesser of two evils is still evil,” began a typical comment on a recent New York Times op-ed. “Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be totally corrupt” appeared today in response to a David Brooks column. The idea that Hillary is not just wrong, but evil and corrupt, a power-hungry robot destroying everything in her path, has become a cherished truism of both the left and right. Elements of this portrait fly in the face of fact. Critics describe her as “entitled,” waiting for her “coronation,” but her worst enemy will tell you she works like a dog. How is that entitlement? Unless you mean that coming within an ace of winning the 2008 primary entitled her to serious consideration in 2016.

It worries me to hear this smart, capable woman described in terms usually reserved for comic book villainesses or the wives of Scottish thanes. She’s ambitious. Presidential candidates usually are. It’s hard not to catch a whiff of misogyny in the ways she gets caricatured. Would an ambitious man be reduced to hunger for power, all other attributes falling away?

Here’s why this matters: I’ve begun more and more to believe that you can’t do anything about a problem if you can’t describe it accurately. This may seem obvious, but after eight years of Obama, I’m not so sure. Within a few months of his election, I began to feel that I was living in a different country from the one his critics occupied. In the country I lived in, there was an opposition party devoted to obstructing not just the president but any reality-based analysis of the problems that threatened us, whether gun violence or climate change. In the country I lived in, a rabid right-wing commentariat was branding the president a tyrannical Kenyan Maoist bent on destroying America. In the country I lived in, the president’s more progressive ideas—the public option, the jobs bill—were widely understood not to have a snowball’s chance in hell, given opposition that ranged from the craven to the virulent. His critics on the left, however, appeared to be living in a country led by a “corporate hack” who never intended to fulfill his promises because he was secretly on the side of the war-mongers and the investment bankers. At the Glenn Greenwaldian extremes of this argument, he was no different from or even worse than the Republicans.

I’m not saying that there aren’t principled reasons to oppose Clinton or Obama on the issues, but much of what I was hearing, and have been hearing in the last months, falls into the category of magical thinking. Sanders will do what Obama was supposed to do: transform a rigged system through the magical power of his convictions. Again, it’s a problem of naming the problem. If Obama is a corrupt tool of a rigged system, then electing a Sanders or a Trump might do an end run around the system. Shake it up, as supporters of both men said. But if the system has been hijacked by a party increasingly dedicated to know-nothingism and intransigence, then those end runs will keep running into stubborn blocks. And Obama’s accomplishments, which have required not so much end runs as steady determination, start to look pretty good.

When we describe complex problems in storybook terms—villains and saviors, evil queens and Manchurian candidates—we lose our ability to deal with them, and we play into the hands of the other guy, whose great gift is reducing complex problems to fantasy novel tropes. These are problems, he assured us last Thursday, that he “alone” would solve “fast,” (though we might note that this is the language of the villain in a fantasy novel. Frodo accomplishes nothing fast or alone.)

I’d like to think that his speech on Thursday shook everyone out of their complacency. The bellowing strongman claiming to be the people’s “voice” has never come so close to the center of American politics. Surely everyone now could see the stakes involved.

But I worry.

Thursday afternoon I was visiting my parents, who live in a building where the demographic skews old. In the elevator, a woman I didn’t know asked me if I’d been following the convention. I said I’d caught the end of Ted Cruz’s speech.

“Unbelievable,” she said. “Dump—I call him Dump—how could anyone take him seriously?”

“It’s pretty amazing,” I agreed.

“But the other one,” she said. “She’s such a liar.”

“Oh, I think she gets a bad rap.”

We were now standing in the lobby. She shook her head. “You don’t know what to do.”

“Not me,” I said. “I’m voting for the smart woman.”

Shakespearing at The Drunken Odyssey

June 30th, 2014

Riverside 2 smallWhat began as a summer project and now looks as if it will take me into next spring has recently made its debut on John King’s website, The Drunken Odyssey. For reasons I explain in the first post, I’ve been reading all of Shakespeare’s plays in (presumed) order of composition and writing 600-word blog posts about them, starting with Henry VI, Part 1. As I write, I’m five plays ahead of the postings, which means I just finished Titus Andronicus. So far its been a great summer adventure of reading, responding, and writing.

Reading Titus Andronicus, which is supposed to have been partly written by George Peele, I was reminded of something I wrote a while back about Shakespeare’s relationship to the “university wits.” It was part of a longer piece (well, rant) about the effect of college playwriting programs on the kinds of plays we were seeing, but the Shakespeare stuff is here:

In a way, it’s an old story. Shakespeare was condescended to by the University Wits, Jonson, even in encomium, slighting his “small Latin and less Greek.” It is an indignity from which he still suffers. One of the oddest arguments of the anti-Stratfordians is that he couldn’t have written his plays because he didn’t go to university. This seems to me such a coarse misunderstanding of the sources of art in general and playwriting in particular as to overleap all but the most high-flying of the absurdities by which that curious faith is promulgated. And in light of what I’ve been discussing it seems just about exactly untrue. Isn’t there, to Jonson and even to Marlowe, a sheen of the academy, which would detract from Shakespeare’s unruly engagement with life as it is lived, as it is felt, as it is endured? Isn’t it possible that Shakespeare was better spared the university?

Here’s a story I love about Shakespeare. Many years after Shakespeare’s death, Jonson delivered another of his left-handed panegyrics. While avowing that he loved Shakespeare “this side idolatry,” he throws in, “Many times he fell into those things could not escape laughter: as when he said in the person of Caesar, one speaking to him, ‘Caesar, thou dost me wrong,’ he replied ‘Caesar did never wrong, but with just cause,’ and such like, which were ridiculous.”

Imagine it. It’s opening night of Julius Caesar, and here’s Jonson congratulating Shakespeare in the time-honored manner of rival playwrights. Jonson says whatever is the Elizabethan equivalent of “Really, really interesting, Will,” and then slips in his, “Oh, by the way…” And Shakespeare, irritated and abashed, sensitive about his lack of a university education as he is about his doubtful coat of arms, inwardly resolves to change the line. As he apparently did, at least if Jonson is quoting him correctly, since it has come down to us in different form.

But, of course, Jonson was wrong. Yes, the line is a rhetorical absurdity, a flagrant violation of whatever Elements of Style Cambridge was circulating at the time. But it is the line’s queasy failure to mean that captures the casual corruption of political speech. It leaps the centuries. Who in this year, this week in the life of the ailing American experiment can fail to recognize the rhetorical slippage whereby a leader never does wrong but with just cause? When we speak of the genius of Shakespeare, this is what we’re talking about. And it’s not something easily taught or even nurtured at the conservatory.

Help Kickstart a Film About the San Antonio Four

July 1st, 2013

SanAnt4Many of you have read my posts about the Jesse Friedman case. The San Antonio Four are four Latina lesbians who were similarly targeted with false allegations of sexual abuse, in a case driven by misogyny and homophobia. Three of them are still in prison fighting for release, while the fourth, out on parole, is a registered sex offender. Deborah Esquenazi is making a documentary about their case. The film’s Kickstarter campaign has one more day to raise $15,000. They’re about $850 away from that total. If they don’t make their total by tomorrow evening, they don’t get any of the money. Please consider making a pledge.

Summer Beach Reading

June 30th, 2013

OK, summer’s here, and it’s Gay Pride day, and now the Supreme Court says everyone (well, 30% of everyone) can marry the person of their gender preference. What better time to pick up a sweet gay travel romance for some summer beach reading? Now you can get my novel The Traveler’s Companion in e-book or paperback.

The easiest source is Amazon, but if you’re looking for alternative file formats, try Smashwords.

And to prove that it’s perfect beach reading, here’s a beach scene set in Venice:

lidoWhen Lint and Ricka and Klaus have gone off to the nude beach, I feel a tiny regret at not having gone along, not least because my cowardice has left me just here, lying between Philip and Antonio who are as glistening and uncommunicative as fish at a market stall. I take out my book and start to read but can’t concentrate. I glance again at my companions. Philip may or may not be sleeping, but he has achieved in repose the stillness and symmetry of the effigy on a Medieval sepulcher. Antonio must be asleep. His lips move, and every now and then a murmur escapes them. My eyes travel down his chest, lightly dusted with dark hair, along his narrow waist, to the tiny black swimsuit. He moves suddenly, and I glance away. But he has only shifted in his sleep.

I get up, walk down to the water, and wade in. The water is warm, with a lingering odor of the canals. A hundred tourists and Italian holidaymakers splash around me. I wade out past the crowd and begin to swim until I am rather far out. Around me the sea is a glittering disk with the sky domed above it and, at its rim, a crescent of sand dotted with colored moving forms. I float on my back and let the sun bake my face. Then with slow strokes I make my way back to shore. As I stand up and wade through the crowd, I hear my name called.


I look around. Off to my left, Francesco stands at the edge of the water. I wave and wade towards him.

