Friday, December 16, 2022


photo: Francis Levy

Sartre famously wrote The Portrait of the Antisemite, "If the Jew did not exist, the anti-semite would invent him," is one well-known quote from the essay. The question of otherness is a subject Martin Buber dealt with in Ich und Du. In this regard, some of the most powerful moments of Tom Stoppard's Leopoldstadt occur in the beginning 1899, 1900 and 1924 sections of the play where Jewish characters attempt to wrestle with their identities in a world where non-Jews view them as the Other. The play's title refers to the Jewish neighborhood of Vienna. Even those who have converted to Catholicism plainly still define themselves as Jews. The seder that occurs during this early section is enormously effective precisely because it introduces a world that’s familiar and foreign at the same time. There's a hilarious scene at a bris in which the cutting off of the tip of a cigar is equated with the work of the mohel. The effect of the comic ambivalence is to throw the noumenal question out at the audience, particularly those who are Jews. In this sense, the much touted denouement is melodramatic and almost disingenuous. These first scenes comprise a rich tapestry that includes the citing of major figures like Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitzler, the author of La Ronde and Sigmund Freud. An ersatz Klimt portrait of Gretl (Faye Castelow) the wife of Hermann Metz (David Krumholtz) hangs in the industrialist's well-appointed apartment; it's a mirror of a flourishing Jewish community in which art and entrepreneurship were symbiotically aligned. However, the anagnorisis in which Leo, the Stoppard figure finds out the truth of his background seems a little like or This Is Your Life. It's hard to believe the character portrayed in the l955 section, with all his education and intelligence, could be so blind; it  feels like the deposition of an uncooperative witness--the playwright's youthful anglophone self. Leopoldstadt presents a vast cast of characters who travel through a momentous swath of history that includes Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938.  At times the stage resembles a Robert Wilson tableau vivant. Though the playwright grew up in Czechoslovakia rather than Austria, could it be The Life and Times of Tom Stoppard?

read "Knausgaard or Kierkegaard" by Francis Levy, HuffPost

prelude to "Tristan and Isolde" by Wagner

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