Saturday, March 26
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels makes an effort at inclusiveness with its new exhibit, “Passion/Passover: Artists of Faith Interpret Their Holy Days.” On view through the month of April, the show features works by seven Jewish and seven Christian artists, including Barbara Drucker, Laurie Gross and the Rev. Michael Tang. Drucker’s contribution is a “Song of Songs”-inspired piece, while Gross’ incorporates the tallit into a work called, “Miriam and the Women.”
6:30 a.m.-6 p.m. (Mon.-Fri.), 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sat.), 7 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sun.). 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles. (213) 680-5224. www.olacathedral.org.
Sunday, March 27
Anne Frank would have been 75 years old this year, had she lived. Celebrate her words and her memory through the play written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” on stage now through April 17 at the Chance Theater.
8 p.m. (Thurs.-Sat.), 2 p.m. (Sun.). $17-$20. 5552 E. Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills. (714) 777-3033.
Monday, March 28
Newly released on DVD is the documentary, “Shanghai Ghetto.” Martin Landau narrates the film about the Jews of Shanghai, who escaped Nazi persecution in the Japanese-controlled city, one of the only places that would allow them to enter.
Tuesday, March 29
George Washington gets his mug on a dollar, but what did Martha ever get for her troubles? Cokie Roberts corrects the oversight in her book, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation,” which becomes the topic of conversation when she visits the Skirball this evening. A book signing follows.
7:30 p.m. $5-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (866) 468-3399.
Wednesday, March 30
American icon photographer and icon in her own right, Annie Leibovitz, displays her stills of musicians at Fahey/Klein Gallery’s “American Music” exhibition. Images of Willie Nelson, Beck and Michael Stipe are just some you’ll see.
10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). 148 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 934-2250.
Thursday, March 31
Catch the new Murray Mednick trifecta beginning tonight at Electric Lodge. The first two of his four-part series, “The Gary Plays,” premiere tonight, with the third premiering tomorrow. They follow Gary, a poor former actor dealing with his son’s murder. Stay tuned for news on part four….
8 p.m. (both premieres). $20 (one evening), $30 (both evenings). 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 823-0710.
Friday, April 1
The first Israeli feature to be screened at Sundance, “Nina’s Tragedies,” premiered in 2004 – then took another year to make it into L.A. and New York theaters. But the wait may well be worth it. The film about a 13-year-old boy’s crush on his beautiful and recently widowed Aunt Nina, and about the other quirky characters that surround him, opens today in Laemmle theaters.
Laemmle Sunset 5, Los Angeles; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena. www.laemmle.com.
Mother Weathers Terror’s ‘Storm’
"Storm of Terror: A Hebron Mother’s Diary," by June Leavitt (Ivan R. Dee, $22.50).
Either excoriated as illegal conquerors or praised as pioneers, Jews living in the territories conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War are never portrayed neutrally. The very name of where they live depends on the political bent of the writer: to critics they live in "the West Bank in the Occupied Territories," and proponents historically term it "Judea and Samaria." But at the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian controversy, settlers themselves rarely tell their own stories in print. With "Storm of Terror," June Leavitt has filled that gap.
Leavitt is an American Jewish woman who grew up in secular upper-middle-class Long Island, left for the University of Wisconsin with a trunk full of new mix n’ match clothes, then found herself floundering in the drug culture. Today she is an ultra-Orthodox mother of five who lives with her husband and children in the Jewish enclave of Kiryat Arba in the Palestinian-controlled city of Hebron.
"Storm" is the intensely personal diary of her life during the first year and a half of the second intifada, which erupted on Sept. 29, 2000. Apart from emotional references to biblical patriarchs, the book is not a political polemic; Leavitt, passionately convinced of the Jews’ historic right to live in the entire biblical Israel (including Palestinian-occupied territories), feels no need to justify her a priori position.
Rather, she tells the story of how it feels to live through the trauma of violence and death that strikes her neighbors and friends daily. She relates chronologically the relentless terrorist incidents in which settlers have been attacked in fields, cars, busses and in their own beds. In each case, Leavitt writes not of some anonymous victim, but of acquaintances in her tightknit community whom she meets in the streets, in the grocery and in her children’s schools: "We are burying another of our dead…. Orphans. Orphans everywhere."
When right-wing Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi was assassinated in 2001, it was not some remote politician Leavitt lost but a close family friend who years earlier had himself joined her hospital vigil after rock throwers assaulted her husband causing head injuries.
The real power of the narrative is its honesty, as when Leavitt agonizes about watching her own children on the firing line: "Miriam said that at school her friends are busy writing their own eulogies…. Whoever says they are not frightened is telling a lie."
Leavitt also struggles to juggle among her children’s differing viewpoints. Her eldest daughter Estie, a soldier, was stationed in her hometown to quell settlers advancing towards violent Arab demonstrators. One of the settlers was Estie’s younger sister, Miriam:
"Get out of here before I smash you with this!"
Estie pushed the settlers back with the butt end of her rifle.
Miriam cried, "Why are you on their side? Why are you going to let the Arabs kill us?"
"Traitor!" other settlers screamed at Estie.
