Sometimes in theater you have a kind of ecstatic collaboration where everyone gets along, everyone cares about the project, everyone agrees on the vision -- and everyone is extremely talented and well-cast.
It doesn't happen that often. But...
This time, with the reading of
Divide the Living Child
on September 12,
it really did all come together.
As you may recall, DIVIDE takes place in Amsterdam under Nazi Occupation. A Jewish woman, Miriam and her teenage daughter Hannah are taken in by Torrie, a devout Christian woman. Hannah goes out into the world pretending to be Helen, Torrie's niece. Her mother stays in total hiding. At first everything goes well, but a nosy neighbor seems suspicious of the new niece. And Torrie has her own agenda: She wants to save the young girl's soul by making her a true Christian.
Director Heather Ondersma brought together an amazing group of five actresses, and they became a true ensemble. I've never thought much about what an ensemble means, but there was something about the way these women interacted with each other that made me believe that they were part of the same world. Each actress subtly reinforced the reality of what the other actresses were doing. Each one deeply believed in her own character and in the other characters too.
Of course, it's supposed to be like this in every performance. But I've had one full production and a lot of readings (at least five over the years) of DIVIDE. This Zoom reading was the only one that had magic. In that first full production, the actresses playing mother and daughter just did not seem to have much feeling for each other. And then there was the reading where the actress playing Torrie had no warmth, so the audience felt no sympathy for her. And another time, the actress playing Hannah was wonderful as a confident, bright 14-year-old -- but she didn't have the skill to portray Hannah's disintegration as the story evolves.
But this time all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and my hypercritical playwright mind could relax. I could simply surrender to the performance. I cried, I got upset, I laughed, I felt chills. I didn't feel like I was watching a play. I felt like LIFE was unfolding before of me!
What a beautiful experience for a playwright to have.
And something happened with this reading of DIVIDE that I've never witnessed before. It's very normal for the director and playwright to voice their appreciation for the wonderful moments that happen during rehearsal. But the women in this group were continually complimenting each other on the work they were doing! The actresses became fans of each others' performances!
The whole thing was a goddam love fest. So special, so special.
I want to thank everyone involved in this performance --
Eliana Gershon for breaking my heart as Hannah
Renee Rogoff for a deeply passionate Miriam who talks to God and loves her child enough to let her go
J.J. Van Name for her rosy, loving and joyously devout Torrie
Paula Barish for finding every laugh that the sinister neighbor Elsie could provide
Bessie Zolno as Mieke, the Resistance worker for her touching vulnerability when she talks about her own child
Keyanna Alexander for her excellent tech work and playful spirit
...and most of all my director, Heather Ondersma, for her incredible ability to make things happen and her genius in creating this very special ensemble.
Because of that relic of slavery, the totally undemocratic Electoral College, in 2016 a megalomaniac became President of the United States, even though he lost the popular election by over three million votes.
Because that other relic of slavery, the totally undemocratic Senate (undemocratic because even though a solid majority nationwide voted for Democrats, the Senate majority was solidly Republican) -- I repeat, because the Republicans refused to vote to impeach the President for attempting to blackmail the President of Ukraine to dig up some dirt on his opponent, the megalomaniac remained President.
The Republican megalomaniac was defeated in the 2020 election by over seven million in the popular vote and 75 in the Electoral College vote.
In the strange universe the megalomaniac lives in, he can never lose. Therefore, he believes his victory was stolen from him and he has convinced untold millions of formerly sane citizens that this is the truth.
The megalomaniac President heavily pressured his submissive Vice President to stop Congress from doing its job of routinely certifying the Electoral College vote on January 6.
The courageous and perspicacious former Vice President Dan Quayle...
... I say, Dan Quayle intervened by forcefully convincing the submissive current Vice President that he should NOT attempt to placate his boss by overturning our democracy.
Since twisting the submissive Vice President's arm didn't work, the megalomaniac President incited his followers to invade Congress on January 6 to prevent the certifying of the Electoral College vote. This violent invasion of Congress caused destruction, injury and death and shook us up plenty. Nothing like it had occurred since the War of 1812.
Despite the insurrection, the Electoral College vote WAS certified and the Democrat became President-Elect, to be installed on January 20.
Once again, the undemocratically elected Republican-majority Senate refused to vote to impeach the megalomaniac President, this time for inciting a rebellion that everyone witnessed.
The megalomaniac would remain President until January 20, with full control of the nuclear football and the ability to bomb anyone he wanted at any time without consulting anyone. And many people, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and Yours Truly were very concerned that the megalomaniac President would prefer destroying the planet to leaving office. Click here to read "No Nuke is Good Nukes," the blog I wrote on Jan. 15 on this subject.
AND NOW I'M SUPPOSED TO BE ALL UPSET
BECAUSE GENERAL MILLEY EXCEEDED HIS AUTHORITY BY SECRETLY SPEAKING WITH CHINESE OFFICIALS IN AN EFFORT TO AVOID NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON???? THAT'S THE MORAL OF THIS STORY? THAT'S THE BIG PROBLEM IN THIS COUNTRY, THAT THE MILITARY IS OUT OF CONTROL?
I DON'T THINK SO.
Thank you, General Milley, for taking action to diminish the possibility of a nuclear attack by the United States. The risk of being labeled a traitor did not stop you from doing the right thing.
The problem is not the military. It's that our democracy is a sham. And things got so out of control, we NEEDED a general to intervene.
We must change our Constitution
so that we live in a true democracy.
