The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Friday, May 8, 2009

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” a poetic, surreal, tragic vignette of blacks coping with vestiges of slavery

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 11:29 pm

By Lucy Komisar

August Wilson’s powerful, moving play conjures up a mood that is both poetic and surreal, though on the face of it, it is completely naturalistic. Perhaps it’s the distance of time, nearly a century ago, 1911, when blacks, only 50 years away from the start of the Civil War, were living on the border between slavery and freedom. Or it could be the ethereal staging by director Bartlett Sher, who excellently follows Wilson’s intent to turn the characters into symbols of their kind as well as real people. Sher starts that by showing the characters first in silhouette.

Latanya Richardsion Jackson, Ernie Hudson, Andre Holland, Roger Robinson. Photo T. Charles Erickson.

Latanya Richardsion Jackson, Ernie Hudson, Andre Holland, Roger Robinson. Photo T. Charles Erickson.

We are in a Pittsburg boarding house run by Seth Holly (Ernie Hudson) and his wife Bertha (Latanya Richardson Jackson). The action takes place around a long wood dining table encircled by mismatched spindleback chairs. Tomatoes and cabbages struggle to survive in a tiny patch of yard. (Set by Michael Yeargan.)

Seth Holly works at night in a mill and makes pots and pans out of scrap. He is uncompromising and unforgiving in his moral demands that people behave and work and don’t make excuses. But the people who live in boarding houses can’t always meet that standard.

They are all looking for something.

The young Mattie Campbell (Marsha Stephanie Blake) had a lover who deserted her, does ironing now, and is courted by Jeremy Furlow (Andre Holland) who has come up from the south and hopes to make it with his guitar playing. She wants love and security; he wants a good time.

Roger Robinson, Marsha Stephanie Blake. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Roger Robinson, Marsha Stephanie Blake. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Then there is the mystical Bynum Walker (an avuncular Roger Robinson), a country spiritualist on the track of “the shining man” who has the secret of life. He helps people to cope. When Mattie pines for her old lover, he gives her a charm to forget. He is known as a conjur man, but he’s really a psychologist and therapist who dispenses common sense.

The high drama is sparked by Herald Loomis (Chad L. Coleman), who has arrived with his daughter Zonia (Amari Rose Leigh) in search of the wife he was separated from in 1901 when Joe Turner, the brother of the governor, seized him and other blacks and forced them to work on his land for seven years.

Turner is based on the real Joe Turney, the brother of a governor of Tennessee, who kidnapped Negroes and forced them into seven years servitude.  A morose fellow with a black coat and big brimmed hat, Coleman plays him as a man who seems about to explode from fury.

Arlis Howard, Ernie Hudson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Arlis Howard, Ernie Hudson. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Loomis asks for help from the itinerant peddler, Rutherford Selig (a shrewd Arliss Howard), who sells pots and pans (including those made by Holly) and other household necessities on his route around Pittsburg. Selig makes it his business to find out just who is living where, which feeds his second job as “the people finder.” It appears that his family made money from blacks in ways that, with some irony, suited the times: his grandfather was a slaver, and his father found runaway slaves for plantations.

The rest of the morality tale is embellished by Molly Cunningham (Aunjanue Ellis), a sexy lady who tells Seth Holly, “I likes me some company from time to time,” to which he replies, “I don’t have no women hauling no men up to rooms to be making their living.”

Somehow, their stories are submerged in a common sense of origins when they dance the lively African Juba, a shuffle and stomp which Wilson means to evoke “the Ring Shouts of the African slaves.” It’s a Christian African fantasy, with references to the Holy Ghost.

“People need to know their songs,” Bynum tells them. It’s the symbolism of recognizing oneself.

“When a man forgets his song he goes in search of it.” Wilson’s message is the need for self-discovery and self-knowledge. It’s what binds people together.

The ensemble of actors takes that message to heart, delivering performances that define each character as a distinct individual but also one of a shared community.

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” Written by August Wilson, Directed by Bartlett Sher. Produced by Lincoln Center Theater. Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. 212-239-6200. Opened April 16, 2009, Closes June 14, 2009.

Review on NY Theatre-Wire site.

OECD Tax Havens Deal Falls Short, Critics Say

Filed under: offshore,Regulation & enforcement,Scoops,tax evasion — Tags: , , — Lucy Komisar @ 4:10 pm

By Lucy Komisar
Inter Press Service (IPS), May 8, 2009

MIAMI BEACH – Jeffrey Owens, the tax “point person” of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), was stung by activist critics of the OECD standards under which countries will be put on a tax haven blacklist and targeted for sanctions.

