Drury Lane Oakbrook is billing Ragtime as “the most lavish production” ever to appear on their stage. Based on E. L. Doctorow’s prize-winning 1974 novel, the original Broadway production of Ragtime won four Tony awards in 1998 (including Best Original Score). The plot is a masterly melding of the intimate and the epic. While historical figures like Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini parade across the stage, the focus is always on the lives of the three iconic American families: the Protestants in suburban New Rochelle, the African Americans in Harlem, and the Jews arriving from Eastern Europe.
Even though the action takes place at the turn of the 20th Century, each character makes choices that any one of us could face tomorrow, and every plot point resonates with the nightly news. In an age of celebrity worship, immigration reform, and terror alerts, as Tea Party members face off against America’s first Black president, “it’s almost embarrassing how pertinent these issues are,” Rachel Rockwell told me in our follow-up phone call.
Rockwell uses extremely simple sets in the center of the stage, but she provides context by projecting historical images onto a back screen. This elegant technical solution gives every scene microcosm/macrocosm dimensions. “If our production gives the illusion of being grand, then that’s great and mission accomplished. But if audience members don’t take away the immediacy and the stakes of the story, then they’ve missed the entire point of this play,” Rockwell explained. “What changes isn’t the historical stuff, it’s the human angle: what makes a family; how do women function in a society; what does it mean to be a father and a man?”
Ragtime runs through May 23. For tickets, phone (630) 530-0111 or visit www.DruryLaneOakbrook.com.
To read my full interview, visit: www.films42.com/Features/RachelRockwell.asp.
Lynn Roth’s 2008 film The Little Traitor opens May 14 at Landmark’s Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park. Set in Jerusalem in 1947 (at the tail end of the British Mandate), The Little Traitor stars Ido Port (from Dear Mr. Waldman) as 12 year old “Proffy.”
One night, failing to make it home before curfew, Proffy is stopped and questioned by a soldier named “Sergeant Dunlop” (Alfred Molina). Proffy has lived his entire life surrounded by refugees and Holocaust survivors (including his emotionally damaged father), and he has absorbed their bone-deep fear of imminent annihilation, but he develops feelings for this gentle giant anyway. Secret meetings with Dunlop are soon discovered by Proffy’s school buddies, and their suspicions ultimately impact the entire neighborhood. Although historical circumstances drive Proffy and Dunlop apart, the film ends with a touching epilogue—a tiny, humanistic statement of hope for a beleaguered world.
The Little Traitor is based on Amos Oz’ 1995 novel Panther in the Basement, but readers of his award-winning memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness (2004) will also recognize many of his idiosyncratic characters and evocative locations. Note: Even though the film was made in Israel, the primary language is English (with some subtitled Hebrew).
Israeli novelist Sayvon Liebrecht was in Chicago last month promoting her new novel The Women My Father Knew. The central character is “Meir,” a writer whose emotional journey begins in a Manhattan apartment in 1990 and ends a month later in a clinic near Netanya.
Meir’s mother was raised in the safety and comfort of suburban Connecticut, but his father, born in Poland, grew up as an orphan in Israel. They meet and marry in Tel Aviv, and for a while, all goes well. Then family obligations force Meir’s mother to return to America. It’s supposed to be a brief visit, but complications ensue and the marriage quickly unravels.
Initially Meir has few childhood memories, but as the story unfolds bits and pieces return, enabling Liebrecht to paint a vivid portrait of Israeli life in the early ‘60s. Like Meir, many of Liebrecht’s protagonists are the children of Holocaust survivors (as she is herself), but this time she breaks new ground: Meir’s parents are not only well-drawn, compelling characters, they’re also stand-ins for the complicated financial interdependence between American and Israeli Jews. This is a dynamic that very few Jewish artists have dared to address from either side, so kudos to Liebrecht for digging in with such great empathy.
Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is the managing editor of Films for Two: The Online Guide for Busy Couples (www.films42.com). Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to Tzivi@msn.com. Visit www.juf.org for online copies of prior columns.