Whatever you can say about the wisdom of American people or lack thereof, we did not elect Bush President in 2000 and we did not elect Trump President in 2016. It was the Electoral College that did that. Imagine where we would be now if those two men had not been President. No invasion of Iraq. No denial of the pandemic.
WE MUST elect the President by popular vote alone.
WE MUST change the way the Senate is elected so that it reflects the actual political preferences of the majority of the voters.
WE MUST urge Congress to pass Sen. Warren's "No First Use of Nuclear Weapons" bill, which she submitted on April 15. Please click here to write Warren to declare your support.
Bloggelinis, being a citizen of The Great Satan, living in the Belly of the Beast is a big responsibility. Nobody can do anything about the U.S. except us, the citizens of the U.S. We cannot escape our responsibility by saying the changes are politically impossible. We must figure out how to work on these very large issues.
I think we need a People's Constitutional Convention -- that is, groups of people gathering everywhere, all over the country, meeting to talk about what kind of changes we must make in our Constitution. I've been thinking about this for a while. We can meet in person or on Zoom to talk about these things. We don't have to wait for our leaders to organize us. We can just do it.
Imagine a national conversation about how we can create a real democracy. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? TERRY
Well, I haven't been writing blogs, but I HAVE been rehearsing my play, DIVIDE THE LIVING CHILD and tinkering with the script. I'm working with Heather Ondersma, who also directed MIKVAH. I'm just so thrilled with the cast that Heather brought together. (And the poster she made isn't too shabby either!) Not only are the actresses deeply invested in the play, they and Heather have been asking questions and making suggestions that have greatly improved the writing. Paula Barish even made a Freudian slip while reading the part of the nosy neighbor and it turned out to be BRILLIANT. In this new digital theater world, Eliana, J.J., Paula and Heather are from the S.F. Bay Area, Renee lives in NY City, and Bessie just moved to Israel. Keylanna, who stage manages and reads stage directions, resides in North Carolina. As awful and grueling as this pandemic is, I'm getting spoiled by the ability to cast actors from the whole world!
Everyone is invited to this latest livestream reading.
The link is above.
There will be a Q&A after the reading.
Our intention is to spread the word about DIVIDE. We hope to find a producer, so if you have any contacts in theater, please forward this invitation.
Below is a brief look at the story of DIVIDE, and a little info about my theater work, for those on the blog list who aren't familiar with it:
DIVIDE THE LIVING CHILD takes place in Amsterdam in 1943, under Nazi Occupation. Torrie van Toom, a devout Christian, has offered to rescue a Jewish child. When the Resistance worker arrives with Hannah Bergman, 14, she also brings Hannah’s mother, Miriam. Torrie generously agrees to temporarily take in Miriam too. Hannah assumes a new identity as Torrie’s niece, and goes out into the world. Miriam must stay hidden. Tensions build as Torrie endeavors to save Hannah’s soul by converting her, and a nosy neighbor suspects that Torrie’s “niece” is a Jew.
Terry Baum’s plays have been translated into Dutch, Spanish, Swedish and French and have been produced throughout the world. They have won Best of San Francisco Fringe Awards in 2016 and 2019, and a Fringe Fave Award at the New York Fringe Festival in 2015. Baum has also won the KPFA Radio Playwriting Award and been nominated for several Bay Area theater awards. As a solo performer, she has toured internationally. In 2019, Exit Press published an anthology of Baum’s plays, ONE DYKE’S THEATER. Baum was inspired to write DIVIDE THE LIVING CHILD while living in Amsterdam for five years. An earlier version of DIVIDE was produced by Ashland College in Ohio.
HERE IS A LINK to a podcast where Carolyn interviews me about my two Jewish plays, DIVIDE and MIKVAH.
When I lived in Amsterdam, I observed that the relationship of Dutch people to the Holocaust was very complicated and intense. Amsterdam in particular had been a sanctuary for Jews from the time of the Spanish Inquisition in the 1400's until the Germans invaded on May 4, 1940 -- 500 years. No other country in Europe offered that kind of sanctuary to the Jews. I'm not saying they WELCOMED the Jews who fled Spain and Portugal to escape the Inquisition. But they allowed them to stay and live in safety. If someone complained that Jewish services were being held in the apartment next door, the authorities would come and arrest the rabbi and put him in jail. For a day. Then he'd go back to holding services in the apartment next door. Spending one night in jail was religious freedom in the late 15th century, and it was not a gift to be taken lightly or found anywhere else.
I think the Dutch were the first people in Western Europe to figure out that, just because you hated people, you didn't have to kill them. That is the basis of the famous Dutch "tolerance." It's not about welcoming or embracing or loving the Other. It's not about a melting pot where people rapidly assimilate. It's about allowing the Other to live.
The Jews flourished surrounded by the tolerant Dutch, and they made a tremendous contribution to the culture -- especially in Amsterdam. In fact, the city of Amsterdam had a nickname -- Mokum, which means "The Place" in Yiddish. That wasn't just the Jews' nickname for it. It was EVERYONE'S nickname. Amsterdam was considered essentially a Jewish city. The soccer team, Ajax, still has a Star of David as its symbol -- a relic of the time when the owner and many of the players were Jews. The Dutch were proud of being a sanctuary for many. And I believe they feel a profound sense guilt for having failed to protect their Jews during the Holocaust.
Well, I could talk at great length about the Jews in Holland and my own experiences there as a Jew. All of it compelled me to look deeply into the history of the Holocaust in general and Christian antisemitism in particular. DIVIDE THE LIVING CHILD is the result.