A woman soldier grabbed Miriam’s arm. Miriam resisted. When the soldier raised her arm to hit Miriam, Estie screamed, "Don’t touch her! She’s my sister!"
Leavitt’s son became intensely devout as a reaction to friends’ deaths. And her 13-year-old daughter was often so terrified that Leavitt spent nights rocking her. In the new reality of the intifada, normalcy is nowhere. Even a simple mother-daughter conversation about planning the daughter’s future is not immune: "Both Estie and I are trying to ignore the screaming, the whistling of the mobs, the gunfire, the grenades, the street battles between the army and the Arabs," she writes.
Leavitt lost her mother at a young age, and her father and brother turned their backs on her when she moved her children into the dangers of "the West Bank."
Leavitt continues to search for the meaning that brought her and her husband first to become devoutly religious and then ardent Zionists. As a child of the ’60s she used yoga, bioenergy healing, meditation and even tarot cards in her quest for equanimity in the midst of horror.
Leavitt is candidly on the extreme fringe of the Israeli political spectrum. Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in 1994, had been her family doctor. Her comment on the causes for the crime?
"So many friends had died in his arms. Many of us think it was that event which broke our neighbor, Dr. Goldstein."
Leavitt describes, with almost utopian nostalgia, the friendships between her children and nearby Arab families before the peace process "put up barbed wire between us and the Arabs."
"Storm" will not cause any reader to change sides. But its powerful style and even more powerful emotions will engage anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy to race through its pages. Leavitt reveals herself not only as a determined ideologue but as a complex, struggling human being.
A Song for Daniel
New Aspects of Anne
Let’s say it right up front: The four-hour television miniseries "Anne Frank" is the most powerful film on the Holocaust in recent memory, not excepting the fabled "Schindler’s List."
The conclusion comes as a surprise, not least to this reviewer. Who would have thought that a commercial network could create such a film, shorn of false sentimentality, on an icon as thoroughly explored and exploited as Anne Frank, the most famous diarist of World War II?
The second surprise is how much we didn’t know about Anne’s life, even after all the books, plays, movies and documentaries. For Anne’s life didn’t begin in June 1942, when she went into hiding and started her diary, and it didn’t end in August 1944, when her "secret annex" was discovered.
"Anne Frank" airs from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. May 20 and 21. Because of the concentration camp scenes, the film may not be suitable for younger children.
The telefilm is not based on the diary — due to copyright disputes, not a single line from her writing is used — but on the thoroughly researched 1998 biography of Anne by German writer Melissa Muller.
We first meet Anne in 1939 as a precocious 9-year-old schoolgirl of whom her father observes, "God knows everything, but Anne knows everything better." We see her last, emaciated, her clothes filthy and torn, ridden with lice and typhus, just before her death in March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen, weeks before the camp’s liberation.
Those familiar only with the original "Diary of a Young Girl" — which has sold 25 million copies in 55 languages — and its feel-good assertion that "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart," will be shaken by the ABC production.
The rough edges of daily life in the warehouse hiding place, especially Anne’s views of her parents’ loveless marriage, which had been expurgated by Otto Frank, are explored in the film, as they are in the latest revised edition of the diary.
But the film’s wrenching impact hits hardest in the last hour, after the eight occupants of the secret annex are arrested, transferred to a Dutch transit camp, then sent by sealed box cars to Auschwitz, and, for Anne, her sister Margot and their mother, to the final destination of Bergen-Belsen.
There are horrifying scenes at the camps, where the women are stripped naked, their hair shorn and their wedding rings wrenched from their fingers. Even the most blasé viewer of past Holocaust movies and documentaries will be shaken by the depiction of routine life at Bergen-Belsen: the fierce struggles for a piece of bread or pair of socks, and, especially, the day-by-day decline of Anne, as she sinks into an abyss of filth, disease and hopelessness.
The impressive cast is headed by Hannah Taylor Gordon, a 14-year-old Londoner who has never had a formal acting lesson. Gordon, who is not Jewish, bears a remarkable physical resemblance to Anne Frank and portrays her from age 9 to 15, from happy schoolgirl to scarecrow Bergen-Belsen inmate, with astonishing fidelity.
Veteran actor Ben Kingsley plays Otto Frank, Anne’s father, in a restrained performance, and pays Gordon the ultimate compliment by judging her the best leading lady he has encountered in a long professional career.
Others sharing the hiding place and Anne’s ultimate fate are Brenda Blethyn, Tatjana Blacher, Joachim Krol, Jessica Manley, Nick Audsley and Jan Niklas. Lili Taylor is Miep Gies, the Franks’ lifeline to the outside world.
Rumanian-born Robert Dornhelm, who lost most of his relatives in the Holocaust, directs, and Kirk Ellis wrote the superb screenplay.
The only regret is that viewers will not be able to watch "Anne Frank" without commercial interruptions. However, in a gesture not to be underestimated in a money-driven medium, ABC has decided to keep the film’s final hour free of commercials.
Exploring Faith’s Price
Phobia: 1. A compulsive or persistent fear of any specified type of object, stimulus or situation. 2. An exaggerated or persistent dread of or aversion to.