The blacklist was announced last month at the London meeting of the G20, which said in a communiqué that it would “take action against non-cooperative jurisdictions, including tax havens…to deploy sanctions to protect our public finances and financial systems.”

Jeffrey Owens at Offshore Alert conference, photo by Lucy KomisarOwens made the comment to IPS when he stopped to chat on his way to the podium to deliver the keynote address at the Financial Due Diligence Conference organised last week in Miami Beach by the industry newsletter “Offshore Alert.”

The OECD is composed of 30 of the world’s major economic powers, mostly from Europe. The G20 includes major western countries as well as Brazil, Russia, India, and China.

Key civil society criticisms are that the OECD standards require bilateral agreements for information on request, not automatic multilateral tax information exchange; that they call for only 12 such agreements to be signed by each tax haven; and that getting off the blacklist entails only promises, which have not been kept by tax havens in the past.

Oxfam International, the development organisation, said, “There is no reference to an automatic multilateral tax information exchange system. Anything less is unlikely to benefit poor countries, since they lack the information to prove their case before gaining access to tax information, or the administrative capacity to enter into negotiations on a case by case basis.”

What tax havens call “fishing expeditions” are not allowed, though often the information that could make a case resides only in the offshore centres – estimated at 50-70 depending on who is defining them.

Oxfam said, “Even for rich countries, it is incredibly difficult to make an information request under these agreements, and the tax haven can quite easily refuse the request. Jersey, for example, a well known tax haven, has had such an agreement with the USA since 2001, yet has only delivered just five pieces of data in all that time.”

Owens, director of the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy and Administration, told the conference audience that automatic information exchange would not work, because, “For developing countries, it would be very hard for them to manage an enormous flow of information.”

IPS pressed Owens to explain why the EU had insisted on automatic information sharing for its own European Union Tax Savings Directive effected in 2005, but those countries, who dominate the OECD, appeared to think it was not good for the rest of the world. (The OECD did fix a flaw in the EU standard by requiring information sharing about accounts of companies as well as individuals).

He replied, “There is nothing stopping developing countries in its treaties from using automatic information sharing, but you have to be sure you can use the information.” He said he had visited the office of an unnamed tax commissioner and noticed boxes marked “IRS” [the U.S. Internal Revenue Service] stacked against the wall. He explained that the commissioner said “he got all this information and didn’t know what to do with it.”

Owens said, “Targeted information is the key thing.”

“If I am a UK resident and think about evading taxes, does the country I want to use have an agreement for exchange of information on request? Don’t underestimate deterrent effect,” he added. “You’re taking a bigger risk when you put your money into a country that signed up to the standard.”

However, that deterrent effect hasn’t worked very well to date. The U.S. tax information exchange agreement with the Cayman Islands, established in 2002, has not perceptively reduced U.S. nationals’ extensive use of that tax haven, which is the world’s fifth largest financial centre by deposits.

Beyond that, how can 12 bilateral agreements be enough in a world with more than 190 countries? Action Aid UK, a development organisation, said, “Substantial implementation of the OECD standards is taken to mean signing 12 bilateral agreements. This sets too low a number to likely include developing countries.”

Owens countered that, “Twelve agreements between tax havens aren’t going to count. If a country gets 12 and then closes the door, no. We expect countries to continue to negotiate after they reach the 12.”

Will the OECD really put countries that finesse the rules on the blacklist? Oxfam wasn’t encouraged on the day of the G20 meeting when the OECD’s announced blacklist of “non-cooperative” tax havens included only Costa Rica, Malaysia, Philippines and Uruguay – none among the world’s major offshore centres. (Uruguay was almost immediately removed from the list after it formally endorsed the OECD standards).

Perhaps the four had been too naïve or inefficient to pledge to go with the programme, but the blacklist shrunk to zero when they hurriedly signed on. Were there really then no tax havens anywhere in the world still committed to impregnable bank and corporate secrecy?

Action Aid UK noted that “a number of major tax havens managed to jump through the hoops in time to escape even the grey list.” Oxfam agreed that, “Tax havens like Jersey and the Isle of Man appear on the white list, rather than the ‘grey list’ of jurisdictions that have committed to the internationally agreed tax standard but have not yet substantially implemented it. These lists reflect promises (rather than actions) from uncooperative jurisdictions to sign up to OECD standards.”

