The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Sunday, January 25, 2009

“Billy Elliot, The Musical” a rousing call for solidarity

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 9:14 pm

By Lucy Komisar

As U.S. workers are fired by corporate executives who take multi-million-dollar bonuses, “Billy Elliot, The Musical” seems made to order for the current American stage. It is a call for solidarity against those in power. It’s a very British class-conscious play, with workers raising their fists to a giant puppet of 1980’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It also tells a universal truth that political struggles must also defend personal freedom.

The Miners Association. Photo David Scheinmann.

The Miners Association. Photo David Scheinmann.

This stirring musical — book and lyrics by Lee Hall, music by Elton John, directed by Stephen Daldry and based on Hall’s 2000 film – takes off in 1984 when Thatcher, a conservative whose sharp features in video clips evoke a story-book Wicked Witch, has decided to close Yorkshire coal mines that had been nationalized after World War II. Some 200,000 men will be thrown out of work; they go on strike.

That sets up a monumental clash between the workers, the Tory government, and their surrogates, the police. In real life, the strike would last a year, and the mine workers and their union would be smashed. The analogy for Americans might be the Ronald Reagan’s destruction of the air traffic controllers union, but there was never a U.S. protest movement to match that of the British coal workers.

Hall has penned a realistic reprise of the story. The production is invigorating and inspiring, and the cast is multi-talented. With songs, slogans and banners, the miners demand, “Save our community; save our pit.” “Solidarity, solidarity, solidarity forever!” is a refrain repeated through the play. They make it clear, “We’re proud to be working class.” In stylized dances, they confront the organized violence of the police. Think “Waiting for Lefty” set to music and dance.

The workers’ lyrics are bitter:

They’ve come to raid your stockings

And to steal your Xmas pud.

But don’t be too downhearted.

It’s all for your own good.

The economic infrastructure

Must be swept away

To make way for business parks

And lower rates of pay.

Trent Kowalik as Billy. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Trent Kowalik as Billy. Photo by Alastair Muir.

Parallel stories deal with the need for personal expression. Billy (Trent Kowalik, in the production I saw), is an 11-year-old miner’s son who wants to be a dancer. Using money his father gives him for boxing lessons, he secretly joins a girls’ ballet class.

The dance instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (a gritty, cynical, but sensitive and very appealing Haydn Gywnne), sees Billy’s promise and forces him to work to achieve it. Billy, Wilkinson and the class piano player, Braithwaite (Thommie Retter), do a joyous “We were born to boogie,” a highlight.

Billy’s dad (Gregory Jbara) and the other men don’t like it his dancing. Nevertheless, though they are scrounging on strike-pay pennies, the miners’ families dig into their pockets to find the cash for Billy’s fare to a Royal Ballet audition.

The message to Britain’s workers is that freedom is indivisible.

There’s strong feminism here, too. Billy is being raised by his grandma (Carole Shelley), who has contempt for the drunken men of her society, especially her late husband. She sings:

I hated the sod—for thirty-three year.

We should never have married, of that I’m quite clear.

He spent the housekeeping money on whisky and beer

And never lifted a finger.

Her lesson is:

If I went through my time again, Oh, I’d do it without the help of men….

If I’d only known then what I know now, I’d have given them all the finger!

One of Billy’s friends likes to dress up in satin and lace, earrings, mascara, and high heels. Maybe there’s a bit of Elton John in here.

Haydn Gwynne and Trent Kowalik. Photo Carol Rosegg.

Haydn Gwynne and Trent Kowalik. Photo Carol Rosegg.

The vivid dance numbers to John’s foot-tapping sound and lively, jazzy choreography by Peter Darling, are sometimes surreal: a confrontation between strikers and cops – the police moving in line with plastic shields and banging clubs — is mixed with kid ballet dancers.

Another high point – there are many — is the “Merry Christmas, Maggie Thatcher” number in which the kids, with Thatcher masks, sing an outrageous song mocking the prime minister and celebrating that it’s “one day closer to your death!” The bit includes a tank with a British flag, a giant Thatcher puppet, and the lyric that “They’re privatizing Santa.”