“How are you?” he calls.

“Fine, and you?” I shout back.

I have the disconcerting sensation that, like the hero of a children’s story who steps magically into a picture book or a painting, I have walked into a Vogue Uomo spread. If Francesco was beautiful in the lovely setting of his garden, he is stunning here, set against the sea and sand, with the breeze sifting through his honey-colored hair. He seems taller than I remembered, or perhaps it’s just that, in his snugly fitting bathing suit, there seems so much more of him and all of it perfectly shaped and tanned. The rest of us, duller and plainer and all too recognizably human, fade into background detail. I fold my arms across my chest and squint up at him, finding my skinny, pale form reflected in his sunglasses.

He smiles. “A beautiful day.”

“Yes,” I agree. “Are you going swimming?”

He casts a finical glance at the water. “The water is dirty here,” he says making me feel all at once coated in grime. “There are nicer beaches to swim.”

I wonder if he means Lint and Ricka’s beach, then have a quick image of Francesco striding naked down the beach with everyone gazing in hushed appreciation as if royalty were passing.

“Thanks for dinner the other night,” I tell him. “It was really great. Do you cook a lot?”

“Yes,” he seems pleased that I’ve asked. “I like to cook very much. I would like to open a restaurant some day.”


“New York. I love New York. I must convince Adam. He does not want to return to America.”

“Well, it’s a big country,” I say, wondering what I could mean by such a pointless remark.

“Yes,” he agrees. “I love it. You liked to meet Adam?” he goes on.

“Very much. He’s very nice.”

“He is very intelligent. He talks all the time.” He laughs and flutters his fingers against his thumb to indicate constant talking. “Sometimes I just let him talk. He likes to talk. I let him.”

It strikes me as a pity that Adam should have a lover who doesn’t like to hear him talk and wants to go to New York when Adam wants to stay in Italy. But, I tell myself cynically, his other charms must more than compensate.

I’m searching for my next trivial remark when I look up to see Antonio coming down the beach. I start to wave, but he stops and seems to hesitate. Francesco follows my gaze and calls out, “Ciao! Come stai?

Antonio, reluctantly it seems, moves towards us. He nods briefly at Francesco. “Come stai?” They talk in Italian for a few minutes, Francesco smiling pleasantly and Antonio appearing to give brief, unwilling answers. Finally Francesco, with a smile at me, moves off. “We see you soon?” he calls as he moves away.

“I hope so.” I watch his tanned, well-shaped back disappear into the crowd, then turn to Antonio who, I’m surprised to notice, is looking remarkably discomposed. Even with the dark glasses he’s having trouble meeting my eyes, and he may be blushing.

“How do you know Francesco?” I ask.

“I see him, you know, in the city.”

“Do you know him well?”

“No, not at all.”

“I guess that’s a coincidence, that we both know him.”

He shrugs. “Venice is not a large place. You know him well?” he asks.

“I just met him the other night. He’s a friend of—he lives with this guy—a friend of my sister’s.”

“And you like him?”

“He seems very nice.”

“Yes, he is very nice.” He hits the words with a mocking lilt, as if he’s only mimicking my accent again. With his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses, any other meaning is impossible to guess. “We must wake Philip,” he says. “He will burn.”

Powerful Delusions

June 28th, 2013

Shortly after Capturing the Friedmans came out, I was on a bus and overheard two people behind me discussing the film. “They were creeps!” they said, referring to Jesse and his father. “They were so guilty!”

I was stunned because I thought the film, though deliberately ambiguous, portrayed a clear miscarriage of justice. But I realized that the miscarriage of justice was probably clearer to someone who had studied other such cases and recognized the patterns. My fear is that, by the same token, my recent posting might be unpersuasive to people who don’t know the history and theory of the day care cases. And it occurs to me that I might be able to explain the problems with the Jesse Friedman case in a way that doesn’t require special knowledge. So:

When I began to research the Bernard Baran case, I quickly realized that there were only two possible theories of the case: either Bernard Baran had committed crimes of horrific depravity against vulnerable children or he had spent half his life in prison for something that never happened. (You might argue that a third theory is possible, one that splits the difference. Sure. You just have to make sure it’s a real theory and not a cop-out. If you find yourself saying, “Well, something must have happened,” you don’t have a theory. You have an evasion.)

All theories, of course, are provisional. A theory is good only as long as it continues to adequately explain the known facts. In this light, though, a heavy burden is on the prosecutors in the Jesse Friedman case. They have to explain:

…how it was possible for so many students to be repeatedly abused in a classroom without anyone noticing anything amiss

…why other students in the classroom claim never to have witnessed the abuse, which was supposed to have happened in “plain view”

…why some of the accusers now say that nothing happened, but describe instead intense pressure from investigators to say it did

…how it is possible to know whether any of the accusations were true if some of them were clearly fantastic (anal sex leapfrog?)

…how this case is different from other cases which, operating on the same assumptions and pursuing the same methods, have since been discredited

The theory that most adequately explains all of the above is the theory advanced by Jesse’s supporters: that Jesse and his father were victims of the same kind of hysteria-driven witch hunt that played out in the McMartin case, the Amirault case, the Kelly Michaels case, the Wenatchee case, the Little Rascals case, the…. well, you get the idea. Regarding the largest explanatory burden placed on Jesse’s defenders—why would the kids make these accusations if none of it was true?—they can simply state, “It happened all the time,” and adduce as evidence McMartin, Amirault, Michaels, Wenatchee, etc. (Another part of the explanatory burden is the guilty pleas. For those, I refer you to Jesse’s account.)

As I suggested in my post, the news accounts of the report, instead of providing solid refutation of the defense’s theory, offer random bits of information of the kind that all criminal cases throw up. So we get an uncle who now claims that Arnold Friedman confessed to him years ago; Jesse’s own trial psychiatrist calling him a “psychopathic deviant”; two sexually related infractions on Jesse’s prison record. The problem with these random bits of information is that they don’t do anything to address the difficulties I’ve outlined above. They don’t make the prosecution’s theory of the case any likelier. Indeed, they seem like diversionary flares sent up to distract people from the weaknesses of that theory.

It’s characteristic of such random bits of information that they can be hard to pin down. Who is this uncle? When did he make this revelation? Why did he wait so long to make it? Is he lying? Crazy? Misremembering? If he’s remembering accurately, what did Arnold actually say? Why? What was his state of mind? (Free answer: not good.)

The day care cases were built on just such random bits of information, information that sounded shocking, but was difficult to place in any concrete way. The Bernard Baran case began when a mother claimed that, while giving her four-year-old son a bath, she saw blood coming from his penis. The boy, she claimed, said Bernie had touched it. Quite disturbing, but on the other hand, huh? The child had not been in the day care center for several days. What could Bernie have done on Monday to make a child’s penis bleed on Thursday? For that matter, what would you actually do to a child’s penis to make it bleed? (It doesn’t help that this mother was not, um, the most trustworthy person in the world.)

Of course it’s shocking to think that Great Neck children might have been sexually abused in their after-school computer class, but how did it happen in real world terms? You’ve got to be able to at least imagine a where, when, and how. The problem with the day care cases was that the efforts made to pin any of this down produced only wilder and woolier accusations, until you ended up with anal sex leapfrog. (See page 10 of my Baran piece if you want to know how crazy things got in that case.)

I was asked the other night what draws me to these cases. I think it’s the toxic interplay of irrationality and injustice. I’ve always been fascinated by human irrationality. When I was in high school, I wrote a report on theories that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. It changed how I viewed the world. It had never occurred to me before that people believe in spite of evidence and logic, that they marshal evidence and logic at the service of belief, the belief itself being overpowering, world-shaping, self-justifying, whether it’s the belief that the Earl of Oxford wrote Hamlet or that a monster has been loose in the local day care center. Perhaps for this reason, the district attorney’s “impartial analysis” was no more likely to find Jesse innocent than a council of Mormons would be likely, after impartial analysis, to acknowledge the golden plates as one of Joseph Smith’s more charming flights of fancy.

Such beliefs can be harmless but they can also be immensely destructive, and this is why I’ve never been happy with the epistemological shrug (can we ever really know what’s true?). It might not matter whether Shakespeare wrote his plays, but it matters that Bernard Baran spent 21 years in prison, that Jesse Friedman is still a registered sex offender, and that three of four women in Texas are still imprisoned nearly twenty years after becoming targets of the same kind of self-justifying delusions.

The district attorney’s report revealed once again how depressingly difficult it is to break through the walls of those delusions. What makes it difficult is that these delusions are ultimately about power; they reinforce and protect power, and to give them up is to yield power. The power of delusion is that it can shape not just facts but people to its will, which is how a gay day care worker can become a sex fiend and a suburban teenager a “psychopathic deviant.” Another reason that the DA’s office was unlikely to clear Jesse Friedman is that it would have deprived them of their power to tell him who he is.

