Monday, December 14, 2009

A really bad day...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Separated at Birth?: Dave Barton & Mark Ravenhill

British playwright Mark Ravenhill, right; Orange County producer/director Dave Barton, left.

And some of us wondered why Dave has been partial to producing Mark's plays all these years!
Announced today: Dave's new Monkey Wrench Collective will debut January 15, 2010 with Mark Ravenhill's "pool (no water)" and Thomas Middleton's "The Revenger's Tragedy" written 400 years earlier.
Wouldn't miss it for the world!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Just returned from Europe, where my brother and his family and Alison and I accompanied my 87 year old mother, Iris, to Hungary for a week so that she could trace her roots.

The highlight of the trip for Iris was our visit to the city of Miskolc, about 2 hours northeast of Budapest, where it was believed her mother's mother's family, the Davidowitz's, lived and owned a winery in the old days.

Efforts to connect via email with the head of the local Jewish community turned out to be a comedy of errors, so we drove to the city center and found ourselves to be only 2 blocks from the old Orthodox synagogue. Stopping in there, the caretaker called a congregation member to open it and show us around.

His name was Peter, and he looks to be about 30 years old, and had his wife and child with him. He offered us a little history on the building (designed by the same architect as the celebrated synagogue in Budapest that we had visited) and the local Jewish community (nearly all were killed in the Holocaust, as the Nazis were pretty thorough in the eastern Hungarian countryside, compared to Budapest, where many more Jews managed to survive the war).

When I told him that my mother's family name was Davidowitz and the story had been that they had a winery, we were astounded to learn that there had once been two main winemaking families in Miskolc: Davidowitz and Lefkowitz. Though he was not aware of any descendents today, Peter took us to the synagogue office, a repository of old books recording births, deaths and marriages, and located a marriage registry from the mid- to late-1800s, in which there were Davidowitz family members recorded.

We thanked him and gave him a donation to the synagogue, and Peter gave us a bottle of his own wine as well as a taste of his "pahlinka," a grappa-type of Hungarian brandy--tasty & with a bite.

Later that day, we made our way to Mad and Tokaj, about 30 minutes away, in the heart of the wine-making region famous for sweet wines. In each, there was a synagogue, testifying to the times when it was said that the Jewish population of Hungary was as much as 40% of the total citizenry.

In the lovely town of Tokaj, we went to a winery--really ancient cave-like vaults now used primarily as a tasting room since most of the wineries are adjacent to the vineyards today. There we tasted several Tokaj wines, never before imagining such variety and depth of character in sweet wines.

We returned to Mad, staying overnight at a small hotel that was reportedly converted from a former bank building. This tiny hamlet gave us some sense of what life might have been for the Davidowitz family more than 150 years ago.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Jon Marans' "The Temperamentals" Opening in NYC

My buddy Jon Marans' latest play, "The Temperamentals," is opening in New York, with Michale Urie (of "Ugly Betty" fame) and Thomas Jay Ryan starring.

I directed Marans' "Old Wicked Songs," the world premiere of his "Jumping for Joy," at Laguna Playhouse, where I also hosted him for a summer in residence while he worked on "Strange and Separate People," which we also gave a reading of.

Break a leg, Jon!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Collateral Damage" (my AMERICAN THEATRE article)

The full text of my AMERICAN THEATRE magazine article submitted for the March 2009 issue (the published version was edited down by about half due to space limitations and renamed "The Way Israel Lives Now"):

Collateral Damage

Hillel Mittelpunkt’s 2003 hit-and-run play, The Accident, at Theatre J in Washington, DC, Feb. 4-Mar. 8, reflects the same kind of interest in the moral dilemmas of contemporary Israeli life as his more recent work Goodbye, Africa! The latter focused on an ill-fated return to Uganda by Israeli diplomats years after their ill-fated pas-de-deux with Idi Amin.

The Accident is about that brand of intelligencia that self-consciously violates the high moral ground it claims. Drunk driver Lior and the car’s owner Adam are goaded into fleeing the scene of an unobserved fatal crash by Lior’s wife Tami—they’re too important to be derailed by this unfortunate event, and the victim was, after all, only a Chinese, probably an undocumented worker.

While a sordid melodrama plays out over Tami sleeping with Adam at a conference and Lior sleeping with Adam’s daughter Shiri on a business trip, Lior is pitching some eurocracy on a brand he represents: “I buy Bumper, which means that I support a new world order, a human society devoid of national conflict. I buy Bumper jeans, shoes, sun-glasses, go to their restaurants, listen to their music channel; in short, I buy the Logo, because I support a global village in which Israeli and Palestinian children will dance together wearing Bumper shoes at a Bono concert rocking for a better world and a Beautiful Day.”