A few things I didn’t like: the schmaltzy relationship between Billy and the ghost of his dead mother (Leah Hocking). And the gimmicky “Swan Lake” in which Billy, dancing with an older alter ego, flies around on a cable that takes him high in the air. That’s not dancing!

After the longest strike in British history, the miners were beaten. But as they march onstage under a banner trumpeting the emancipation of labor, they declare that defeat is only temporary.

We saw a land where wealth was shared

Each pain relieved, each hunger fed.

Each man revered, each tyrant killed

Each should redeemed, each life fulfilled.

From each man’s means to each his need

We saw a time man would be freed.

We fought for all the things we saw.

The battle’s lost but not the war.

It may be a message for some in their American audience.

“Billy Elliot, The Musical.” Book and lyrics by Lee Hall. Music by Elton John. Directed by Stephen Daldry. Choreography by Peter Darling. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45 Street. 212 -239-6200. Opened Nov 13, 2008. Reviewed by Lucy Komisar Nov 20, 2008. http://billyelliotbroadway.com/

Review on NY Theatre-Wire site.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

“The Cherry Orchard” at BAM a masterful staging of the collapse of a ruling class

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:43 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” is the perfect companion piece to his 2002 Russian trilogy, “The Coast of Utopia.” The trilogy told about the formation and early activities of the 19th- century Russian revolutionaries who fought the aristocratic class headed by the Czar. Chekov’s 1904 play describes the frivolous, aristocratic leisure class which hasn’t a clue that it is being swept away by embryonic capitalists, while downtrodden workers and peasants wait in the background, ready to join up with Stoppard’s radicals.

Ethan Hawke, Sinead Cusack, Paul Jesson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Ethan Hawke, Sinead Cusack, Paul Jesson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

It’s presented by director Sam Mendes with a top-notch cast that makes you think of characters living on the edge of reality while the world inches up behind them. All occurs on a stark set that is mostly bereft of furnishings, just some oriental rugs and stuffed pillows. The colors are browns, grays, purples –earth tones — except for the startling blood red gown of the grande dame.

Chekhov’s aristocrats’ inability to pay the interest on their mortgaged properties becomes a metaphor for the bankruptcy of their whole class. The naïveté of landowner Ranevskaya (Sinead Cusack) and her family is subtly suggested by their love of the nursery, where they sit on diminutive chairs and have tea served on a tiny table. Sinead deftly interprets Ranevskaya as good-natured but self-indulgent and silly, with no sense of reality either about her own faithless lover or the economic precariousness of her estate.

Sinead Cusack, Paul Jesson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sinead Cusack, Paul Jesson. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Her snooty brother Gaev (Paul Jesson), who denigrates those he thinks are beneath him, demonstrates his own lack of reality by walking around with a stick which he pokes in the air in imagined pool shots. Jesson aptly portrays him “to the manor born,” with some charm and no sense.

The past is ironically represented also by Firs (masterfully acted by Richard Easton), the elderly servant who refused to accept freedom when the serfs were liberated and continues to hover over his masters, scolding them as if he were the boss and sharing their snobbery.

The future is embodied by Lopakhin, created by the incomparable Simon Russell Beale, with a working-class British accent. He is a merchant with an eye for good investments as well as complicated feelings about the estate where his father and grandfather were servants, banned even from entering the kitchen.

Beale shows his complexity, as he appears to pay obeisance to Ranevskaya, to hold her in some awe, at the same time he upbraids her for not taking the only step that can save the land – cutting down the cherry orchard and leasing the land for plots for summer houses. Her head still in the clouds, she replies, “it’s so tawdry.”

The snobby pretentious Gaev calls the merchant a vulgarian. But when he remarks to Varya (Rebecca Hall), his sister’s adopted daughter, that Renevskaya (who’d been living with a lover in Paris) has loose morals, we know who the true vulgarian is. Hall’s strong, uncompromising Varya makes us think of someone who would have bloomed after the feminist movement.

The importance that aristocratic Russian society gave to family is emphasized by Charlotta (Selina Cadell), Anya’s German governess, who is also a musician and entertainer. She feels she doesn’t belong anywhere, because she doesn’t know who her parents were and therefore where she fits in the social pecking order. She proclaims, “There is no one I can talk to, I am all alone. Who I am and what I am is a mystery.” Cadell plays her as someone who indeed doesn’t belong, who seems dropped from another world into this one.

