Sunday, April 22, 2007


Mendy: A Question of Faith first came out in 2003 and drew attention at several film festivals. Dealing with a young Hassid in exile form the Hassidic community and encountering a hedonistic lower east side/alphabet city NYC, it questions how modern religion (or rather, religion not modernized) fails to provide an in-between for those torn between extremism and an identity that allows personal spirituality into modern life. Adam Vardy's film is not the most sophisticated perhaps, shot inexpensively and written in rather earnest tones, is still quite brave in the questions it asks, it's unwillingness to settle for easy answers, and for the very fact that it's a film that while pointed will always have a hard time finding its audience. (Those who are religious will balk at the sex, the drugs, the rock and roll. Those who would be hip to the world portrayed will resist looking at a film that deals with religion and spirituality. Much of it is in Yiddish with subtitles. Not at all an easy sell.) But while the story's a bit schematic, a terrific performance by Ivan Sandomire at its center keeps it watchable, and it's a film that strangely becomes more and more a part of your thoughts the further you move away from it. It has staying power in your brain.

Which leads me to elasticity. It seems that the problem the world has now, more than any other, is its blind faith in absolutes--I'm right, he's wrong, it's got to be all one way. This bleeds into any discussion of the situation in Iraq, into politics, religion, even (to some degree) the horrifying massacre this past week at Virginia Tech. (In that case, rigidity calcified all the way into depraved indifference for human life.) Most philosophies and religions are ideas for life, and life takes so very many forms. Yet we seem to view things in concrete--a substance created by man. It is said that if you chip away at religion, chipping off the parts you don't like to accommodate the present, you soon will have nothing left. Maybe. But God (or your concept of God, fill in your own blank) created trees and plants that bend in the breeze so they won't snap, and a carefully pruned plant actually grows back stronger, healthier, better able to sustain life. When religions fail to incorporate the changes that have happened in life to our society and culture in the name of remaining pure, they are ultimately failing their purpose, which is to provide security and spirituality to those who turn to them for guidance. Absolutes maybe easier to understand or to swallow, but they are not healthy to follow. Views of women, of sex, of education, of culture--these have changed considerably of the past few centuries, and while the seeds of most religions provide wonderful tenants to construct a life, the rigidity of most "organized" religions fail to give a livable road map that can help people live realistic modern lives. Religion should not be an all or nothing thing but rather a guidance system, a place where man can get in touch with his deepest spirituality. Instead, it uses guilt to control a mob who are afraid to think for themselves or are too confused to know what is best for their own lives. Denial of reality depletes energy, even in the service of only maintaining pure or positive thoughts. Elasticity serves best in any relationship, be it between man and woman, man and man, or man and God. It allows one to find the best in each other and in ourselves, it encourages forgiveness and understanding. It accepts, even as it controls and provides boundaries. Pray by all means--but pray for the ability to flow with the changing times and follow the bungee cord so that you can find your way back to solid ground.

Mendy: A Question of Faith is now available on DVD.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"And the animals will love it if you do . . . "

(Do you remember what 60's pop legend wrote that lyric? The answer at the bottom of this entry!)

This coming Tuesday, April 17th at 7:30, is another wonderful Playwrights for Pets evening, entitled Fairy Tales: Shaken, Stirred & With a Twist. (Playwrights for Pets, according to the website, "was created to produce play readings in support of organizations dedicated to animal welfare." The April 17 performance will benefit Animal Haven.) The evening will feature plays by Janet Demarest, Judith Estrine, Ron Frankel, Maureen Hennigan and yours truly (Never Wear a Dead Man's Shoes--that's the piece of mine they're doing, not just a warning!). The terrific cast features Erin Cronican, Brian Fuqua, Elizabeth Gee, Laura Gillis, John Moss, Arlene Nadel, Barry Steely and Dana Watkins. Did I mention show time is 7:30 PM and that there's a free wine reception afterwards? It all takes place at the Baruch Performing Arts Center - "an incubator for the arts" - at 55 Lexington Avenue at 25th Street. There is a $10 suggested donation. Call (718) 768-4213 for reservations or e-mail For more information, visit

The evening is recommended for "mature audiences." But of course, you're mature--or you wouldn't be reading this blog, now would you? Nor would you have been able to answer the trivia question above. (If you couldn't, it's by Paul Simon, a song called "At the Zoo" from his days with Art Garfunkel. "Something told me it's all happening at the zoo/I do believe it/I do believe it's true . . . " It goes on to tell what a great time you'll have if you go there and . . . "the animals will love it if you do . . . ")

Hey, it was a long week!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


No, we're not talking about Mr. Ed here.

If anyone owes a debt for their continuing existence in the English-speaking 21st century, it is Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, better known to the masses as France's best-known dramatist, Moliere. And the debt he owes is to the brilliant 20th-century poet and translator, Richard Wilbur.

Though a gifted poet in his own right, the marriage of Wilbur's vivacious verse translations with Moliere's devlish satires is one made in literary heaven. There have been many other attempts to recreate Moliere's wit and his verse, but few have matched the genius and theatricality that Wilbur's translations have wrought. (Tony Harrison's unusual adaptation of THE MISANTHROPE does come to mind, but that was for a very special production featuring Diana Rigg and Alec McCowen, if memory serves.)

