Category Archives: Reflections

Ironic, isn’t it?

As a child, I dreamed of being an old man.  I think lots of kids had dreams like that, fantasies, even reveries.  I think of the first character I played on stage was Giles Corey (an old man who’s a victim of the witch hunt in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible). I think of “altacocker,” the Yiddish word I remember hearing my father say and “Der Alte,” what they called the German politician Konrad Adenauer.

Now, as I get older, I dream of being that kid again, of being that kid who dreamed of being an old man.

Also: Added new thought on learning lines/music from actor/musician’s perspective.


American Democracy at the Crossroads

American Democracy at the Crossroads

When I was in college many decades ago, I remember being struck by what Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about what had emerged as the United States’ “experiment” in democracy. He saw in the U.S. governmental structure an interpretation of “majority rules” that frightened him. He saw the possibility that an electoral majority might so dominate that it could do whatever it wanted. An electoral majority could then abrogate nearly all rights and needs of everyone else.  He foresaw that the “winner take all” aspect of our system could have drastic consequences to those who lost key electoral battles, so that a relatively small electoral majority — a problem amplified yet further by the separation of electors from the popular vote — could so dominate governance that the people as a whole could be largely disenfranchised and a small elite could run roughshod over the needs of the many.

The Constitution attempts to ameliorate this danger with two key elements: The doctrine of the separation of powers, embodied in the three branches of government, and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.  Recent events, beginning with the overall domination of the Republican Party over such a long stretch of time that the Supreme Court is only marginally an “independent” force, gerrymandering has all but guaranteed control of the House of Representatives, and the removal of all fetters on the ability of wealth to determine electoral power, has left vast numbers of people who live in the United States with nearly no control over the  governmental decisions that most crucially shape their lives.

Decades of struggle for the rights of women, for racial equality, for worker unification in unions, for humane reactions to those whose political and economic necessities have driven them to immigrate without government approval, for liberalization of draconian drug laws, for quality education regardless of wealth, for health care as a human right — all this and much more has been either driven back or is more threatened today than ever before. Some causes have fared better than others, but overall, we, the people, are less free, less able to control our own destinies, have less confidence that our children will have greater opportunities than we had, and on and on, all because of the ability of a small group to leverage its wealth and power into utterly dominating the masses of people.  As bad as this has been for the majority of the American populace, it has been yet more devastating to the most vulnerable members of our society.

Much as people who consider themselves progressives, including me, focus their fear and outrage on Donald Trump. This is, I would say, appropriate, as he is more than merely a symptom of how far our “democracy” has sunk. Each day, he strikes out against all who stand in his way. He goes beyond exploiting a narrow-minded worldview, but actively incites hateful attitudes toward women, towards immigrants, toward environmentalists, towards “liberals,” toward poorer countries of the world as though they were the cause of every person’s miseries.

This is not the democracy “of the people, for the people, and by the people,” but increasingly an oligarchy of extremely wealthy people. Sadly, a very large percentage of the most privileged seem to measure their wealth by increasing the gap of wealth and privilege.  Our democracy becomes still more of a “corpocracy” where the magnates of corporations maneuver to control everything from abortion rights to gun laws to immigration.

The struggle is not over. People of good will continue to fight for human dignity. No, it’s not just about Trump — though he certainly epitomizes and leads the charge for the value system that puts accumulation of wealth and privilege (including the “privilege” to disparage others) first and everything else cast aside. It’s about trying to make U.S. democracy truly democratic.

We all have a lot of work to do.


Opposing Saliva Testing in routine police stops for pot in Vermont – H.237

I am upset to see Vermont’s recent legalization of marijuana is being used to justify a giant step backward in terms of personal rights.

I am afraid, I admit, that a deal was struck: that all along, some said, “Yeh, I’ll vote for this, but I’ll also let you dig another step deeper into my life.

The ACLU has voiced their objection to the currently discussed bill  (H.237) .