Sitting in the front row of the McCadden Theater in Hollywood was my personal pit of snakes. I would rather be buried alive, in the dark, on top of a skyscraper covered with mice than be reviewed. But there he was, a theater critic from Backstage West trade paper, perched right in the front row to review my one-woman show.
Listen, I know that one person’s pit of snakes is another person’s bouquet of roses. I don’t know why this is my greatest fear, but I know that I have pretty much lived my life to avoid it. When I started doing my show in San Francisco, I moved before it would have to be reviewed. The thought of someone coming to see my show, a piece made up of my most personal insights and stories, and judging it, is the worst thing I can imagine.
Now there’s nothing to do but wait for the review to come out on Thursday. Wait and do what I always do at times like this. Keep a journal.
After the show on Saturday, when I verified that the odd man sitting in the front row was indeed a critic, I sat in my boyfriend’s pick-up truck in the theater parking lot and began to have a meltdown, the likes of which I have scarcely experienced.
“I feel like I’m dying,” I said, staring out the window.
I have got to figure this out. This feeling of dread isn’t about a review for my stupid little show that’s only open for one more week. This is about something much deeper, my fear of being unloved, laughed at, thought a loser. My fear that I am nothing unless someone else says so. This seems like a stupid way to live and I’ve got less than a week to figure out how to change. I’m on a spiritual deadline.
“You’ve got to have your own barometer,” said my director, Joe, when I ran back into the theater hoping for some reassurance. “You will get bad reviews and great reviews and it doesn’t matter. Only you can know if your work is good.”
“But I have no barometer. I can only rely on what other people say. That’s just the way I am,” I explained.
“Well, it’s going to be a long week for you,” Joe said. But he wasn’t talking to me. He was talking to my boyfriend, who was leaning politely against the door.
On another quest for comfort, I tell the story to my friend Anne, sobbing over the phone. “I wish I could take a pill that would make me not care what anyone thought of me,” I say. “I wish there was a pill like that.”
“There is,” she hesitates. “It’s called God.”
I don’t believe in God but this sure would be a handy time to find the Lord. Still, I’m starting to wonder. How could the universe possibly hand me my worst fear, complete with evil, grimacing reviewer, and have there be no reason for it?
Whatever happens to me in the next week will change me. It may be for the better, or I may just have to leave town for awhile with a case of Southern Comfort and a carton of Merits.
I arrive at the office of my therapist and shove aside some stuffed animals to make myself real comfortable on the couch. My head was about to be shrunken to the size of a pea.
According to my therapist, when I saw the critic and kept going, I had what they call “a breakthrough.” She also says that this overwhelming need for approval comes from growing up with a depressed mother who wasn’t so into hugs and hand-holding. According to my trusty mental health care professional, all of this was set in motion when I was an infant. Babies who aren’t cuddled and held, gazed at by their mothers, fear that they may literally die. Well, I can pretty much feed myself now, but that desperate need for a loving gaze continues.
I went to the dentist for a long overdue teeth cleaning. I joined a gym. I stopped by Jiffy Lube for an oil change. A feeling of calm began to creep into me.
This doesn’t matter, I thought. Some people will like what I do, others won’t. That has always been the case. “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but everybody does not love Teresa. And that’s going to have to do.
Did I have an epiphany? Or did I just have no choice?
When I have a battle with my personal demons, it’s very much like a World Wrestling Federation match. We both know what’s going to happen. They come in, all glitz and flashy costumes, but all the moves have been choreographed and we both know exactly how it’s going to go. Usually nobody gets hurt.
Today, though, I’m not so sure. All that therapy is beginning to seem like a bunch of crap. I pick a fight with my boyfriend in an Italian deli.
“Why are you yelling at me?” he asks.
I have no idea. I go to the computer store and finally put a down payment on that laptop I’ve been wanting. I can’t stop thinking about tomorrow, when the review will hit the stands.
You know how everyone says you should be in the moment? A really good way to practice this is to have something in your immediate future that you dread beyond belief. All day, I force myself to remember that it’s only now. I constantly shove myself back into the present.
I’m pretty sure that nothing this critic says will be worse than the anxiety of waiting.
My boyfriend calls and offers to pick up the review and read it to me over the phone. I figure it will be easiest coming from him. But I can’t wait. I go to the newsstand, my head a fog and my stomach burning. Backstage West won’t be there until 4 p.m. I literally can’t stop my face from smiling. I feel like I’ve gotten a stay of execution. I go get my nails done. I sit in a coffee shop and drink chamomile tea. I fill my car with gas, in case I need to make a hasty getaway. About 50 times during the day, I can’t believe how silly this all is. When I finally get the call, it’s the weirdest of all possible outcomes. The review is really just a capsule description of my show. It doesn’t say much, except that “what pain there is in young, single life, Strasser mines it well.” Not exactly a rave but it doesn’t matter. It’s over.
It’s the final night of my show and I’m as confident as Michael Jordan playing one-on-one with Ed Koch. It’s the best performance I’ve ever had. I’ve been judged and I’ve survived.
Relief: 1. The removal or lightening of something oppressive, painful or distressing.
Teresa Strasser writes her column on singles life every other week.