Jesse Friedman

June 26th, 2013

I first met Jesse Friedman in February 2002, a little over a year before Capturing the Friedmans came out. He’d just got out of prison, and friends from Boston asked me to look him up because he was living in New York and didn’t know anyone. My friends thought I’d be a good person for Jesse to know because I’d been working with them on a project I was developing: a screenplay about Bernard (“Bee”) Baran. Like Jesse, Bee had been ensnared in one of the sex panic cases of the 1980s. Convicted of raping five children at a daycare center, he had, at the time, been in prison for 17 years, though his conviction would be overturned four years later. (I’ve written about Bee here.)

Jesse’s case was a different story. I first heard about it from Debbie Nathan when I interviewed her for the Baran project. Debbie’s incisive investigative articles for the Village Voice were what first got me interested in the day care scandals, yet she told me she’d initially been leery when Jesse reached out to her. Not only had he and his father both confessed, but Jesse repeated his confession on Geraldo. Moreover, Arnold Friedman actually was a pedophile. The case began when police recovered child pornography from their suburban home.

But the patterns were the same. No sign of any problem until an investigation was sparked. Children making accusations only after repeated, often coercive questioning. Increasingly improbable scenarios of abuse. And, among the investigators, the moral fervor of priests performing an exorcism.

Oh, and one more thing: an absolute refusal on the part of prosecutors to admit that mistakes were made, no matter how many years had passed or how high an accumulation of evidence they had to ignore.

Hence, presumably, the report from the Nassau County District Attorney’s office which on Monday upheld, after conducting an “impartial analysis” of a three-year investigation, “the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea, and his adjudication as a sex offender.”

I haven’t read the report, but what’s appeared in news accounts seems to reflect a problematic combination of outraged authority and insufficient curiosity. The outraged authority can be heard in the claim that Jesse “remained quiet” about his innocence until the movie came out. He didn’t. (See above.) Indeed the report directs a certain amount of animus at the film, as if it were the film and not an excoriating court decision that made the re-investigation unavoidable. There is also outraged authority in the random bits of character assassination that at least the news reports are supplying in lieu of solid refutation: an uncle’s belated revelation, a psychiatrist’s report, Jesse’s prison infractions.

The insufficient curiosity, though, is more troubling. The report claims that the Friedman case is “in no way similar” to other notorious sex abuse cases of the 80s. That’s not true. The similarities are striking. You can argue that, despite those similarities, Jesse was guilty, but to claim that the case is “in no way similar” is to confess that you haven’t studied those cases with any understanding. To substantiate the supposed lack of similarity, the report asserts that, unlike in the McMartin preschool case, the children in Great Neck were older and their accusations emerged quickly. But the other half of the sex panics of the 80s and 90s consisted of adults recovering memories of lurid, often satanic abuse, so there’s no age limit on the manipulation of memory. As for the swiftness with which the accusations emerged, Bernard Baran went from first accusation to conviction in four months; the initial accusation was followed by a second within hours.

Perhaps the most chilling insight into the re-investigation comes from a Times article that appeared ten days ago. Someone speaking anonymously from inside the investigation claims that “the most compelling evidence was the level of specificity and detail in the children’s accounts, which was beyond what a child could have come up with on his own.” Maybe you have to have spent as much time in the thickets of the day care cases as I have to feel the special horror of that claim. It was a claim made repeatedly back in the day. The children could not possibly have come up with such graphic details unless they’d actually experienced them. And, repeatedly, when transcripts of the children’s interviews were available, it was revealed that the details were supplied by the adults interviewing them. The statement suggests an investigation frozen in time, unable to give up (or insufficiently curious about the problems with) the discredited thinking of 1988.

There are other signs that the investigators did not consider the history of the daycare cases to be part of their investigative bailiwick. The report includes a list of “symptoms” that the children were said to be experiencing as a result of the abuse. You don’t have to have read up too much on the sex panic cases to know that exactly such vague, generic lists were used to diagnose abuse, whether of a child at a day care center or of an adult seeking help with emotional difficulties. If those lists are symptoms of anything, they’re symptoms of a sex panic.

In one way, the report is not surprising. The day care center cases were about belief, and it’s hard to penetrate a belief system. The fact that these particular belief systems are shored up by considerations both political (people’s careers are at stake) and personal (who wants to acknowledge that they ruined someone’s life?) only makes them more resistant to outside analysis.

And yet that resistance brings with it a moral calcification, which, in the report, finds expression in some high-handed verbal overkill. At one point, the authors declare that Jesse was “a maker of his own destiny.” Jesse may have made some bad decisions, but he made them in horrifically difficult circumstances. When he pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence, he was being charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse and facing a lifetime in prison. It takes a certain kind of moral obtuseness to call that making your own destiny.

But the day care cases were always notable for missing the human context, for failing to recognize that everything is tied to human circumstance. Yes, it always needs to be asserted, sexual abuse happens, but it happens within a recognizable human context. In the day care cases, sexual abuse was assumed to happen outside that context: in a busy day care center with parents coming in and out, in a computer class to which students happily returned week after week. It happened in defiance of temporal, physical, and psychological constraints. And where justice has been achieved in the day care cases, it has required a return to human understanding, a painstaking investigation of how things happen in human terms.

I suspect that when Kathleen Rice, the district attorney, congratulates herself on the “impartial analysis” of her report, she’s actually describing a failure of human understanding.

Against Liberty

April 23rd, 2013

“Liberty” is a word that can send you crawling for cover these days. It comes armed and angry. Here’s a radio host in Minnesota addressing the victims of gun violence: “I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss.”

It’s the “my” in that sentence that gives the word its particular curdling quality.

We should love liberty—the word, I mean. Growing up I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers, and everyone understood, because we were from Massachusetts, that the name referred to the famous Boston Liberty Tree around which American patriots rallied before the Revolution, just as we understood that Patriots Day commemorated Paul Revere’s Ride and the Battle of Lexington and Concord. We were used to thinking of our state as the birthplace of American liberty.

Few who use the word liberty these days would associate it with Massachusetts. Liberty is not about same-sex marriage or universal health care. Indeed liberty seems mostly opposed to both, unless you catch a particular brand of libertarian who would reject the second but accept the first on the grounds that the state should stay out of marriage altogether.

Liberty, in its current usage, has a troubled relationship with the word freedom. It entirely lops off the second half of FDR’s four freedoms—freedom from want and freedom from fear—and is fitfully suspicious of the first two—freedom of speech and freedom of worship. (If you don’t believe me, try building a mosque in liberty’s neighborhood.) But then, you know, that’s FDR, from whose tyrannical legacy the liberty-lovers have long sought to be liberated.

Perhaps FDR was trying, as Obama still tries, to put the “our” in freedom, to remind us that we cannot separate the terms in the phrase “a free society.” The reach of that “our” is what liberty seeks to limit. For this reason, liberty, even in its American Revolutionary sense, is not in and of itself a good. The two brothers who attacked Boston on Patriots Day may have had more claim to the word liberty than the people they harmed. Incoherently, pointlessly, savagely, they were striking a blow for the liberation of Chechnya from Russia’s hegemonic power or Muslims from Westerners, as we did with Britain, as the South strove to do for the North, as latter-day patriots seek to do with the tyrannical power of the federal government. Liberty, in this sense, has no obvious inherent value. It might be a good, it might not.

What matters is what happens after liberty. What matters is freedom. Who believes that the South would have been a freer place if it had managed to secure its independence from the North? Who believes that America would be a freer place if our Minnesota radio host got his way? Freedom is a project and a difficult one. It requires many hands. Perhaps the Tsarnaev brothers inadvertently left us with an image of liberty and freedom: the isolated blow for liberty followed by the many-handed multitude working together to protect and secure their freedom.

Self-Publishing Journal #6: Print!

April 7th, 2013

There is now an actual physical version of THE TRAVELER’S COMPANION, available through Amazon. The cover is (once again) designed by Bruce Goldstone.

You can still, of course, buy it as an e-book for your Kindle or Nook. The Kindle app allows you to read e-books on your tablet, smartphone, or laptop. (I know I’m supposed to like real books best [and I do, I do!], but as a new iPhone owner I’ve lately discovered the convenience of reading books on my phone on the subway.) The book is also available at Smashwords in various formats, including a PDF file.

I’ll also be at the Rainbow Book Fair on Saturday, April 13th. I’ll have some copies of the print edition on sale, and I’ll be reading a short excerpt from the novel, at about 12:30. Come by and see me!


December 16th, 2012

OK, so it’s late. And I’ve been spent way too much time today following the news from Connecticut. And I’ve scrolled down the Facebook feed and read one too many comments along the lines of “guns don’t kill people, people do” or “why must we exploit this tragedy by talking about guns?” And it was probably a mistake to read in the Times the latest from Ross Douthat, with whom I’ve taken issue before.