Ethan Hawke. Photo by Joan Marcus

Ethan Hawke. Photo by Joan Marcus

In fact, the production gives us a sense of people who are on the cusp of either the past or the future. The ideals of the future are represented by Lopakhin and by Petya (Ethan Hawke), a radical student whose desultory manner masks an understanding the others don’t share.

Lopakhin knows that the aristocrats’ economics won’t work, that they are living in the past. The present is untenable. Later, he will declare in wonderment, “I bought the estate where my father and grandfather were slaves, where they weren’t allowed into the kitchen.”

A macabre stylized masked dance is the final paen to the aristocrats’ fantasy life. That is followed by Lopakhin’s dance of celebration as they leave: “Make way for the landlord,” he cries, as he throws over the chairs the dancers had sat on.

But Petya knows that the shift to the capitalists won’t last long. Conjuring up a device similar to that of “The Coast of Utopia,” Mendes surreally evokes the future as peasants standing in a line of shadows, hovering silently over the estate that Ranevskaya and her family will lose. It’s a powerful moment in a memorable production.

“The Cherry Orchard.” Written by Anton Chekhov, a new version by Tom Stoppard. Directed by Sam Mendes. Presented by The Bridge Project (BAM and The Old Vic). Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street. Opened January 14, 2009, closes March 8, 2009. Reviewed by Lucy Komisar, January 25, 2009. http://www.bam.org/.

Story on NY Theatre-Wire site.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

“Forbidden Broadway Goes To Rehab”

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:32 pm

By Lucy Komisar

This is yet another Forbidden Broadway production in which the numbers are sometimes better than the musicals they satirize. And they are always on target about the shows and the theatrical culture. The performers, Christina Bianco, Jared Bradshaw, Gina Kreiezmar and Michael West, start out by introducing themselves and declaring, “We’ll do twelve steps the Fosse way!” Here are some of my nutty favorites. Alas, you can’t really get a sense of it without the music. (Check out the show’s website for some songs.)

Jared Bradshaw, Michael West, 'In The Heights.' Photo Carol Rosegg

Jared Bradshaw, Michael West, 'In The Heights.' Photo Carol Rosegg

There’s no quarter given. Michael West as Lin-Manuel Miranda, star of “In the Heights,” importunes: “So turn up the house lights, the public unites, to make shows about Latinos for Whites!” OK, the show is bland, and the big crisis is whether the Stanford coed will give up a boyfriend who never got beyond high school. Of course she will, but is that really the dilemma that first-generation Latinos face? “No fight, no bite, it’s West Side Story lite!”

Gina Kreiezmar is très comique as the famous revolutionary knitter. “Je m’appelle Madame Defarge, ” she declares. “Every year I wait patiently for a good French revolution musical. I wait and I knit, I knit and I wait. Last night I saw ‘Tale of Two Cities.’ I am still waiting.” And to the tune of “The Best of Times” from “La Cage,” she belts out: “It was the best of times, on second thought it was the worst of times, no it’s the best worst show, ‘Tale of Two Cities’ is the best worst show I know.” Michael West intervenes as star James Barvour: “You thought the British op’ricle was hell. But try to sing this retread Scarlet Pimpernel.

”The parody of “Gypsy” is a broad inside joke. Patti Lupone upstages Boyd

Christina Bianco, Jared Bradshow in "Gypsy." Photo Carol Rosegg.

Christina Bianco, Jared Bradshow in "Gypsy." Photo Carol Rosegg.

Gains (West). “It’s great to see you again Patti.” Lupone (Kreiezmar): “Again? I’m sorry, but do we know each other? Oh, you’re that funny little man they brought in to say those other words that happen when I’m not speaking. Then she moves into song: “Funny – you’re an actor who’s tasted critical praise so far. Funny — here in Gypsy you’re wasted, small part isn’t it…Funny — next to me you just vanish, small part isn’t it?”Kreiezmar has the perfect Lupone panache and style, especially when her twisted mouth warbles “Everything’s coming up Patti.”