The ability to experience this wonderful cross-time collaboration is currently offered by a clear, literate and entertaining production of THE LEARNED LADIES, currently on display for the final weekend at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn. Efficiently directed by Neal J. Freeman, the play moves at galloping clip that keeps the satire and story alive and yet at the same time allows you to savor the words of master craftsmen in action. A colorful design scheme keeps the show visually lively, and there are standout performances by Heather Siobhan Curran, Patrick Toon and Laura Heidinger among others. While New York City always has enough Shakespeare to shake a stick at most seasons, we don't get enough opportunities to celebrate the French master. Here's an opportunity to see why he's hung on so long--presented by the folks who make his work and memory continue on as living, breathing theater.

Now through April 15th at The Gallery Players, 199 14th Street (between 4th & 5th Aves) Brooklyn. Buy tickets online at call (212) 352-3101.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Millions are reading "The Secret," Rhonda Byrne's best-seller that claims to provide the secret of enormous success in life. Utilizing quotes from philosophers and scholars living and not, Byrne tells about the Universe's generosity and the Law of Attraction, wherein whatever we wish for, we can attain. Our thoughts are like magnets and whatever we think, good or bad, we bring back to us. Ask. Believe. Receive. Byrne and her team of experts claim this is the ancient method to wealth, health and happiness. It may even help with obesity and cancer. (And if the book doesn't do it for you, there's a video and an audio book that can help.) Most importantly for book sales, Oprah endorses it, claiming she's known the secret all along. (But Oprah can do her own promotions, she doesn't need my help.)

Believe it or not, I'm not going to debunk it. For one thing, I'm still working my way through it, so it would be unfair. But for another, there's much to be admired in it. A positive attitude is imperative to get what you need in life, while negative thinking does lead to despair and depression. No doubt. Positive visualization has indeed been proven an effective aid in not only modern AND ancient medicine, but likewise in people setting and attaining goals. Figuring out what you want and giving it words, a shape, some tangibility is crucial in the process of organizing and energizing one's life. And it is true that negative thinking can lead to a downward spiral, whereupon one brings disaster upon oneself as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. The book even suggests creating a list of things that give you warm and positive feelings, such that you can snap yourself out of self-destructive behaviors and thoughts. So in a very real sense, the book does raise valid points to incorporate into one's thinking.

However . . .

(You knew that was coming.)

However, where I question (at this point--remember, still reading!) is where the book advocates careful control of one's thoughts. The abundant universe is non-judgemental about your thoughts, returning all of them back to you with interest, be they positive or negative. Thus, if you have a bad thought, you may be bringing bad thoughts back to you, collecting bad karma. If wishing for something, you should ask the universe, believe you are receiving it and act as if you've already received it. Fine, but if you have problems doing that or if you have a moment of doubt, then you have put the whammy on yourself.

Now, the fact is, anything that requires you to monitor yourself that self-consciously has got to be problematic. And anything that leaves you feeling one false thought will lead to dire consequence is bound to make anyone a bit neurotic. Denying what you feel--and we all have a mix of good and bad feelings from moment to moment--takes away energy. "Blocking" all negative thoughts is actually an energy draining activity. We must live in the moment, and no one's moments are all good and happy. Trying to control how we think and feel and respond at all moments drains life of spontaneity, and while we may wish to be positive forces in the universe at all times, NO ONE is, not 24/7.

It is not Byrne's encouragement that I'm negating. It is the intensity being suggested in the pursuit of the positive goals.

My recommendation: plant positive seeds in your brain as a matter of course. Indeed, do set goals, and do try to imagine living those positive fantasies. Such activities cannot but help. However, go with the flow--be honest with all your feelings and emotions and don't try to shut out those which may not please you or may not serve. Whatever that feeling you may have, it is yours and you must own it, otherwise the denial will cost you far more energy than the acceptance of it. Trying to control or hold onto life too tightly, be it a negative or even a positive moment, leads to a backing up, a constipation of the natural flow of life. We cannot control each moment in time, nor should we want to control it. The beauty and the discovery of life happens with ease, an ease that comes with acceptance. By going with and contributing to a natural flow, we grow, change, build. We participate, we don't stand on the sidelines waiting only for that we are sure is the good stuff. Sure, we may make mistakes, but by being involved in the process of even a mistake, we grow and learn. And this doesn't mean we don't make commitments -- indeed, a good relationship is continuous but not stagnant. Our love is not made of cement like a house's foundation but rather is loose and flowing, tethered perhaps but allowing for changes of current.

Healthy dialogue allows for contradiction, opposition. Byrne describes the law of attraction as like attracting like, but haven't we also heard that opposites attract? And don't we have evidence to support it? Magnets? Ying and Yang? James Carville and Mary Matalin?

In short, don't hold life to tightly. Yes, take the positive approach and dream as big and brightly as you can. Love as much as you can (which Byrne endorses). But to spend life cautiously, to act as if it all might break, to walk on eggshells constantly--that can't be conducive to good emotional health! Nature gives us the good and the bad as part of the cycle. If you want one part, you must accept the whole package.

But who knows? I'll finish the book. Maybe I'll change my mind. I'm staying positive.