But really.

Douthat has taken upon himself to understand the tragedy for us. Turns out it’s a matter of evil and suffering. Which are mysteries. He cites The Brothers Karamazov (a novel which, you’ll be glad to learn, is “famous”). He thinks that Ivan Karamazov might actually have a point when he accepts “that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.” (The price of freedom, in this case, seems to be 20 dead children.) He reminds us, at this festive season, that behind the Christmas story lie “[t]he rage of Herod” and “the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.” And these great and awful mysteries, he’s willing to allow, test our faith.

The last time I took issue with Douthat, I noted the “circularity” of his mind-set, the way “a certain type of mind veers helplessly towards systems—self-enclosed, self-perpetuating systems.” And the system is on full display here. He seems quite pleased that he has come to this understanding for us, that he has been able to construct from the horror his tone poem on the mystery of evil.

And I’m willing to believe the thing is mysterious. It’s occurred to me more than once today that we should understand these tragedies better by now. The pattern is familiar. We should have some way of analyzing it, of being able to name the pathologies that produce these acts if not to prevent them from happening. But, no matter how many times they happen, something about them remains opaque.

So, yes, there are mysteries here, but cosmic they’re not.

Because there are facts. The rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S. (9.0) makes us twelfth in the world, ahead of South Africa but behind Montenegro. Our murder rate (4.2) is comfortably small compared to Brazil (21.0) or, God forbid, Honduras (91.6). But it’s several times the rate of other developed democracies: France (1.1), Italy (0.9), Japan (0.3). We’re also behind Morocco (1.4), Lebanon (2.2), and Afghanistan (2.4).

The most obvious reason for this is the unrestricted availability of guns. There are more than 200 million privately owned guns in America, and many of them are capable of such rapid, repeated deadly force as most of us, short of an alien invasion, will never need. So that’s part of it. And maybe, too, we should consider the political climate of the past several years in which the collectivist impulse was consistently construed as something the other guy was trying to take from you. Along with your guns.

But whatever. All those things can be discussed. Indeed they need to be discussed. And to shrug Friday’s tragedy off as part of God’s unfathomable ways is, to quote myself again, “another example of what [religion] can sometimes do to your moral sense.”

Self-Publishing Journal #5: (Non-)Revision

December 11th, 2012

The other day I added a cover photo to the Traveler’s Companion Facebook page. It’s taken from a sheet of paper I discovered in my files when I moved last month. Fragile and water-stained and ready to tear along its folds, it’s a pale-blue xeroxed flyer from Good Friday Mass at Saint Mark’s in Venice, the English version: “Good Friday is to tell us that ‘Christ made himself nothing’ and ‘became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.’ This is the core of today’s liturgical mystery.”

On the back of the flyer, in cramped blue writing, is the first draft of the scene which introduces Antonio in Chapter 6. I don’t have any memory of actually writing it. I don’t even know if I wrote it in Venice or in Vienna, where I spent Easter. Romantically, I’d like to think I wrote it in a café on some hidden campo, a quarto of wine in front of me and the April sun picking out the blue ink on the blue page. But who knows.

In the part I cropped for the photo (click on the thumbnail to see it), you can more or less make out a scene that, in the published version, reads like this:

Taking out a pack of cigarettes, he offers me one.

“No thank you.”

“You do not smoke?”

“Bad for your health,” I smile.

He shrugs. “When the Americans drop their bombs, I think it will not matter.” He offers Philip a cigarette, is refused, then lights one up himself. “Allora, what do we eat?” And he begins to explain the menu to us.

When we’ve ordered, Philip goes off to the restroom, leaving Antonio and me in an uncomfortable silence. Antonio gazes off to his left, smoking pensively. He seems to be trying to forget I’m there. Just as I’ve made up my mind to say something, he says, “You are from New York?”


“Ah, yes. ‘Please come to Boston.’” And he lapses into silence again.

“You speak very good English,” I offer.

He smiles briefly. “Well, you see I am always with Americans.”

“How do you know Philip?”

“He was here at Carnival. He talked to me at church.” The subject seems not to interest him. “And you?” he asks suddenly.

“I beg your pardon.”

“How do you know Philip?”

“We met in Paris. He’s friends with a girl I’m traveling with.”

“A girl you are traveling with…” he murmurs. “Bene.”

And now he is silent again, so I ask, “Why does your mother want you to be a priest?”

Again the brief sarcastic smile. “Because I speak English too well. Ah, here is your friend.”

What strikes me now is how close this is to the scene I originally sketched. It’s present tense, not past, Richard’s name has been changed, and Antonio’s English is a little worse. The dialogue, particularly around the cigarettes, is handled more fluidly. But otherwise my first take on the scene matches the final one.

This isn’t true throughout the novel. For a long time the first line of the novel was “My sister Judith is a scientist.” Now it’s “Snow sifts by my bedroom window.” And this was part of a fairly extensive rewrite of the opening scenes. (Every revision entails some loss. I miss the way the old first line signaled that Judith would be central to the novel despite her disappearance for large stretches of it.) Most of the final third of the novel went through pretty drastic rewrites, and not much in between escaped rethinking, revision, cutting, expansion, reimagining. If such things interest you, here is a handout I prepared for a creative writing class I taught, which shows three versions of the scene between Mark and his father in Chapter 1.

So if there’s any lesson to be taken from the Antonio scene, it’s not “first thoughts, best thoughts.” Like most writers, I’d be pretty horrified if some of my first thoughts saw the light of day. But, also like most writers, I know the experience of getting it right the first time. (I hope we agree I got it right.) Maybe it’s a mystery, how you can sit down at a café, on a train, in a hotel room, and scribble out a scene that will remain intact while everything around it changes and changes again, even, as in this case, when the stuff around it didn’t exist at the time you were writing.

Or maybe it’s more straightforward than that. The scene, after all, is fairly utilitarian. It introduces one of the novel’s central characters, and what you mostly want to do—instinctively want to do—is make the reader want to know more about that character. So you add intrigue. There’s intrigue in Antonio’s mix of rudeness and hospitality (clearer in the rest of the scene) and, of course, in his line about knowing English too well. You can worry about the logic of this. Would Antonio really drop such a big hint about his personal troubles to a stranger? Is he being so approach-avoidance with Mark because he’s already, within a few minutes of meeting him, attracted? But these things are less important than the psychic snapshot you get. From these sketched outlines the character of Antonio expands. He’s written here in small.

Or maybe it’s love. It’s a dirty secret of writers that sometimes we love our characters. It’s not always predictable which characters you will love, though it probably helps to love a love interest. As I say, I don’t remember writing the scene, but it’s quite possible that, in that moment, a character who was until then somewhat notional—the young Italian love interest—suddenly sprang into confounding (Mark’s word) life. Such moments you preserve.

Self-Publishing Journal #4: Like Me!

November 18th, 2012

There is now a Facebook page for THE TRAVELER’S COMPANION. So the novel now has a presence on social media! I’ve also, for the time being, restricted sales of the book to Amazon, meaning I’ve temporarily taken it off Smashwords. I don’t know how interesting the reasons for this are to anyone who isn’t thinking of self-publishing. If you’re curious, e-mail me. But the good news is that pretty much anyone can read a Kindle e-book since, if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a Kindle app for your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet! Thanks to those who’ve bought the book already. I hope you enjoy it. And feel free to post comments on the new Facebook page!

Self-Publishing Journal #3: Published!

October 28th, 2012

Only about a week after my original target date, I’ve published THE TRAVELER’S COMPANION e-book. It’s available now at two sites: Amazon and Smashwords. If everything goes according to plan, Smashwords will also distribute it to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony. Both Smashwords and Amazon will let you read a sample before you commit yourself. (I particularly like the line the Amazon sample ends on: “The russet eyes are fixed on mine. ‘Just a drink? Where’s the harm in that?'”)

Smashwords offers the book in various formats. You can download it for your Kindle, Nook, or iPad, or if you’re like my many friends who have so far resisted e-readers, you can download it in Epub format, download Adobe Digital Editions for free, and read the book right on your computer.

At all events, I hope you do buy the book and enjoy it. Feel free to let me know what you think. And if you really like it, write an Amazon review!

Self-Publishing Journal #2: Covered

October 11th, 2012

It’s been forever (well, six weeks) since Self-Publishing Journal #1, and the result is that we’re now within 10 days of Launch Date. (Oct. 20th! Gear up your e-readers!) And so, finally, the cover!

This is Bruce Goldstone’s lovely, funny, and alluring cover for my novel The Traveler’s Companion. And I suppose we have to say “cover,” in quotes, since e-books don’t really have covers, per se. But if all goes according to plan you’ll be able to click on this image on Amazon or Smashwords and purchase a copy in less than two weeks.

Stay tuned!

