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There’s no question about what’s on my mind right now.

Barbara had her first chemo treatment at Sloan Kettering yesterday. It went very well. She’s feeling great. She’s outpatient until Monday, then in the hospital for 4 weeks. Yesterday ended up being a twelve hour marathon of blood work, installing a pic, chest x-ray, and a meeting with our child genius of a doctor whom we affectionately call Doogie. We also found out yesterday he loves the children’s story Madeline Gets Her Appendix Removed. We finally got all hooked up for the first infusion which after an hour or so was getting a bit tedious and for the first time all day Barbara was feeling a bit down. “Let’s put on a movie,” she said, and we proceeded to settle in with Sullivan’s Travels, also known as the “Anti-Capra” Capra film. Sullivan’s Travels is a 1941 American comedy film written and directed by Preston Sturges. It is a satire about Hollywood’s top director of comedies, played by Joel McCrea, who longs to make a socially relevant drama.

And this is what leads me to the second thing that’s been on my mind for the better part of the summer and the Irondale portion of this column. “In choosing what to undertake next, we Irondalers ask ourselves the question what is the play that most speaks to the particular moment we are living in (or in some cases like this particular moment in time- enduring.) This was why we chose Galileo, this is why we moved forward with the Exiled project featuring the remaining 3 great and powerful plays Brecht wrote during the 16 years he was living on the run from his native Germany, and it’s why I’m now thinking about taking a slight detour to interject a new project that addresses an even more pressing issue which has raised its ugly head and begs the question: How does art take on a world in which facts have become irrelevant, in which the President of the United States lies with impunity, and in which the plethora of damning information seems to fall on deaf ears to a world that has become numbingly inured to what is taking place.

In 1940 Ed Murrow’s nightly reports from London were instrumental in bringing America out of its isolationism to a place where it was willing and able to join in the fight against fascism. In 1954, Murrow’s report on See It Now was instrumental in ending the Red Scare and the home grown tyranny of Joe McCarthy, and in 1968, following an in depth and lengthy visit to Viet Nam, Walter Cronkite delivered a damning commentary to end his nightly broadcast on the CBS Evening News. President Lyndon Johnson, watching live in the White House, reportedly then turned to aides and said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” He would soon explain to the nation–accurately–that the Tet Offensive had been successfully repelled and was in fact a huge military failure for the Vietnamese communists. But it was too late. As Cronkite noted in his editorial, the public optimism of U.S. government and military officials about the progress of the Vietnam War was not in concert with the nagging realities of a quagmire. It was largely this credibility gap that destroyed Johnson’s presidency.

Words mattered then.

What happened?

And what can theatre do to contribute to heighten awareness, to open people to new ideas and, hopefully, to change some minds?

I end with a question, because I don’t know the answer.

And that’s what’s on my mind.


Jim Niesen


Author Irondale

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