My first attempt at writing on this appeared in VTDigger yesterday.  Here it is (link at bottom of page):

Legalization of Marijuana Does Not Justify Saliva testing
Legalization of marijuana is a significant shift in the state government’s role in “regulating” cannabis use. In Vermont, the first state to legalize marijuana by legislation as opposed to referendum, the major change is in mentality: shifting marijuana use from a governmental concern to one of personal choice. Moving from decriminalization to legalization, however, is not at all certain to significantly change the actual consumption of marijuana. Marijuana, legal or not, has been widely available for decades.  Visions of the state being overrun by the drug-crazed is an assumption that ignores the fact that cannabis use is widespread not only in Vermont, but throughout the country.

Unfortunately, legalization is being used by some to argue for far more aggressive state police policies, specifically taking saliva swabs and, potentially, blood samples. This turns a law enacted to free citizens from governmental interference into a rationale to seriously limit the liberties of all, since even those who have never used cannabis could be detained and tested. 

Under the proposed legislation (H. 237), officers who “reasonably” believe that a person may be under the influence of marijuana are authorized to begin a series of steps similar to those used for alcohol, but more invasive in both length of time being detained and in deprivation of personal privacy.

Saliva-testing for cannabis is not at all the same as a breathalyzer testing for alcohol.  On what objective standard is an officer’s judgment based that a person may have consumed marijuana? At a sobriety checkpoint, for example, the driver may have given no indication in impaired driving and may have no signs in their breath or demeanor. But if the officer doesn’t like the look of the person’s eyes, or the “normality” of the person’s responses to questions, the officer can then detain the subject until the proscribed tests have been administered.

No one, including the manufacturers of the saliva or blood tests themselves, even attempts to argue that the tests can accurately determine the recency of use or amount of ingestion, let alone the degree of impairment.  Thus a person who is “presumed innocent” may be held, have their saliva checked, be vulnerable to the abuse of such a test to collect DNA, and, then, if THC is found (as would be expected, for example, in anyone using marijuana for medicinal purposes), further held until a blood test is taken. Even testing advocates acknowledge that neither test can be considered “evidentiary.”  Neither test can distinguish a person who is seriously impaired from a person who legally ingested many hours or even days before sitting behind the wheel of a car. When a person is held to be tested by an assessment that has no validity, one’s liberty is being encroached for no reason that would hold up in a court of law.  The fact that some other states enforce such a parody of justice is no justification for its use in Vermont.

I was pleased to see the ACLU  has taken the stance, based largely on similar arguments, that saliva testing based on an officer’s subjective judgment of cannabis use is unacceptable. It is my sincere hope that the Vermont legislators who were insightful enough to see the value of legalization will also be insightful enough to see that validating a deprivation of everyone’s rights to be a poor “balance” to the change from decriminalization to legalization.

Jonathan Mack, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Psychology of the State University of New York, is the former Chair of the Selectboard of Newfane, VT.  He currently manages the Hooker-Dunham Theater and Gallery in Brattleboro.



Democracy at the crossroads

Perhaps it’s just always been true that democracy in a very fragile thing. All too easy to be turned into something very undemocratic, into oligarchy and autocracy.

I always remember what I read in college by a Frenchman (de Tocqueville) who visited in the early days of an independent United States. He worried about the American experiment in democracy: An electoral majority could trample everyone else’s lives if it chose. Democracy could an autocracy that could do what it wants, hampered only by fighting within itself, oblivious to the populace as a whole. This would be the diametric opposite of the democracy core principle: everyone has an equal say in what is to happen and it’s corollary: everyone’s needs and beliefs are equal.

I believe we are at this crossroads.









For the Legalization of Marijuana

There is no reason why anyone should be considered a criminal for the simple fact of possession. Production and distribution should be made straightforward, without being made commercial, big business. This is the really challenging part.

The big question everyone asks but no one can truly answer is whether more teens will smoke pot once it is legalized.  There’s more than a little doubt that illegality is what stops teens from smoking it,  For many teens, the forbidden is what allures,  I agree that pot is not what teenagers need.  The teen years are tumultuous enough that adding pot into the mix can wreck havoc.

But putting people in threat of being arrested isn’t the solution. Prohibition of marijuana has not resolved this any better than the prohibition of alcohol helped a century ago.

It’s time for more reasonable approaches to emerge and legalization is the right direction.