Self-Publishing Journal #1: Cover Me

August 27th, 2012

As I wrote in my last update, I’ve been thinking about self-publishing my first novel, THE TRAVELER’S COMPANION. This is partially in celebration of having finished (or just about finished) my second novel, but also because I’m fond of it and would like it to be out there, and this seems like a fun way to do it.

Right now I’m thinking of an e-book, but even e-books need covers, so I asked Bruce Goldstone to design one for me. Bruce works with Blue Coyote and designed the haunting postcard for PARADISE and the delightful one for NANCE O’NEIL.

Bruce gave me four beautiful sketches to choose from, which made choice difficult since they were all so alluring. But I do believe the one I chose was the best fit for the book and the audience, and when Bruce is done working on it, I’ll share that one, too.

Meanwhile, you can click on the thumbnails to see two of the other sketches.

Oh, and I’ve also been updating my website, so take a look around while you’re here…


August 16th, 2012

In just a few weeks, I’ll be facing a cohort of new students who will be tasked to learn “writing the essay” from me. Here’s an early lesson for them: Tell me, future students, what’s wrong with the following statement: “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” If you guessed that this Paul Ryan quote, which appears in two of yesterday’s opinion articles in the Times, is a meaningless and therefore useless binary, then you’ve got a step up on most of your fellow students. You also appear to have a step up on many of your fellow Americans—and, disturbingly, on one of our candidates for Vice President.

One of the problems with binaries is that words have a tendency not to stay put. (“They shuffle, they change,” says Virginia Woolf.) What do you mean by individualism? The Marlboro Man? Lady Gaga? Charles Lindbergh? Mussolini? Each a fair prototype of a different kind of individualism. By collectivism do you have in mind the Politburo? Or Chinese re-education camps? Or the public garden on Avenue B? Or the evangelical church on Avenue A? Or maybe, since individualism is often yoked to the pioneer spirit, the wagon train? Mormons? Here’s the good news: you don’t have to choose. You can (and probably should) mean all these things. But the fact that you don’t have to choose means you have to complicate your thinking.

You, future student, will try to slip this responsibility. When faced with complicating the individualism/collectivism binary you will say, “It’s both.” Or you will say, “You need to strike a balance.” And I will try to force you to describe what that balance might look like or, in the words of one of my colleagues, “what makes striking that balance hard.”

One of the things that can make Obama seem at times ill-suited to his job is that his mind seems instinctively to work that way. He’s interested in complexity. For this he gets accused of being professorial by those who, let’s say, prefer to keep it simple. In particular, he often gets himself in trouble when he tries to describe what the individual/collective balance might look like. In 2008 Joe the Plumber became fleetingly famous objecting to something Obama said about “spreading the wealth around,” though this was not an unreasonable way of addressing the fact that, for the last few decades, the upper percentiles of earners have been claiming a larger and larger share of the nation’s wealth. This year the “I built that” signs at Romney rallies are responding to Obama’s grammatically maladroit but factually correct assertion that no small business owner creates that business entirely on his or her own, without help from the collective. (The fact that Obama gave one of his more eloquent descriptions of the individual/collective dynamic while Paul Ryan sat in the audience looking bitch-slapped is adding some dramatic backstory to the race.)

Now, future student, you will bring your essay into conference with me, feeling very proud of it. And I’ll start raising objections: “You’ve said that this binary is meaningless and useless. But doesn’t that depend on what you mean by meaning and use?” Because of course Ryan’s statement is not actually meaningless. It may not have much meaning for policy prescription, but it has meaning as narrative. The very way it’s phrased, the sense of an epic battle fought for the highest of stakes, reveals its essentially narrative intent.

We’re all cynical handicappers of the horse race these days, and we think we know that word “narrative.” We know the importance of seizing the narrative, creating it, running it. But narratives are important for more than that. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously said. Stories create meaning, and that mysterious phrase—to create meaning—is the opposite of cynicism. It even hints at the basis of an ethical system, the task of creating meaning.

This is the reason, I think, that Ryan is often described as, and indeed appears to be, sincere, honorable, likeable, smart. It sets him apart from the Gingriches and the Bachmanns whose narratives ride (and often jump) the shark of opportunism. They don’t create meaning; they trash it. Ryan is, or appears to be, a true believer, and most of our narratives are in some way about belief.

I have a close relative who’s something of a star of the Pentecostal preaching circuit, and if you want to study the relationship between narrative and belief, you could do worse than bone up on Pentecostalism. I believe my relative to be a good man, with a good heart, but he’s also a dangerous man, at least to the extent that any man becomes dangerous at the moment his narrative stops being adequate to the world he encounters.

There’s been a great deal of cynicism and opportunism in the opposition to Obama, of the Mitch McConnell “our goal is to make him a one-term president” stripe. There’s been a lot of what may or may not be racism, but is certainly terror of the difference and change that a black man in the White House represents. But a large part of the problem is that we’re a nation of true believers. If the true believers at times seem to live in a zone that’s not so much information-free as information-impermeable, that has to do with the power of narrative, its oilskin toughness. In 2010, many of those true believers ended up in Congress, where they’ve spent two years failing to recognize that the world they’re encountering renders their narratives inadequate, with disastrous results.

It will be interesting to see what happens to Paul Ryan’s narrative. There are already signs that it’s being reshaped to meet either the reality of the world he’s encountering or the reality of a national campaign. But he actually doesn’t interest me all that much. I’m more interested in you, future student, and maybe I’m more interested in you as future citizen. If you take nothing else away from your four years at college, learn to recognize the moment when your narratives are no longer adequate to the world.

The Latest: Lazy Summer Edition

August 12th, 2012

Lately I’ve been cleaning up my website—nothing spectacular, just adding photos, switching out play excerpts, changing a font or two, creating a new banner of photos for the header—and, in doing so, I’ve been forced to pass my home page time and time again and to face down those haunting words, The Latest. Scanning down the column I can see that it’s the latest only in the sense of superlatively late. As in, months go by without my posting anything to it.

Honestly, though, there’s not a lot going on right now. DEADLY MURDER keeps getting produced in various locales, including one somewhere in Siberia. (No, I mean literally. Siberia.) In Los Angeles this spring, I met Alan Shearman, the director of the Portland production, and since I wasn’t able to see it live, he gave me a DVD of their quite impressive staging. The graphic on the left is by Lee Moyer for the same production.

The Athens DEADLY MURDER produced this very fun trailer.

And I’ve just discovered that, in November, there’ll be another production closer to home. Road trip?

A few things, including an intriguing development for DEADLY MURDER, fall into the category of “watch this space”: nothing worth talking about at the moment, but material perhaps for future updates.

More or less in that category are the writing projects I’ve been working on this summer. In June in São Paulo, I finished a fair draft of my new novel, THE HOUNDS OF HEAVEN. (A shout-out to the folks at Livraria da Vila on Lorena in whose lovely and comfortable terrace café I got a lot of work done.) Patient friends are reading and responding to the novel now. You can read an excerpt here.

I’ve also been re-re-polishing the first novel, THE TRAVELER’S COMPANION. This is because I’m thinking of dipping a toe into the chilly but rapidly warming waters of self-publishing. Watch this space. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt.

Other than that I’ve had a lazy, pleasant summer, teaching our pre-college writing class at NYU, following Brazilian soap operas on O Globo, getting out to see friends and films, and shopping for furniture for the apartment I seem to be buying…

More later (though hopefully not terribly later).

Deadly Murder Productions

January 22nd, 2012

Thanks to the Samuel French edition, DEADLY MURDER has started appearing at theatres around the country, including what seems to be quite a fine production at the Lakewood Theatre Company in Portland (pictured, Ty Boice and Adrienne Flagg) and another at Theatre Suburbia in Houston. There’s also a production in Prague right now, and one will open soon in Athens, under the title TA BROMIKA KOLPA (below), a translation, I think, of A NASTY TRICK, a title the play had at one point.

It’s a strange but fun feeling to think that there are all these Camilles and Billys and Teds out there, some speaking in other languages. (What’s the Czech for “a few brisk years in reform school on the fly”?)

Recently, the Greek translator contacted me to ask for a program note, and I rediscovered something I wrote for the 2008 production at Vienna’s English Theatre. Maybe it’s worth reproducing here:

“We love blood. We love murder. We love danger and double-crosses and the moment when the safe, predictable world gives way. Or we love them in a thriller.

“When I began to write DEADLY MURDER, my play CRESSIDA AMONG THE GREEKS, a retelling of the doomed Trojan War romance, had just completed its New York run. It, too, had its share of blood and betrayal and worlds collapsing, but it was a tragedy, and in tragedies things cost. Tragedies, at the end of the night, present you with a bill for the blood and betrayal, and it’s a steep one. Thrillers allow us to slip the cost. They allow us to laugh as we gasp, to feel horror with pleasure, to ride death and danger like a roller coaster.

