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Bed, Betrayal and Beyond

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I finally figured out a way to put an end to a lot of the nonsense emanating from the Religious Right. Since most of these people (and their friends in the Tea Party Movement), seem to feel that we should be living our lives strictly according to the Bible, let's start by taking away all of their electronics (cell phones, computers, home alarm systems, automobiles, refrigerators, pacemakers, air conditioning, microwave ovens and central heating). For strict interpreters of the United States Constitution like Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, let's just say that if such hardships were good enough for the Founding Fathers, they're good enough for you, too!

In his 1697 tragedy, The Mourning Bride, one of William Congreve's characters warned: "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned." If Republicans continue waging war against women, they may soon face a backlash like this:

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This year's demonstrations in and around the Texas State Capitol have offered a classic example of what happens when men do not understand the women in their lives or fully appreciate the society in which they live. Huffington Post blogger Vivian Norris published two brilliant rants ("You Have To Be Really Stupid to Stir Up This Hornet's Nest: Pro Choice Women In Texas Angry As Hell" and "Texas Women: Stop Having Sex With Men Who Vote Against Your Best Interests"), suggesting that while Texas may soon turn purple, Texan men may find themselves suffering from a severe case of blue balls.

While many Texan women wish that Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards were still around to push back against arrogant assholes like Texas Governor Rick Perry, I found myself wishing Molly Ivins was still around to raise hell. Salon.com's editor-at-large, Joan Walsh, had this to say during an appearance at the 92nd Street YMHA in New York.

Those who scream loudest about the dangers of redefining marriage seem to have forgotten how the legalization of divorce redefined marriage. Or what it was like when women were considered as mere chattel -- the youthful assets of fathers who could be traded or sold for the best price -- or the wedded property of their husbands (doomed to obey his commands no matter the cost to their physical, psychological or spiritual health).

Two recent productions brought the rights of women into sharp focus by showing audiences societies in which women had little or no rights. Sometimes having such situations shoved in your face can be a cruel and sorely needed wake-up call. As a former roommate liked to admonish people, "If anything I've said offended you, that's because you need to be offended to put an end to your sleepwalking!"

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Franziska Schlotterer's first narrative feature film, Closed Season, starts innocently enough as a young entomology student from Germany arrives on an Israeli kibbutz hoping to deliver a letter to his biological father, Avi (Rami Heuberger). Although young Bruno (Max Mauff) hopes to fulfill his mother's dying wish, Avi (who survived several years at Auschwitz) isn't the least bit interested in talking to him and warns Bruno to stay away from his daughter. Once Bruno's patience pays off, Avi reveals the distressing chain of events that led to Bruno's birth.

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Avi (Rami Heuberger) explains the sordid facts of life to
his biological son, Bruno (Max Mauff) in Closed Season

In 1942, Avi/Albert (Christian Friedel) was a German-born Jew trying to escape from the Nazis by hiking through the Black Forest to Switzerland when he was stopped by a burly peasant who was poaching on someone else's land. A burly man with a tendency to get drunk and abusive toward his wife, Fritz (Hans-Jochen Wagner) brought the terrified young man back to his farm and gave him an offer Albert couldn't afford to resist.

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Poster art for Closed Season

Because Fritz was impotent, there was no way he could get his wife pregnant to produce an heir who could inherit his farm. Thinking like a farmer, he decided that Albert could be the wandering bull who could impregnate Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier) in return for shelter from the Nazis. Although Fritz initially insisted on being in the room while Albert and Emma had sex, he soon relented and sat outdoors waiting for Albert to reach orgasm.

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Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier), Fritz (Hans-Jochen Wagner)
and Albert (Christian Friedel) say grace before eating.

At first, Emma had no desire to have a Jew in her home. But Fritz ruled the roost and needed an heir. Indeed, Fritz remained so focused on the biological necessities that he never imagined Emma developing feelings for Albert -- or what might transpire once she got pregnant. As Schlotterer explains:

My aim was to narrate a story of the Nazi era in a different way; to provide audiences with some insight into the psychological mechanisms of those who lived under the Nazi regime. The central theme of Closed Season concerns the political and social power structures which influence the moral compass of each individual. I did not want to revisit the well-known scenes and settings which we all have seen already many times. I wanted to tell a very small, intimate story about three human beings and to show how the morals of men and women could become compromised at that time. My film is about a human tragedy between Germans and Jews.