Thinking about a Dracula production for the fall…

Certain stories captivate for generations.The reasons why something like Dracula holds us are fairly obvious, but, nevertheless…

1.  Life and death, particularly the seeming inevitability of death, is about as basic a mystery to humanity as any. Why do I say “seeming inevitability”? Isn’t death the epitome of inevitability? It is, of course, yet, since we are alive, we know nothing of death.Life is what is,death is an abstraction. Certainly we know what it is for our bodies to fail. Every ache and pain reminds us of our fragility. Meanwhile, however, we are not dead.

So the undead is the ultimate of the uncanny. To have body that is dead but still conscious, worse still yearning, still wanting. Not a benign indifference filled, an abstracted state approaching non-existence, but a fully sensorially and sensually aware being.

1a. Blood.

2. Dracula allows free rein to lusts we “good” people repress. You don’t have to be a genius psychologist to know how frequently sexual lust and violence intertwine in human affairs.

3. Dracula’s existence is like thumbing one’s nose at “modern science.” He is a being who could not exist, but evidently does.

4. Dracula is also a moral tale. The promiscuous Mina succumbs and must be destroyed while the innocent Lucy, though tempted and nearly undead herself, is saved.

5. “Modern christianity” is mocked, but a superstitious, rite-ridden christianity prevails.

6. The “wise old man,” another archetype worthy of C.J. Jung, outwits the Satan.  (There are, of course, a million twists on this in which Dracula is more undead than dead despite Dr.

7. Dracula is not just a vampire, it is as though he were all vampires in one. Killing him kills The Vampire which means it kills all vampires.

8. There is a moral point in Dracula that has nothing to do with whether he can be killed. It is a human rather than a supernatural point. To live off the blood of others is a fundamental wrong. This is perfectly true allegorically. It is a malady we see all around us and we realize it may as yet destroy the human race and. in the meantime, is sure making a helluva lot of people terribly miserable. This is the classic problem of evil. We can accept anyone wanting anything, but we cannot accept one person sucking the life out of another person, yet we cannot seem to stop it.

There’s a theme that bears the test of time.


In Praise of “Small Theater”

One of the more exciting possibilities for small, local theater productions — often called “community theater” although the name is often inaccurate and somewhat demeaning — is to tackle themes that are particularly challenging. This includes many of the “canon” of significant works of drama.  “Well worn” as these may be, they became classics because of their enduring power. While reprised occasionally on Broadway, usually in limited runs with big name stars, they provide fertile territory for theatrical exploration in the more intimate context of regional theaters. Other fascinating, less familiar or entirely original, material is available to small theater performances.  Concept works and original stagings of more well-known material — all are fertile ground for small, local theater.

Much local theater, of course, does not attempt to take on challenging material. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment for entertainment’s sake, for filling houses with patrons enjoying an evening out, away from world and personal troubles and the din of television commercial monotony.   There’s nothin’ wrong either with a troupe of actors having a ball with a traditional song-and-dance or farcical silliness.  There’s no substitute for sheer unadulterated fun.  God knows we all need it in these trying times.

Many small local theaters are wonderful venues, though, for a different kind of theater:  theater that, in one way or another, challenges their audience.  In recent times, our area (southeastern Vermont) has been graced by some outstanding work that is, by no means, “easy” from either an actor/director or audience perspective. Whether it was the reprise of the achingly painful Death of a Salesman, the gender-bending interpretation of Jean Genet’s classic, The Maids, the family-from-hell tortuous drama, August, Osage County, or the complex, mind-twisting Copenhagen, among many other wonderfully-enacted serious and comedic works, local audiences were treated this past year alone to innumerable fascinating and demanding theatrical performances. Sometimes, these challenging works attracted full houses, sometimes only the few and the brave, but all gave their audiences something to think and feel about, something meaningful.