“Maybe that’s why a thriller seemed like such a good idea after CRESSIDA. Maybe I needed some murder without the cost.

“I’ve always loved thrillers and mysteries. When I was a kid, we came home from school and watched Perry Mason on TV. I whiled away summer afternoons with Agatha Christie. I love Ira Levin’s fiendish entertainments, and the elegant gamesmanship of Anthony Shaffer’s SLEUTH. Writing DEADLY MURDER, I rediscovered the luxurious addictive pleasures of these stories: mysterious strangers, priceless jewels, unsavory secrets, and death not from natural causes. We get a lot of tragedy in the world. We get a lot of blood and betrayal. But tonight we just have fun.”


January 21st, 2012

Rock Maple Ave, Hamilton, MA

I woke early this morning.  (I’m still on Lebanese time.)  It was dark, the shades were half-drawn, and I have the New Yorker’s habit of not looking out the window anyway.  So it wasn’t till I’d puttered around for half an hour—bathroom, email, coffee and oatmeal on the stove—that the morning had lightened enough for me to notice that the steps of my fire escape and the branches of the tree outside my window were humped with snow.  “It snowed,” I thought, and, so hard is it to get my attention sometimes, it was another little while before I noticed that it was still snowing.

Now—breakfast over, news read, bed made—I’m sitting at my desk with the goal of “getting some writing done” (this is my usual vague way of putting it) and a light fine snow is powdering the air.  The sky is pale pale grey and everything’s quiet, weirdly quiet.  Usually there’s some noise from the courtyard or the building or the traffic over on Avenue A.

I have no need to leave the apartment today if I don’t want to.  There’s food in the fridge, I’ve made no plans, and I’ve got plenty to do at home.  I can stay inside and watch the snow come down.

This is my most essential experience of snow, an experience that takes me directly back to childhood, adolescence, lying on the sofa in our living room, reading a book, with the snow coming down outside.  It’s an experience of safety, comfort, longing.  Even then, that last word was part of it.  Why longing?

Burned away from this experience is excitement.  Snow always meant excitement when I was young.  There was the exciting possibility that school would be canceled, all of us watching the list of closed schools scroll down the TV screen.  (Hamilton-Wenham!  Yay!)

There was the excitement of the snow itself.  Even now my contentment watching the snow is at war with an impulse to put on some boots and get out in it.  Our house was on a little hill, and our basement was full of Flexible Flyers and plastic sleds and skis and even a toboggan, none of it in very good repair.  Boots were haphazardly lined up in the basement, and there was an old bureau whose top drawer was full of gloves and hats and scarves.  It was often difficult to find a matching pair of gloves, and at times you’d have to go out wearing two left or two right ones.  I remember a period when everyone wore stocking caps, long knit caps whose points fell halfway down your back and ended in a pompom, so that for a time everyone in our small Massachusetts town looked like Hans Brinker.

There were quarrels over the sleds, fights and hurt feelings and wounded senses of proprietorship.  But there was fun, too.  The trudge up the hill, the swift slick ride down that had to be navigated so that it ended somewhere between the woods on the left and the driveway on the right.  More daringly, you could go down the other side of the hill, into the woods behind the house, a bumpier steeper ride through staggered trees.  If the snow was firm, the Flexible Flyers were the best.  Their metal runners shot over the snow with a speed you could steer but not abate—rush and power!—with the rope looped through the holes on either side of the movable handlebars.

The toboggan our parents gave us one Christmas.  They took a picture of all seven of us sitting on it, one behind the other, in front of the Christmas tree.  One afternoon I was riding in front, eyes squeezed shut against the snow that sprayed up over the curved wooden slats, and somehow we steered it wrong.  (You steered it by leaning right or left.  “Lean!  Lean!”)  The toboggan careened down into the woods on the left.  My brothers, seeing the danger, jumped off.  I, seeing nothing, smashed into a tree.  I wailed my way into the kitchen, where my mother screamed at the sight of my bloody face.  She drove me downtown to my father’s dental office.  He put me in the chair and closed the wound in my forehead with a single suture.

It’s hard to describe all this—injuries and all—without making it sound idyllic, and perhaps it was.  Red cheeks, numb toes, hot cocoa with a melting marshmallow bobbing on the surface.  The snow falling down outside the kitchen windows.

I understand logically but not emotionally why some people hate snow.  And, like most people with a strong emotional attachment to something, I resent people who respond to my attachment with logic.

Snow is useless, worse than useless.  Last year I flew out of New York a couple of days after the Christmas blizzard that crippled the city, with the result that I waited six hours in line at the airport and my luggage went missing for a month.  I hated the snow.  But that’s inaccurate.  I hated only what the snow had done.  The snow itself I still loved.

You could argue that I love snow because I grew up with it, because of all I’ve described above.  But I’m not sure that’s true.  Last Saturday I was in Istanbul.  It was cold and rainy and we stopped in the old Spice Market to buy a scarf.  The salesman lamented the cold, wet weather but, on the bright side, said that it might snow later.  He didn’t like the rain, but he liked the snow, though it snows very seldom in Istanbul.  Later it did snow.  By that time we’d been walking around in the rain for a few hours, and none of us had the shoes for it, and the wet, clumpy flakes that fell without sticking didn’t seem like much of an improvement.  But even so at times—as, for instance, when we were leaving the Grand Bazaar and saw the drifting flakes framed by one of its 15th-century arches—there were little shivers of beauty.

John Berger says that “beauty is always an exception, always in despite of.  This is why it moves us.”  He means that beauty exists “in despite of” its “bleak natural context”—a context of “energy and struggle.”  I remember the news reports during the Blizzard of ’78.  Cars got stranded on the highway, and a few drivers kept their engines running and their heaters on and died from the carbon monoxide fumes.  And I went out the morning of the blizzard and walked hip deep through snow, not without a little fear that I would fall into a bank and freeze to death.

Because the beauty is not just what gets framed by an apartment window or an archway of the Grand Bazaar.  Part of the beauty is the longing.  People freeze to death in blizzards, drown in oceans, get fatally lost in forests.  The night sky is cold and empty.  But they afflict us—or me anyway—with a longing to be somehow out in them, part of them.  “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”  What longing there’s always been in those words.

I wonder if we have to add a “because of” to Berger’s “in despite of.”  Is it the “energy and struggle” that calls us outward?  Or is it (Berger again) because nature “is what exists without any promises”?  Is there a yearning to be a part of that pure existence?  “Oh, let me not exist!” Rumi, the Sufi poet, is supposed to have said.  Frost’s poem is sometimes said to be about death, but that’s never seemed entirely accurate to me.  There are other ways to dissolve besides death, and those moments—those moments of beauty and longing, stopped in front of those snowy woods—seem to promise a little dissolution of the boundaries of self.  A return.  “We live…after the Fall,” says Berger.  But fall from what?  Eden—that myth of creation, of making—doesn’t seem to capture it.  Existence is what doesn’t need to be created, and it may be existence itself that we long to return to.


October 2nd, 2011

A week ago Saturday I saw Richard Nelson’s lovely, understated Sweet and Sad at the Public as part of their invaluable LAB series.  Someone should do a piece on the psychology of ticket prices—maybe the aesthetic psychology of ticket prices. The Public has for a couple of years been assembling casts of wonderful actors to work for a limited time on challenging new work, and charging $15 a ticket.  The combined result of the work and the ticket price is something that feels for the audience like an essay—in the sense of a trial or attempt, but maybe in the other sense as well—in theatre.  A jeu.  Something that feels both provisional and rich.  It’s as if every day were Vanya on 42nd Street.

So part of the pleasure of Nelson’s play was seeing, in an environment in which the lowered financial stakes seemed to lower other stakes as well, really good actors perform challenging new material.  But another part was that it reminded you of the pleasures and uses of realism.  These aren’t always obvious.  I remember a play I saw in London several years ago in which real water ran from the tap and real bacon sizzled on the stove with the result that the more the design and direction insisted on the reality of the play, the less persuasive the play itself became.

It may be that realism, like poetry, works better when it uses little pins of the real to create its world, little red wheelbarrows of actuality.  In Nelson’s play, we had real food, real bottles of wine, and real crocheted tablecloths—old, familial, prone to stains—to pin us to his world, each pin a recognition, but those recognitions depending for their sharpness on their separation, our ability to pick them out from the background.  Not easy to do if everything—background, foreground—is composed alike of pins.

Maybe it’s that recognition, first of all, that realism provides.  We see ourselves.  You know that crocheted tablecloth.  Your aunt or somebody’s grandmother had one; you remember it draped over somebody’s hope chest.  Of course that implies that realism works best for those it actually represents.  What do we lose from Chekhov when a samovar is a cultural signifier and not an everyday household item?  What do we lose from Ibsen when we’ve never warmed ourselves in front of a porcelain stove?