August Osage Rehab is brilliant a boxing match! The Referee (West) declares, “Now I want an old fashioned method acting Lee Strasbourg cat fight. Stick to the script, no ad libs. Oh and don’t walk through the invisible walls on our set.”

The character Barbara (Kreiezmar) declares, “Three days ago I had to identify my father’s corpse. And now the audience has to sit here for three and a half hours while you dredge up some second rate Eugene O’Neill.”

Violet (Christina Bianco) objects, “What are you talking about? This is all original very original stuff? A drug addict mother.”

Barbara: “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

Violet: “Alcoholism.”

Barbara: “Moon for the Misbegotten.”

Violet: “Incest.”

Barbara: “Desire Under the Elms.”

Referee: “And that’s a sardonic upper cut, round one to Barbara.”

“Forbidden Broadway goes to Rehab” Jared Bradshaw, Spring Awakening, Photo by Carol Rosegg

Jared Bradown in 'Spring Awakening.' Photo Carol Rosegg.

Jared Bradown in 'Spring Awakening.' Photo Carol Rosegg.

In the terrific spoof of “Spring Awakening,” Melchoir (Jared Bradshaw) has been reading “Debbie does Deutchland,” which calls forth lots of deep breathing. He and Wendla (Bianco) make love behind a Parental Discretion sign. Jersey Goys are the (Italian) “Jersey Boys” talking about their hits, which these satirists suggest happened in large measure because Frankie Valli raised his voice up more than a couple of octaves. In pink jackets, the Forbidden Broadway warblers advise, “Walk like a man, sing like a girl, you’ll soar to number one. Falsetto pitch is such a bitch.”So, you get the idea. There are some numbers which don’t sparkle like the rest, but there are more hits than misses. Which is more than can be said about many seasons on Broadway.

“Forbidden Broadway Goes To Rehab. Created by Gerard Alessandrini. Directed by Gerard Alessandrini & Phillip George. Costumes by Alvin Colt & David Moyer. 47th Street Theatre, 304 West 47th Street, NYC. Opened September 17, Closes March 1, 2009. Reviewed by Lucy Komisar September 16, 2008. http://www.forbiddenbroadway.com/.

On NY Theater-Wire site.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“Pal Joey” shows us a con man’s charms

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:06 pm

By Lucy Komisar
New York Theatre-Wire

Con men make good anti-heroes. At a time when the country is focused on a spectacular one that cheated people of billions, it’s instructive to take a look at the genre. “Pal Joey,” the Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart 1940 musical given a moody revival by director Joe Mantello at the Roundabout Theatre, is about a sleazy character on the make for money and success. Joey’s take was a lot smaller than Bernard Madoff’s, but the essential immorality of the character – and the con man’s ability to charm and persuade — is the same. The new book is by Richard Greenberg, based on the original by John O’Hara.

Matthew Risch. Photo Joan Marcus.

Matthew Risch. Photo Joan Marcus.

It’s hard times in Chicago in the late 1930s, at the tail end of the depression. Joey Evans (Matthew Risch) is a small-time hoofer with a dream of owning a night-club. He has a habit of pulling scams and being run out of town. This time he lands on the South Side of Chicago where he’s given a job at the seedy South Side club. Its tackiness matches his style.

He picks up an innocent ingenoue, Linda English (Jenny Fellner), who has just arrived in town and seems so clueless that you wonder how she survives the big city for a day. But when she insures her job as the bookkeeper at a local haberdasher’s by changing the records system so that her boss couldn’t possibly hire anyone else, you see that she’s not as naive as she seems, except maybe about men.

Joey is a womanizer who lies to everyone, and his line works from the naive to the sophisticate. Gladys Bumps (the memorable Martha Plimpton) is a performer in the night club who turns out to be an old girlfriend he left to fend for herself with an abortion. Plimpton is indelibly street-worn and cynical; I’d have liked to see the show revolve around her. She’s not above plotting a little blackmail. The real prize on Joey’s ladder-climbing is Vera Simpson (Stockard

Stockard Channing & Matthew Risch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Stockard Channing & Matthew Risch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Channing), the bored rich wife of a philandering husband who gets smitten by him – hard to imagine why – and finances his dreamed-about “Chez Joey.” She understands what she terms his “bad form” but is sexually turned on. That he is brash and obnoxious seems not to matter.