Sometimes I think “small theater” should be movement like “slow food.”  I wish we could get away from judging our artistic worth by the size of our audience.  Everything today is market-rated. I remember when I started writing the book that forms the main body of this website and began seeking a publisher. I realized my personal goals and any publishing house’s were completely out of sync.  I felt that if a hundred people took my work seriously enough to read it, that would be a significant accomplishment.  Publishers needed press runs in the thousands to even consider a work. The internet changes the game, but it’s still difficult not to look at website statistics as the ultimate measure of value. Certainly they do give some sense of the interest one’s work attracts.   And since audience size is also tied to whether a theater can be a going concern, it’s both natural and appropriate to be concerned with it. But equating the number of patrons with value reduces the artistic process to a commodity, an extremely deleterious consequence in the realm of creativity.

Small theater has the opportunity of inverting the equation and judging success by the quality of the work rather than the size of its audience. How many times have I heard people remember a performance from many years previous with the words “I was six feet away” from the performance?  In our local area, I think of how wonderful and memorable it is to hear music played in an intimate setting — jazz at Wendy’s house concerts, at the Vermont Jazz Center or the Open Music Collective; chamber music performances at Yellow Barn, Next Stage, or at our local little old schoolhouse — rank right up there with performances I’ve seen at Lincoln Center in New York.

There is a chance, in small theater, to try things that don’t appeal to everyone, that may disturb or unsettle, that may even leave some audience members wondering “what the heck was that?”   There is chance to experiment, to “stretch out” as an actor or director.  And it is a chance for an audience to experience something entirely different from what anything they’ve seen before.






The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Black Box Theater: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde



(link to initial entry on this thread)

One of the most alluring possibilities in using a black box theater like the Hooker-Dunham is creating a production from the ground up.  It’s “minimalistic” set-up, a small stage framed by either thick black drapes or, if the drapes are open, stone slabs and bricks. As I write, we’re trying to do that, starting from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella (yes, the author of the Disney-ized, i.e. sanitized Treasure Island!.).

Josh Moyse is developing an entirely new rendition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I say “rendition” rather than “adaptation.” We are paying great heed to the iconic story of the doctor who took a potion that transformed him into all that was evil inside of him, all that was instinctual, and all that was vile, despicable.

Most people cannot think of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde without conjuring up images of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, or Heckle and Jeckle. It is engrained in the cultural heritage of many cultures and is, perhaps, universal:  The divide that sometimes can feel so deeply embedded in our nature between the will to be good and beneficial to others and the will do whatever the heck on wants.  If that includes doing harm to others (and what else is that axe raised over your head in anticipation there for?) a line is crossed that no one can abide.

Theater has the wonderful ability, not unlike a really good roller-coaster ride or anything else that’s scary at first but you’re really glad you did it, to allow us to feel fear and see evil and, at the same moment, to feel safe. The homicidal maniac on the stage is not going to come and actually attack us in our seats.

So here is a simple space in which to build a world of claustrophobic nightmare. Because that’s what Jekyll and Hyde is, a nightmare, in which the truth is horrible to behold).  (Hyde complains:  “Why does it always have to be Jekyll and Hyde? Why can’t it be, at least some of the time, Hyde and Jekyll. I know, it sounds like a law firm, but it still would be more fair.”)  A nightmare.  Jekyll goes too far and terrible things happen. Man crosses a boundary he should not cross.

(It occurs to me that this is not unlike the central question of Copenhagen, that just finished a wonderful four-week run at ATP in West Chesterfield.  In our infinite quest to know but also in our fear of other humans and desire to be able to destroy them before they destroy us, we have delved inside the atom, and found a way to unlock its energy.)

Dr. Jekyll is toying with the laws of the universe. He is Edward Teller ( “father” of the hydrogen bomb). He is Faust Robert Johnson at the crossroads, making his pact with the devil.  Or Robespierre, chopping off the head of the king, and so, according to some psycho-historians, killing God and kill Father.  He is poor Oedipus — except that Oedipus had no idea what he was doing while Dr. Jekyll is trying to do what actually happens.

The point is that working with the novella means exploring some very interesting terrain.

Here are some ideas that have crossed my mind.  (Whether any of them will seep into our production remains to be seen.)

An theatrical analysis of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ( some practical, some psychological, some philosophical, and some nonsensical ideas)

The tragedy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

An imagining of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Another scenario of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Final imagining and alternatives