The answer may be not much, and therefore the power of those plays doesn’t depend on realism.  Or the answer may be not much, and therefore the project of realism, the recognitions realism allows, reaches beyond a particular cultural setting.  I’m not sure if I’m making that distinction clear (or if I’m even clear myself about it).  It’s the difference between saying, on the one hand, that realism isn’t important in Chekhov because his characters transcend their time and place and saying, on the other, that something essential to the concerns of realism, something inseparable from realism, is what makes his characters resonate beyond their immediate circumstances.

At one moment in the play, I was watching Maryann Plunkett, and there was a dizzying moment of collapse:  the actress playing a character listening to a story while she ate from a plate in her lap collapsed into a woman listening to a story while she ate from a plate in her lap.  I couldn’t tell the difference.  It was as if I were at this dinner, the story was being told for the first time, and this woman was attending to the story with that mixture of sympathy and resistance with which we all listen to a family member tell a story.  Her attention flicked between the teller and her food because, well, one must eat.

It seems like the opposite of the alienation effect.  Instead of forcing you to suspend your involvement with a character by reminding you of theatrical artifice, it takes away the comforting distance of artifice, your awareness that you are watching an actor play a part and that the life of a family is being represented for you onstage.  You are, in these moments, in that familial life.

What are the uses of that?  Few, I suppose, if the goal of realism is just to be real.  But Nelson has other things on his mind.  He’s concerned with how we remember, and how remembering shapes what we do next.  The play takes place on the tenth anniversary of September 11th, the dinner happening in the two hours before everyone is going to go down to the high school for a commemoration ceremony.  But a teenage daughter has also died recently, and part of the family’s struggle is to keep her tragic death from reshaping their memories of her.  Towards the end of the play, the uncle, who suffers from memory loss, reads Walt Whitman’s “The Wound Dresser,” the poem that gives the play its title and itself an act of re-remembering, of using memory to reshape a story of heroes and battles into one of wounds, death, longing, kisses.  (This last makes me think that Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising, with its repeated reference to “your kiss,” was consciously Whitmanesque.)  “Why did the victims’ families get compensated?” Maryann Plunkett’s character asks at one point, a question that seems both loaded—so loaded she’s almost afraid to ask it—and urgent.  How is that compensation an act of mis-remembering?  And what consequences has that mis-remembering had?  What, on this anniversary, do we need to re-remember?  The questions by themselves have urgency, but their urgency for the audience comes from the way in which they’re woven into the life and concerns of this family.  We can’t tell where the familial concerns end and the political ones begin.

While thinking about all this, I came across a quote from Walter Benjamin.  He posits a “law of literature according to which a work’s truth content is the more relevant the more inconspicuously and intimately it is bound up with the subject matter” and suggests that “precisely those works turn out to endure whose truth is most deeply embedded in their subject matter.”

Perhaps that’s what realism does.  It not only embeds its truths in its subject matter, it embeds us as well.  It reminds us how tightly the threads of our lives are woven into the larger patterns.  It may be the most political of all theatrical forms because it gets us where we live.


September 25th, 2011

Ross Douthat has a fascinating piece in the Sunday Times about the Troy Davis case.  Douthat, as you probably know, is the Times (most) conservative columnist and, according to Wikipedia, a convert first to Pentecostalism and then to Catholicism, making this morning’s column, for me, another example of the damage religious conversion can sometimes do to your moral sense.

This may misrepresent the column.  Douthat’s argument is not religious but civic.  To the extent that faith is invoked at all it’s as a call to waverers not to lose faith in the death penalty over this unfortunate affair.  If you’ve been following the case, you know that what made the affair unfortunate was the very high probability that the State of Georgia just put an innocent man to death.  On the plus side, according to Douthat, the case, which exhausted 20 years of appeals, “can focus the public’s attention on issues that many Americans prefer to ignore: the overzealousness of cops and prosecutors, the limits of the appeals process and the ugly conditions faced by many of the more than two million Americans currently behind bars.”

In other words, if I’m understanding him properly, the execution of an innocent man can help us focus on the conditions that make it possible for us to execute innocent men.

Here’s where I hear the bat-squeak tone of a certain kind of religious mindset.  There’s a pleasing circularity to Douthat’s vision.  Davis’s execution will help us to reform abuses so that fewer Troy Davises will have to die and we can have faith in the fairness and justice of executions.  It’s the way a certain type of mind veers helplessly towards systems—self-enclosed, self-perpetuating systems from which a great deal of mess has been excluded.

In one sense the column startled me.  I’d been clumsily dividing the death penalty issue between opponents who pointed out the danger of executing innocent people and proponents who thought that innocent people were never executed.  For the latter, the fact that Davis exhausted all his appeals and was executed is sufficient proof that he was guilty.  The system worked.  (If Davis had been exonerated, the system would also have worked, despite the 20 years in prison.)  And yet I should have understood that there must be people like Douthat who believe both that Davis was essentially murdered and that the death penalty is necessary and valid.  It’s not an untenable position—we have many other systems in which we’re willing to countenance the deaths of innocents in the name of a larger good:  war, poverty, highways.  But the problems with the position lie in the mess that Douthat is excluding.

I should say that I don’t actually believe that opponents of the death penalty “prefer to ignore” the abuses of the justice and prison system.  My guess is that they’re only too well aware of them, and that they’re as troubled by the wrongfully imprisoned as they are by the wrongfully condemned-to-die and work as assiduously to free them.  Douthat’s most tangled paragraph opines that “a society that supposedly values liberty as much or more than life itself hasn’t necessarily become more civilized if it preserves its convicts’ lives while consistently violating their rights and dignity.”  (Recently I had a dinner conversation about this troublesome word “liberty” which we hear more and more from the right and which seems to be used like a little silver hammer to knock people between the eyes and stop them thinking.)

The problem is not just that Douthat is offering us a binary choice—protect life or protect rights and dignity—a choice which he is not extending to the actual prisoner, who might weigh those options differently.  The problem is that the more reformable aspects of the criminal justice system are the ones that revolve around making prisons safer and more humane places.  The less reformable aspects of the criminal justice system—the mess that Douthat is excluding—are the ones that led to Davis’s execution.

We can, of course, work to reform the ways that the criminal justice system seems to reward corruption and careerism—the way prosecutors are encouraged to construe their jobs as getting convictions not seeing that justice is done.  It will be a long uphill climb, but at least I can see it as a possibility.  I’m sure that these elements came into the Troy Davis case.  But something else operated as well.

I suppose it’s possible that, in the Davis case, corrupt officers, determined to get a conviction in the murder of a fellow officer, coerced false statements from scared witnesses in the full knowledge that they were railroading an innocent man.  But that seems like a level of conscious maleficence to which the average human being doesn’t often rise.  It seems more likely that, having had the killer named to them, they went to find witnesses who could confirm to them what they already knew.  The assumption was that these recalcitrant witnesses needed to be badgered and threatened into spilling what they knew, and the danger that the officers might, with their badgering and threats, actually produce false statements receded from awareness.  It’s the same dynamic that made the day care cases of the eighties and nineties such colossal disasters.

I was struck by the way that Officer McPhail’s widow insisted on Davis’s guilt.  There seemed to be plenty of room for doubt.  The case, from an objective point of view, had been shot full of holes, and the evidence now seemed to point to another man.  You can dismiss the prosecution’s resistance as corruption and careerism if you like, but why wasn’t his widow more interested in making sure that, if a man were going to pay for killing her husband, it was the right man?

It’s the same reaction that you heard when the West Memphis Three were freed last month.  There was the fervent belief that three child-killers had just been set free and a resentment, as in the Davis case, at interference from “outsiders” who didn’t understand.  The question is what were those outsiders outside of?  And what didn’t they understand?

Here’s what you will never reform:  the way that not just individuals but groups form narratives and how quickly those narratives become impermeable to outside information.  The outsiders stand outside the narrative, and the proven difficulty—in the Davis case, in the West Memphis Three case, in the day care cases—of getting those inside the narrative to step outside it should give Douthat pause.  We’re no longer talking about reforming a system.  We’re talking about basic human irrationality, and a great many Troy Davises would have to die before we reform that.

Long Time Gone…

September 25th, 2011

It’s been nearly a year since I posted any news on what was at the time my newly redesigned website.  It’s not that nothing’s been happening.  Theater Breaking Through Barriers presented a reading and then a staged reading of SAD HOTEL with the wonderful Sam Tsoutsouvas in the Tennessee Williams part, which he played in the White Barn production ten years ago.  For the third time, I participated in Blue Coyote’s Standards of Decency Evening, this one called STANDARDS OF DECENCY 3: 300 VAGINAS BEFORE BREAKFAST.  My play was called PLATO’S RETREAT (pictured) and looked at internet pornography through Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  It may be the first time I’ve ever missed the entire rehearsal and performance period of a brand new play, since I left for Brazil (that’s Carlos and I in Brasilia’s Oscar Niemeyer-designed Cathedral) a few days before rehearsal started and returned two days after the last performance.