Even so, Channing’s rendering of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” about her infatuation for Joey is hard to believe. Risch’s Joey is not rakish or charming enough. You think Vera Simpson can’t be that stupid. But she was clever. She tells him, “You seem trying to save my soul and take my money at the same time. So much like church!”

The acting is generally smooth and professional. The best voices are Plimpton’s and Fellner’s. Plimpton’s “Zip,” the famous satire on an intellectual stripper, steals the show.

Zip! Walter Lippman wasn’t brilliant today.
Zip! Will Saroyan ever write a great play?

Martha Plimpton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Martha Plimpton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Zip! I was reading Schopenhauer last night. Zip! And I think that Schopenhauer was right.

Risch’s and Channing’s singing disappoints. Even so, it’s delightful to hear some old standards that also include “I Could Write a Book” and “Do it the Hard Way.”

The set by Scott Pask, bookended by the steel girders of the Chicago elevated train and a high circular staircase, has a dark feel. A swank nightclub with a glittering chandelier and patrons in evening dress conjure up 40s fantasies.

Channing’s 40s evening dresses and the nightclub chorine’s outfits by William Ivey Long are the stuff of fantasy. Of course, that’s what con men thrive on.

From original script by John O’Hara Adapted by Richard Greenberg Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Lorenz Hart. Directed by Joe Mantello Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, NYC http://www.paljoeyonbroadway.com/ Opened December 18, closes February 15, 2009 Reviewed by Lucy Komisar December 14, 2008

Original on NY Theatre-Wire.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Geithner – Treasury Nominee Failed to Halt Bond Scam

By Lucy Komisar
Inter Press Service (IPS), Jan 19, 2009

Timothy Geithner

U.S. Senators at Timothy Geithner’s confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary Wednesday may want to ask him about a failure to act that is costing the U.S. a lot more than the amount he evaded on taxes.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which he has led since 2003, conducts the operations on Wall Street of the Federal Reserve in Washington, the country’s central bank.

The New York Fed under Geithner’s presidency has failed to stop massive naked short selling of U.S. Treasury bonds that threatens the stability of the market and sale of the bonds.

Ironically, the scam, enabled by a lack of regulation at the behest of Wall Street brokerage houses, makes it more expensive for the U.S. to bail out those same financial institutions.

It happens this way: an individual or fund is allowed to sell bonds without owning them. This is called short selling. The seller, whose broker has generally “borrowed” bonds from another broker, is supposed to subsequently buy them on the market, and return them to the lender. The seller does this because he believes that the bond is going down, and he will buy them at a cheaper price than he sold them for.

Naked short selling occurs when a seller does not borrow the bonds for delivery at settlement, and therefore never has to buy them. This is called a failure to deliver, or FTD.

Meanwhile, the buyer thinks he or she has the bonds but has just an IOU. The result is a distortion of the market. Sellers sell bonds they never own or borrow, so there are more securities sold than issued by the government. These phantom bonds don’t represent money paid to the U.S. Treasury or genuine securities for buyers.

The major broker-dealers who handle bond trades like the system. They profit from fails by using clients’ money for other purposes.

Susanne Trimbath

The economist who has done the key work on this issue is Dr. Susanne Trimbath, who heads STP Advisory Services in Omaha. She previously worked for the Depository Trust Co, a subsidiary of Depository Trust and Clearing Corp, the U.S. clearing house for stocks and bonds.

Dr. Trimbath said, “In fall of 2008, about two trillion dollars in Treasury bonds were sold but undelivered for six weeks, more than 20 percent of the daily trading volume, up from 8.6 percent in the first five months of 2008.” It was a spike from 1.2 percent in the first five months of 2007.

“There was excess demand for the Treasuries,” she said. “Rather than allow this to push the price up, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the DTCC allowed failures to deliver to depress the price.” This affects the value of bonds held by individuals, funds and major investors such as China.

The latest figures on failures to deliver are 600-800 billion dollars. Dr. Trimbath said, “The numbers look better now because the Fed threw two trillion at the market, which was used to cover these fails.”

