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‘February, 2010’

“Present Laughter,” Coward’s satire of an actor & his entourage, lacks sparkle

“Present Laughter,” Coward’s satire of an actor & his entourage, lacks sparkle

Garry Essendine (Victor Garber), who has the sense of a flighty youth, is a self-absorbed actor of 54. He is wont to shave a decade or so off his life, especially when he is playing up to pretty young women. Noel Coward’s semi-autobiographical comedy is at times amusing – it is meant to be a send-up of the actor and his entourage — but it’s nowhere near as clever as Coward can be. And the production by director Nicholas Martin lacks sparkle.

“Clybourne Park” is a tart witty commentary on racism

“Clybourne Park” is a tart witty commentary on racism

Taking us back to Clybourne Park, to where Lorraine Hansbury’s black family moved in “A Raisin in the Sun,” Bruce Norris has written a clever, pointed comedy, acted by a superb cast under the well paced direction of Pam MacKinnon, that plumbs the depths of racism to see how it’s changed from the blatant late 50s to the more subtle present.

“West Side Story” is jazzy, brassy revival of conflict and romance among 1950s gangs

“West Side Story” is jazzy, brassy revival of conflict and romance among 1950s gangs

The free-floating anger exuded by the “Jets” and “Sharks” as they clash under and leap onto fire escapes is combustible. Any reason for the gangs’ hostility? Well, when Officer Krupke (Lee Sellars) arrives in the neighborhood, along the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of New York City, he slams one kid in the stomach with a Billy club. Lt. Schrank (Steve Bassett) comes into a local drugstore and insults the Puerto Ricans as migrant scum. The sociological stage is set. There’s nothing dated about Arthur Laurents’ revival of his own “West Side Story.” This American theater classic is another proof that the best, most enduring musicals (and plays) combine personal stories with political ones.

“Hair” is simplistic politics but a joyous celebration of the 60s counterculture

“Hair” is simplistic politics but a joyous celebration of the 60s counterculture

My guest at “Hair” was an old friend who had been a leader of the 1968 protest movement in Germany. As we left the theater, he shook his head. He said, “We were much more political.” That said, and history corrected, Diane Paulus’s revival of the 1968 musical now on Broadway captures the mood of part of a generation of young people (a minority of their contemporaries) that helped change the culture.

CORRUPTION: U.S. banks abetting corrupt regimes, probe finds

CORRUPTION: U.S. banks abetting corrupt regimes, probe finds

Inter Press Service (IPS), Feb 3, 2010 –

The global bank HSBC may be running offshore accounts for central banks. According to a U.S. Senate investigation, an HSBC subsidiary in London called HSBC Equator Bank had a sister bank in the Bahamas.

According to an internal e-mail, the bank told HSBC USA it had been providing offshore accounts to central banks for 20 years, because the banks wanted to avoid “Mareva” injunctions, legally enforceable orders to freeze funds.

Two thousand years of Jewish history; times of success and tragedy come alive in two stunning Berlin museums

Two thousand years of Jewish history; times of success and tragedy come alive in two stunning Berlin museums

It was just a swatch of cloth, a fabric of golden yellow with eight rows of stars stamped in their outlines and waiting to be cut out. The stars were manufactured by the Berlin flag maker, Geitel & Co, and Jews had to pay 10 pfennig to buy them. Jews six and older had to wear them on their clothing.

From the horrifically mundane, to the surreally horrible, the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which opened in 2001, has an astonishing collection of exhibits. I thought I could do my routine two-hour walk-through, but I was so absorbed that I returned a second and third time. It is an extraordinary museum that uses photos, exhibits and audio to tell a fascinating and dramatic history of centuries.

The entrance is through the Collegienhaus, a baroque structure built in 1735 for the regal Court of Justice and rebuilt after its destruction in World War II. But most of the exhibits are in a postmodern building, a huge angular winding gray zinc structure that is said to have been inspired by a broken Star of David. It was designed by the American architect Daniel Libeskind and was completed in 1999. Inside now are exhibits that show two millennia of German Jewish history.