My big project for the summer was to finish the novel that I started in my first year in NYU’s MFA Fiction Writing (in Chuck Wachtel’s amazing year-long novel-writing workshop).   I should say I finished the first draft of the novel, as pretty much the entire last half is an unholy mess, which I will spend the next year straightening out.

As for other news, my three-character thriller DEADLY MURDER (I know, I know.  Can I just say, here, publicly, that I didn’t give it that title?) seems to be sprouting up at community theatres thanks to the Samuel French edition.  There are also productions slated for Prague and Athens in December.

So that’s the news for the year.  The website also remains in the beautifully designed but empty state that my friend Bob Chatelle left it in when he designed it, lacking the information and material that I was supposed to fill in.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to spend a little time over the next months getting it into shape.

Campaign Mode

September 9th, 2011

Andrew Leonard in Salon on Obama’s speech last night:  “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was exactly right in his comment before the speech Thursday morning: ‘This isn’t a jobs plan; it’s a reelection plan.’”  According to Leonard, Obama was “being a little too cute” when “[h]e tried… to pretend otherwise.”  The reason we know it was a reelection speech is, apparently, because “there’s zero chance of anything like [his jobs plan] passing.”

Quite apart from a concern about whether Andrew Leonard, or anyone at Salon, should be carrying Mitch McConnell’s water for him, the analysis seems to offer no way for Obama actually to address the jobs crisis.  I’m having difficulty imagining what, in Leonard’s ears, a real jobs proposal would have sounded like.

Didn’t everyone agree that the Republicans would reject any proposal the president made?  Weren’t we also agreed that Obama should nevertheless come out swinging, with a strong proposal for solving the crisis, a proposal that would not pull punches based on the Republicans’ presumed intransigence?  Am I the only one who understood the rationale behind that as more than electorally strategic?  Aren’t Obama’s choices right now pretty much reduced to forcing the Republicans onto the defensive, not just so he can win reelection—though that would be nice—but because by keeping them on the defensive he can have some slim hope of breaking through the obstructionism that has prevented anyone from doing anything about the economy?  The president’s threat to take the argument to “every corner of this country” seemed to be as much about the opposition’s reelection campaigns as his.  He was saying, “I may not be able to keep you from blocking me, but if you insist on blocking me, I will do everything I can to make it cost you.”  You’re only allowed to reduce that to electioneering if you can come up with a better strategy for getting the opposition to yield.  If the test of the speech’s seriousness is whether any of its proposals are likely to pass, then perhaps thirty minutes of silence would have better pleased Leonard.

I don’t think I’m being naive.  I understand that reelection is and has to be part of Obama’s calculations right now.  The problem, though, with Leonard’s analysis, and analysis like it, is that it doesn’t leave room for strategies that are not merely electoral.  We wanted him to come out fighting and he did, and now we’re assuming that he was only fighting for his own ass.  Or is that what we wanted him to fight for?

It’s a version of the problem I have with the more Glenn Greenwaldian among my friends.  If you’re going to go on and on about how disappointed you are in Obama, how much of a sellout he is, then you’ve got to have a credible answer to one question:  who would be doing better?  And your answer to that question—the person you propose—has to satisfy two conditions:  that person has to have a reasonable chance of (a) getting elected and (b) being allowed to govern once elected.  There may, for all I know, be lots of people who fit those criteria, but only two occur to me off the top of my head:  Hillary and Bill.  And if the Glenn Greenwaldians don’t like Obama, they REALLY don’t like Hillary and Bill.

By all means push back on Obama when you feel that he’s reneged on his promises or principles—Guantanomo, the public option—but do it in the context of the circumstances the man is actually in.  If you don’t like the system, work to change it, but don’t accuse Obama of bad faith because he hasn’t managed to transcend it by dint of personal magnetism.

Moreover, Obama has been subjected to attacks whose vitriolic craziness makes Bill’s troubles look like a champagne brunch.  The question of whether those attacks have been racist obscures the way in which Obama’s mixed heritage—mixed not just in race, but in geography, in lived experience—stand for an America that many of us have felt coming into being for a long time.  Obama’s election seemed to ratify that America for us.  Which, for a huge segment of the country, was exactly the problem.

The level of obstructionism he’s faced has been unprecedented.  Could he have finessed that obstructionism more adroitly?  Maybe. He’s one limited person with his own set of failings, as Bill had his.  Given a choice, I’d take Obama’s failings over Bill’s.  And I’d take both of theirs over those of Obama’s predecessor.  But these seem to me real—or at least imaginable—choices.  Just as Obama/Perry or Obama/Romney is an imaginable choice.  The choice between Obama and some unnamed person who would somehow tame Wall Street, neuter the Republicans, and defeat the corrupting power of money and lobbyists does not seem like a real choice to me, and because it’s not real, it’s potentially dangerous.

If I have hope for Obama’s reelection and his chances of making headway against the Republicans, it’s not because of the eloquence and fire that everyone agrees he summoned again last night.  The eloquence wasn’t what won him the election, though it certainly helped.  It was his ability to take the long view, to see the separate skirmishes as part of an overarching narrative.  He managed to squeak by with this strategy on the health care bill.  Who knows?  He may squeak by again on his newest proposal.

But if he doesn’t we should not be standing on the sidelines, arms chummily linked with Mitch McConnell, dismissing the game as unwinnable from the start.  We should be worrying, deeply, over what happens when the game is lost.

Glowing Reviews for NANCE’s Wonderful Company!

September 23rd, 2010

“… splendidly reliable actors who carefully construct fully realized characters by paying attention to the details.”

(Rachel) Brown rises brilliantly to a plethora of challenges. As Nance, she must act the free spirit chafing at the limitations imposed on women of her era; she does, while remaining — in posture and deportment — true to the strictures of the age. In Nance’s various acting roles (Judith, Magda, Lady Macbeth), she must duplicate antiquated dramatic styles — the stylized gestures and heightened oratory. Brown handles it all so well, you’re left eager to see her take on the whole canon, for real.

“Director Gary Shrader and (Jonna) McElrath together have created a chilling and memorable version of Lizzie Borden….O’Neil may have exerted a power over audiences during her heyday, but it’s McElrath and Lizzie Borden who stir audiences now.”
Mark Peikert, BACKSTAGE

(Frank) Anderson as Neil’s cynical former lover makes his character so engaging and complex he comes close to stealing the show.”
Paulanne Simmons, CURTAINUP

Frank Anderson as Rankin and Jane Titus as Emma, both splendidly reliable actors who carefully construct fully realized characters by paying attention to the details; Titus is particularly unforgettable in a climactic moment in Act Two that I otherwise will say nothing about.”
Martin Denton, NYTHEATRE.COM

“The show features a fifth star, comprised of Christi Coufal‘s lovely period costumes and Emily Inglis‘s meticulous, rose-hued set.”

Tickets available through SmartTix.

Reviews are out for NANCE O’NEIL!

September 19th, 2010

Rachel Brown and Jonna McElrath. Photo: Beau Alulli

Come see Blue Coyote’s “riveting,” “fascinating,” “emotionally charged” production of NANCE O’NEIL!  Now through October 9th at the Access Theatre. 

“riveting… Gary Shrader’s production for Blue Coyote Theater Group feels near perfect… New York’s indie theater at its best: original, provocative, intimate, and entirely engaging…. unquestionably one of the highlights of the new season”  Martin Denton, 

“as emotionally charged and occasionally as frightening as an Alfred Hitchock thriller” Paulanne Simmons, CurtainUp 

“a fascinating psychological drama” Sandy MacDonald, TheaterMania 

Blue Coyote Theater Group proudly invites you to the world premiere of NANCE O’NEIL. Culled from firsthand recollections, historical footnotes, and a century of whispered rumors, David Foley’s NANCE O’NEIL explores the friendship between the celebrated actress and Lizzie Borden, the acquitted multiple-murder suspect and one of the most fascinating characters in American history. NANCE O’NEIL is a gripping meditation on the mysterious bond between the famous and the infamous. 

Tickets are $25 


Nance O’Neil Begins September 8th!

September 13th, 2010

Nance O'NeillSeptember 8 at 8:00pm – October 9 at 8:00pm

Access Theater
380 Broadway, 4th Floor
New York, NY

Note special offer below for $10 Wed tix. Previews (9/8-9/11) are $15.

Blue Coyote Theater Group proudly invites you to the world premiere of NANCE O’NEIL. Culled from firsthand recollections, historical footnotes, and a century of whispered rumors, David Foley’s NANCE O’NEIL explores the friendship between the celebrated actress and Lizzie Borden, the acquitted multiple-murder suspect and one of the most fascinating characters in American history. NANCE O’NEIL is a gripping meditation on the mysterious bond between the famous and the infamous.

Tickets are $25