She said that Geithner failed to heed the warnings of economists at the New York Fed who in 2002 and again in 2005 analysed failures to deliver of Treasuries and recommended fines for the brokers responsible. A New York Fed white paper in April 2006 called for stricter enforcement of delivery and penalties for violations. The Bond Market Association opposed reforms, and again Geithner failed to act.

Even the current financial crisis has provoked only a faint reaction from the New York Fed. On Jan. 5, it acknowledged that, “Since November, short-term interest rates have declined to unprecedented levels.” It proposes a regulation to allow the buyer and seller to agree that if the buyer doesn’t receive the securities by five days after sale, the buyer could submit a claim against the seller for payment. But this can be done now and could have been done in 2002.

This is how the bond system works. The U.S. Congress authorises the federal government to issue bonds to cover the national debt. Individuals and institutions, even countries, can buy the bonds directly or through brokers. If a purchaser buys through a broker, the bonds remain in the broker’s name or the name of a central depository such as DTCC. The Treasury pays the bond’s interest to the broker, who credits the client’s account.

Since regulators don’t require the bonds to be delivered to the buyer, the broker gives clients an electronic IOU for the bond and for the interest payments as well. But if the bonds aren’t delivered by the seller, the electronic IOUs represent phantoms. Dr. Trimbath points out that, “The significant result of the IOU system is that brokers are able to sell many more bonds than the Congress has authorised. The transactions are called ‘settlement failures’ or ‘failed to deliver’ events, since the broker reported bond purchases beyond what the sellers delivered.” She said, “There is no limit on the number of IOUs the broker can hand out…and there are usually more IOUs in circulation than there are bonds.”

This artificially inflates the supply and forces bond prices down. Investors who want to buy Treasuries – to lend money to the U.S. – may instead be lending money to their brokers. Brokers get not only the commission charges for the trade, but the use of the client’s cash for the bond that was never delivered and therefore never paid for. Dr. Trimbath calculates this “loss of use of funds to investors at seven billion dollars per year, conservatively.”

If the broker goes out of business, clients don’t have the Treasuries, only the broker’s electronic IOUs. Dr. Trimbath, said, “Who is going to get the chair when the music stops? It’s not the individual investor. I’ve seen positions just deleted from people’s statements without investors even knowing as the security they supposedly owned turns out to not exist.”

This insecurity could discourage buyers of Treasuries, heralded as ultra-safe investments. “And for the bond buyers, brokerage houses, and banks, it’s yet another crash-and-burn to come,” said Dr. Trimbath.

Her solution: “If regulators and the central clearing corporation would only enforce delivery of Treasury bonds for trade settlement – payment – at something approaching the promised, stated, contracted and agreed upon T+1 (one day after the trade), there would be an immediate surge in the price of U.S. Treasury securities.”

“As the prices of bonds rise, the yield falls. This falling yield then translates into a lower interest rate that the U.S. government has to pay in order to borrow the money it needs to fund the budget deficit and to refinance the existing national debt.”

Brokers would have to buy real bonds to deliver to buyers. She said, “That’s when the music stops.”

Geithner might explain to senators why he has not stopped the billion-dollar phantom Treasury bonds scam.

Article on IPS site

“Equus” — Personal demons rooted in a childhood traumatized by religion and repressed sexuality

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 8:27 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Personal demons rooted in a childhood traumatized by religion and repressed sexuality move this powerful play by Peter Shaffer, first staged in 1973. It is vividly directed by Thea Sharrock who brings an emotional intensity to the mysterious tale.

A troubled 17-year-old youth, Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe) is brought by a judge (Kate Mulgew) to the office of an overworked psychiatrist in a provincial hospital in southern England. He has blinded a stable of six horses. Slowly, through importuning, bribes of small gifts and even hypnotism, the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths) gets him to see through his nightmares and tell what brought him to commit this horror.Richard Griffiths, Daniel Radcliffe, photo Carol Rosegg

The boy’s father (T. Ryder Smith) is working class, a printer; his mother (Carolyn McCormick) is a housewife and fanatically religious. She puts a picture of Christ on the wall opposite her son’s bed. The youth’s sexual fantasies are repressed and redirected to his passion for horses. He confuses them with Christ. The stable where he works becomes a temple. He fantasizes that God speaks, “Behold I give you Equus my only begotten son.” He believes that like Jesus on the wall, the horse is in chains for the sins of the world.