While it is not in the nature of the protagonists of Closed Season to harm others, their conflicting interests and their emotions lead them inevitably on the road to perdition to do so. Our three protagonists are prisoners of their own personal situations and, therefore, all three protagonists become guilty in the end. The political circumstances contribute to their personal failure. This personal failure is also responsible for the gigantic social dimensions of a murderous regime.

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Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier) asks Albert (Christian Friedel)
to read to her in Closed Season

Franziska Schlotterer's film is often a dark and brooding affair, with Emma stranded in a loveless marriage and suffocating from her husband's neglect and her increasingly confused hunger for the tender and compassionate young Jew. Hans-Jochen Wagner is a gruff but ethical Fritz while Christian Friedel's Albert tries to make the best of his new situation. Thomas Loibl appears as the meddling town Nazi while Rami Heuberger's Avi and Max Mauff's Bruno essentially become the vehicles for a long and painful flashback.

Closed Season is an extremely powerful suspense story about a bizarre love triangle in which no one can possibly triumph. Although the trailer for Schlotterer's tragedy lacks subtitles, it gives a sense of the loneliness of Emma's depressed life and her awakening lust for Albert that eventually leads to rebellion and betrayal.

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Many a high school student has struggled through the text of Romeo and Juliet trying to figure out how Shakespeare's language could possibly be relevant to modern times. Even students lucky enough to see a fully-staged production of Romeo and Juliet may react negatively to its length and language.

Many film directors try to put Shakespeare's text into a new perspective (Private Romeo, Romeo and Juliet in Yiddish) with varying degrees of success. The full-length ballet (set to Sergei Prokofiev's music) does the best job of transcending Shakespeare's language for one simple reason. No words are spoken.

Those of us who have been fortunate enough to see various operatic treatments of Shakespeare's tragedy (A Village Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Delius, Guilietta e Romeo by Riccardo Zandonai, I Capuletti e I Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini) often find ourselves awash in glorious music while paying little attention to the words. Why? In opera, the tempo is dictated by the composer and conductor. As a result, Charles Gounod's musical treatment of the early morning bedroom scene for Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers can often seem to be seriously lacking in urgency.

In operatic productions (where mature artists are often cast as teenagers), it is highly likely that a tenor's gaze will be focused on the conductor or prompter's box rather than the soprano. This does very little to make the youthful ardor of Shakespeare's lovers believable.

In Kenneth MacMillan's legendary choreography of Prokofiev's propulsive score for Romeo and Juliet, a production like The Royal Ballet's has sets and costumes built to last for many performances (sometimes for two or more decades). As multiple dancers take their turns appearing in key roles, the music and choreography stay the same; fight scenes are carefully staged (like the following confrontation in which Tybalt slays Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge his friend's death).

Whether adapted for opera, ballet, or cinema, a Shakespearean classic like Romeo and Juliet is bound to undergo some cuts. The California Shakespeare Theater's new production takes a streamlined approach to the piece by stripping the cast down to seven actors, trimming some of the text and, under Shana Cooper's inspired direction, trying to bring the impetuousness of the two lovers front and center.

With Erika Chong Shuch's work on movement and Dave Maier as fight director, this production captures the high energy level of the two leads as well as their fellow teenagers. From Joseph J. Parks playfully jiggling his bare buttocks for his friends' amusement to the mercurial changes in Rebekah Brockman's thought processes as Juliet; from Dan Clegg's ardent passion and sincerity as the infatuated Romeo to the conflicted emotions of Dan Hiatt's Friar Laurence, this is a staging of Romeo and Juliet that moves with the speed of lightning and skillfully builds its dramatic impact with the momentum of a freight train.

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Rebekah Brockman and Dan Clegg in Romeo and Juliet
(Photo by: Kevin Berne)

This is also a Romeo and Juliet in which Shakespeare's words take on a new vitality. The operatic and dance adaptations do not mention of the foreboding dreams the young lovers have of their doom; nor do they contain the riveting scene in which -- after he has ordered Juliet to marry Paris -- Lord Capulet (Dan Hiatt) denounces his daughter for her shocking disobedience.

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Dan Clegg and Rebekah Brockman as Romeo and Juliet
(Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Arwen Anderson doubled as Romeo's friend Benvolio and an emotionally distant Lady Capulet while Nick Gabriel appeared as Tybalt and Paris. In an interesting piece of nontraditional casting, Dominique Lozano appeared as Juliet's nurse, Lady Montague and Verona's Prince. Joseph J. Parks brought a fine sense of mischief to the role of Mercutio. Although Shakespeare's tragedy may be more than 400 years old, this production soundly proves that it has lost none if its irrational youth or poetic poignancy.

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The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet

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