Maintaining that concern about tax havens’ impact on developing countries was indeed a factor in the decision by major financial powers to deal with them, Owens pointed out that discussions at the U.N. conference in Doha in November 2008 had focused on how secrecy jurisdictions deprive developing countries of the financial resources needed for development.

He said, “A link is being made between development, the Monterey commitments, and the impact on developing countries of tax havens. It changed the dynamics of the debate, broadening it beyond OECD countries.”

A key issue now is what happens to countries that don’t keep their promises. Owens said that sanctions – called “defensive measures” – would be extensive. Countries could deny the tax deductibility of certain expenses. They could reconsider existing tax treaties with those countries. They could demand that aid recipients commit to the standards. International institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank could reflect the standards in the investment policies. However, sanctions are up to each country and institution to apply.

Action Aid UK noted that there was no commitment to implement sanctions, but looked favourably at the fact that, “Sanctions must be ‘agreed’, implying a multilateral process of sanctions rather than a bilateral one that depends on a country’s economic might.”

The G8 in July will get the OECD’s report on how the process is going, and G20 finance ministers will consider the advances against offshore secrecy at their meeting in November.

Article on IPS site

Thursday, May 7, 2009

“Exit the King” features a brilliant Geoffrey Rush in cosmic joke about mortality

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 11:36 pm

By Lucy Komisar

King Berenger (Geoffrey Rush) loves parties. Well, the party’s over. Or about to be, in 90 minutes. The party is life, of course. Avant garde playwright Eugene Ionesco has penned this cosmic joke about mortality,  which finds its best laugh lines in the bravura performance of Rush and some good licks from Andrea Martin as the wide-eyed maid-servant Juliette, whose superb comic talents were only recently seen in “Young Frankenstein.”

The production gets a tongue-in-cheek staging by Neil Armfield (who with Rush translated the work from the French). He presents this wild farce as if it were totally logical. Suspend belief.

Geoffrey Rush. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Geoffrey Rush. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Beringer has been informed that, “You are going to die in an hour and a half.” This king who is about to die is cranky, campy and very narcissistic, clad in an ermine cape (occasionally over striped pajamas) and a hint of a British upper class accent. Rush’s gasps and grimaces are performed with a rubbery face and wonderfully saucy demeanor.

The response on one level is a collection of gags and pratfalls. Crisis and response is absurd. The country is collapsing; the bistros are empty. As his body disintegrates, he is advised to “Do Irish dancing; you don’t need your arms.”  The main job of the maid (the incomparable Martin) is to jump athletically over the royals’ trains as she dips to untwist them.

In the background is the horror that Beringer has caused. (Bats hang upside down on the tapestry.)  But all he cares about himself. Asked by a wife, “Do you love me?” he replies, “I’ve always loved myself.” The new translation includes the line that he pawned the washing machine for the Treasury bailout; it gets appreciative laughter. A guard says, “He cut off a few heads. It was for national security.” Could this be a political commentary?

Lauren Ambrose, Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Lauren Ambrose, Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Susan Sarandon provides an odd, dry, static interpretation of Queen Marguerite, the King’s first wife. (It’s never explained why he can have two.) Young Queen Marie (Lauren Ambrose) in white gown and red curls is obviously the trophy wife, appropriately ditsy, self-involved and utterly unaware of the outside world. Marguerite is aware, but doesn’t seem to care much.

The set is an odd, busy confection with the clutter of a second-hand store and strange wall hangings that create the ambience of a cave. Beringer holds forth on a red cushioned silver and gold metal platform “throne.” The set and costumes are by Dale Ferguson.

Susan Sarandon, William Sadler, Geoffrey Rush, Lauren Ambrose, Andrea Martin. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Susan Sarandon, William Sadler, Geoffrey Rush, Lauren Ambrose, Andrea Martin. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The characters, even the doctor and the maid, wear white gloves. (Martin routinely steals the show with her shticks.)

The particular parts seem sometimes to add up to less than the whole. The cloying Marie is a bit tiresome. But Rush’s performance makes you ignore the occasionally forgettable characters who inhabit his world. When he is emoting, we are entranced. All suddenly is believable and a metaphor for our time.

“Exit the King.” Written by Eugene Ionesco; Translated by Neil Armfield & Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Neil Armfield; Music by John Rodgers. Ethel Barrymore Theatre,  243 West 47th Street. 212-239-6200. Opened March 26, 2009, Closes June 14, 2009.

Review on NY Theatre-Wire site.

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