A subtext is the Madonna and the whore. The boy’s downfall is his seduction in the stables by a co-worker, Anna (Jill Mason), and a shocking discovery about his father. His considers both as betrayals of Equus and God, who have in his eyes become one.

Daniel Radcliffe, photo Carol RosettOn the bare set, 4 large gray blocks are shifted to be the doctor’s office, the stables and other sites of the play. In Sharrock’s stunning staging, the horses, magically conjured up by men in metal shoe stilts and metal sculpted horses heads, take dance-like steps choreographed by Fin Walker. A turntable allows them to canter into imagined spaces of beach and field.

Dysart, with his own passions and doubts, feels jealous of the passion of the boy. He thinks, “Without worship, you shrink.” But in this case, passion was not uplifting but appallingly destructive.

Radcliffe is chilling in his portray of the disturbed boy. Griffiths is curiously passive and uninvolved as the psychiatrist.

Review at NYTheatre-Wire site

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Swiss bank’s crafty strategy shows how difficult it is to clamp down on tax havens

By Lucy Komisar
Evening Standard (London), Jan 6, 2009

Gordon Brown and Barack Obama are both promising to crack down on the use of offshore tax havens. But putting those tough words into practice is another matter.Tony Brown & Barack Obama

In the City, firms have long used secretive foreign or offshore centres almost as a matter of course, channelling funds in their direction that would otherwise stay onshore and could attract tax. They maintain the offshore office fulfils a vitally important investment management function when in reality, it’s often little more than a brass plate. However, as Brown and Obama’s investigators might find, proving the claim is fiction is not easy.

The Evening Standard has examined how one of the world’s biggest private wealth management groups circulates funds via offices in the Cayman Islands, claiming they take major investment decisions — when the main work is apparently carried out in London. It shows the scale of the task facing tax inspectors here and in the US in an offshore purge.

Julius Baer logoWith offices in London and across the globe, Swiss-based Julius Baer banking group invests over $300 billion (£208 billion) in assets on behalf of institutions and wealthy individuals. Profits in 2007 were more than $1.1 billion.

In London, one of its units was known as Julius Baer Investors or Julius Baer Investment Management (JBIM) until a management buyout in 2007. It was renamed Augustus Asset Managers, is based in Bevis Marks in the City, and is still 10% owned by Julius Baer.

Augustus Asset ManagersFrom London, Augustus controls assets of $12 billion but claims its profits are generated elsewhere, offshore at a Cayman Islands Baer subsidiary called Baer Select Management. Why? Simple, really. “If you would generate all the income in London, you would pay much more taxes,” acknowledged Max Obrist, a Cayman Islands executive of Julius Baer.

A Swiss national, Obrist is a director of Baer Select. Officially, Augustus pays Obrist’s operation to “monitor” its investments. But a whistleblower who worked with Obrist said Baer Select’s real job for Augustus is to help it reduce tax.

Rudolf Elmer, 53, a German, was chief operating officer of Julius Baer Bank & Trust Company (JBBT), Caymans, earning $212,000 a year, and a Baer Select board member from 1999 to November 2002. He claims the Julius Baer group adopted a plan in 1996 “to utilise Baer Select Management, JBIM New York and JBIM London to benefit from the offshore system” to escape tax. As part of the plan, Obrists’s Baer Select in the Caymans was appointed “investment adviser”.

However, Elmer said Baer Select did no investment work. He alleged that Obrist, in the name of Baer Select, simply ratified a few decisions; he really worked for his main employer, JBBT. Baer Select was in fact a shell — Elmer pointed to a Baer Select profit and loss statement for 1999 that showed no expenses for personnel, no rent for office space, and no costs for computers or other infrastructure.

Obrist acknowledged that Augustus in London does the real investment management. He said: “The investment manager is sitting in London; they do the deals out of London.”

Baer Select lists a range of tasks it undertakes on Augustus’s behalf. Obrist said: “We have to follow stocks, monitor their investment policies, we monitor the risk reports we receive from the investment adviser and check, if there are performance fee calculations involved, if they are executed properly, all monitoring duties. We are in contact with the external auditors and the regulatory authorities and Cayman Islands monitoring authority.”