He knows he’s failed, though: “with the latest from Gaza, our competitor’s proposals sound much saner than ours” and he cites projects uniting Catholics & Protestants in Northern Ireland, Serbs & Croats in the Balkans, whites & blacks in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Adam, a documentary filmmaker, busily pitches his own project: “Four regular soldiers are mistreating an old Arab peasant at a roadblock. They make him bray like a donkey; they make him spread out his merchandise and then shit on it; they make him execute military drills in the sun. He faints, they pour water on him and force him to go through this routine one more time. The next day he dies. The family claims that he died from humiliation and a broken heart. The army claims that humiliation and a broken heart are not acceptable pathological findings. An investigation is held. One of the soldiers confesses and describes in detail what happened that day at the roadblock. The soldiers are found guilty to varying degrees. The soldier who confesses returns to his military unit, is humiliated, abused and then ostracized. A week later he shoots himself in the head.”

Adam’s project moves forward—but it is the military that finances it.

The sole whiff of redemption wafts our way when we learn that Shiri is in China doing humanitarian work with the family of the hit and run victim (who know nothing about her connection)—a hopeful thought, perhaps, that the next generation will be less prone to moral equivocation.

About its U.S. production, Mittelpunkt says, “This play isn’t about us Israelis (though it was when it was shown here). This play is about you--in a situation where your moral standards conflict with your ambition to live your life the way you wanted to. Will you create in your mind an alternate moral system, one which will rid you of the need to face these questions?”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another AMERICAN THEATRE piece by moi

Don't blink as you turn the pages of the March issue of AMERICAN THEATRE magazine or you might miss my short piece on Hillel Mittelpunkt's play, The Accident, now running at Theatre J in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Let them eat...Arts"

As I read the report of another bailed out financial services company that embarrassedly cancelled a lavish resort-based conference as an incentive for its staff, I couldn't help but think how much more enduring and enriching a bonus they could offer their employees by treating them to some wonderful arts experiences in their headquarters city and branch communities. And it would help these arts organizations at a time when they really need it.

There's still time to save face.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"We refuse to be enemies"

A compelling story of friendship between a Palestinian woman and an Israeli woman aired tonight on KPCC's program "The Story." They spoke at length of how they keep communicating amidst the current hostilities. When I heard one say that at a women's peace movement rally she heard the slogan "we refuse to be enemies," I felt a pang of hope for the first time in weeks.

My OC Register Arts Blog today... about director Tom O'Horgan, whose death was reported in The New York Times.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My debut with the Orange County Register

Check out my guest blog there at:

Right now, I am more regularly posting to my work blog at:, so check that out.

More personal posts, inappropriate for my work blog, will continue to appear here as time permits.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pausing to Take Stock

Two consummate artists I had the pleasure of meeting passed within days of each other. Much has been written about the more famous of the two (both Brits), and I can't say I knew Harold Pinter intimately. But Alison and I did meet him following his performance in No Man's Land, a 1990s West End revival of a play he had written many years earlier. I was pleased that Orange County Register theater critic Paul Hodgins reprinted his piece on Pinter of a few years ago in which I recounted the story of my encounter with the great writer.

The other, Adrian Mitchell, was a noted poet and playwright, among whose projects was a stage adaptation of Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales, which I staged in the 90s at Laguna Playhouse. The play with music had been produced by many theaters over the years, and I first encountered it when I was managing director of the Grove Shakespeare Festival/Grove Theater Company, where it was reprised each year. One year, the director took some liberties with the script, framing the story with a prologue scene in a pub where we meet the poet Dylan Thomas as an adult.

When I planned my own production, I contacted Adrian Mitchell and told him about that concept and that I hoped to re-create it in some way. He graciously offered to pen a handful of lines for the pub opening. I invited him to come see it, and though I can't remember exactly how we did it, arranged for him and his wife Celia to visit. The exquisite Surf and Sand Resort in Laguna Beach kindly provided a complimentary room--their best corner seaside view room, no less--and we gave a warm Southern California welcome to them (despite experiencing very English rain & chill during their stay).

A year later, Alison and I found ourselves in London, and the Mitchell's insisted on our coming over to their home in Hampstead for breakfast. Celia was gregarious and opinionated while Adrian was soft-spoken--though no less opinionated.

The New York Times ran a substantial obituary on Christmas eve and I learned much about him that I had not known--for instance, that he collaborated with Peter Brook on the legendary production of Marat/Sade in 1964.

Over the years, I failed to keep in touch with the Mitchells, and was saddened to learn of his death through the newspaper. He was a remarkable man.

Until next time...