Obrist charges Augustus a fee which was “a percentage of profits”. Its size “depends on what type of duties we have to do here from Cayman”.

But according to Elmer, Baer Select as manager was paid management fees by Augustus and then paid advisory fees to JBIM. A clue to what has been occurring was provided by an obscure London Stock Exchange announcement three years ago. It said Baer Select’s role had shifted from “investment manager” to “manager”. The Julius Baer Diversified Fixed Income Hedge Fund had been reorganised via the transfer of its assets to the Julius Baer Diversified Fixed Income Master Hedge Fund and Baer Select had been appointed “manager” and JBIM “investment manager” of the Fund and Master Fund. The announcement added that JBIM had the authority to make investment decisions without having them ratified by Baer Select — suggesting Baer Select was a shell.

Similarly, on 1 January 2007, Augustus signed an agreement with Baer Select to manage its funds. That very same day, Baer Select said it was delegating to Augustus responsibility for the management of the funds’ assets. This meant that Baer Select was managing funds without assets — a shell in other words.

When challenged, Obrist insisted that Baer Select continues to work for Augustus, which markets Julius Baer funds with $6 billion in assets. He denied that Baer Select is an artificial, empty vehicle. He stated that he and two other staff members manage four funds for Augustus. He said: We are physically here. We do our job as investment manager. If Baer Select would be here just as a post office box company and generate the millions in Cayman as income instead of in the US or the UK or Switzerland, then that would not be a very smart thing.”

Augustus in London and Julius Baer in Zurich would not expand on their roles. Max Hilton, a spokesperson for Augustus, said the arrangement was devised and run by Julius Baer in Zurich. Martin Somogyi from Julius Baer said the company always adhered to applicable regulations and was regularly audited, but that it would not answer questions.

Article on The Evening Standard site

Monday, January 5, 2009

Lucy’s speeches & interviews

Filed under: Audio/Video — Lucy Komisar @ 1:46 pm

TV interview about the Allen Stanford case and the Sodexo kickbacks revealed by whistleblowers Jay and John Carciero on “Conversations with Harold Channer,” Oct 29, 2009, MNN – Channel 34, New York.  You Tube. One hour.

TV debate with Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and Dennis Kneale on CNBC-TV Power Lunch. April 14, 2009. 3 1/3 minutes.

Radio interview about Naked Short Selling and the Financial Crisis on “For the Record” with David Emory Nov. 4, 2008, For that show and others search for Komisar on Dave Emory show. Or get audio directly. About one hour. 

TV interview about offshore tax evasion on “Conversations with Harold Channer,” Nov 27, 2007, MNN – Channel 34, New York.  YouTube. One hour.

Lucy's speech at "Taming the Giant Corporation" in Washington

Lucy's speech at "Taming the Giant Corporation" in Washington

Video of speech on “Closing down the tax haven racket” at “Taming the Giant Corporation” conference, Washington, June 8, 2007. Ralph Nader, whose organization sponsored the conference, excerpted it for his column

Radio interview about BCCI on “Wakeup Call” with Deepa Fernandes, WBAI New York, April 9, 2007. Starts 10 min. into the hour. About 20 min.

Radio interview about A Game As Old As Empire on “Inside Intelligence,” with John Loftus, April 3, 2007 hi res , low res. Interview starts 21 min. into the program. About 20 min. 

TV interview about BCCI on “Conversations with Harold Channer.” MNN – Channel 34, New York. April 3, 2007. One hour. 

Radio interview and phone-in about BCCI on American AM with Henry Raines WWPR, Tampa, FL, March 27, 2007. About 50 min.

Radio interview about BCCI on “Inside Intelligence” with John Loftus, March 23, 2007. Interview starts 17 min. into the program. About 20 min.

Radio interview about BCCI on “For The Record” with Dave Emory, March 11, 2007. For that show and others search for Komisar on Dave Emory show.

TV interview highlighting tax evasion by Citigroup on “Conversations with Harold Channer.” MNN – Channel 34, New York. Feb 20, 2006. One hour. 

TV interview about offshore banking on “Conversations with Harold Channer.” MNN – Channel 34, New York. Sept 22, 2004. One hour.

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