Shades of ‘Stand Back and Stand By’ In Staged Reading of 1930s Cautionary Tale
Lewis’s novel was adapted as a play, which Depression Era arts agencies sponsored around the United States. The dramatic reading now being produced by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene beats the 1930s “popular prices,” however. It is free.
A collaboration between nine highly regarded theater companies will offer a staged reading of “It Can’t Happen Here,” a play based on Sinclair Lewis’s classic 1935 novel about fascism coming to America.
The free, online event is part of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s ongoing virtual programming, Folksbiene! LIVE, a celebration of Yiddish culture that features live-streamed theater, American Jewish performers, concerts, lectures, talks, and other events. The virtual production — which will raise money to benefit the nine companies — will feature more than 60 actors presenting in Yiddish, English, Spanish, Italian, Turkish and Hebrew (with English subtitles throughout).
The novel and the play tell the story of “Buzz” Windrip, a demagogue described as, “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” who is elected president, and then summons his gun-toting, street-brawling followers with the words, “to you and you only I look for help to make America a proud, rich land again.”
Above: A production still from a 2016 production of “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis’s prophetic 1935 novel about the possibility of fascism coming to America. Below: Lewis was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Lewis was inspired to write “It Can’t Happen Here” in the depths of the Great Depression, when fascism was sweeping across Europe, and aspiring autocrats (like Huey Long and Charles Coughlin) were exploiting domestic despair to raise the possibility that Americans, too, would turn to authoritarians promising redemption.
He was also spurred by his wife, reporter Dorothy Thompson, who was regarded in the 1930s as the First Lady of American Journalism, and deemed by Time Magazine to be the only woman in the nation whose influence equaled that of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. (Her life was the basis for the Katharine Hepburn film, “Woman of the Year,” and the play of the same name that was later revived on Broadway, starring Lauren Bacall.) Reporting from Germany in the early 1930s, she had met and interviewed Hitler, and later earned the singular honor of being the first American journalist (man or woman) to be expelled from Germany after the Nazis took power. One of the very few women of the era with her own national radio program dedicated to political commentary, Thompson repaid the favor by warning American audiences weekly of the dangers of fascism.
Lewis was similarly courageous and contrarian. In 1930, he became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Four years earlier, he had turned down the Pulitzer Prize with the words, “Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile. In protest, I declined election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters some years ago, and now I must decline the Pulitzer Prize.”
H.L. Mencken, not much given to compliments (especially when it came to fellow writers), said of Lewis, “if there was ever a novelist among us with an authentic call to the trade … it is this red-haired tornado from the Minnesota wilds.”
Lewis was spurred to novelize the possibility of an authoritarian America, in part, by his wife, Dorothy Thompson, a journalist who jousted with Hitler, and so infuriated the dictator that she was ordered to leave Germany after the Nazis came to power.
Near the end of “It Can’t Happen Here,” the novel’s protagonist, journalist Doremus Jessup, reflects that, “More and more, as I think about history, I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”
The Folksbiene! LIVE reading of “It Can’t Happen Here” is scheduled for Wednesday (October 28, at 1:00 pm), after which it will be available for viewing until Sunday, November 1. The event will be presented on National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s website: nytf.org/live.
In addition to Folkksbiene, the other theatre companies are Israeli Artists Project, Kairos Italy Theater, New Heritage Theatre Group/Impact Repertory Theatre, New York Classical Theatre, Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, Playful Substance, Repertorio Español and Turkish American Repertory Theater & Entertainment
Now entering its 106th season, the Tony Award-nominated and Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF) is the longest consecutively producing theatre in the America and the world’s oldest continuously operating Yiddish theatre company. In 2019, NYTF, staged the acclaimed version of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish, directed by Joel Grey, to sold-out audiences before it moved to Off-Broadway. The NYTF is headquartered in the Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Battery Park City. For more information, please browse: www.nytf.org.
If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Compost Day
New Weekly Compost Drop-Off Site Opens Downtown
Lower Manhattan’s City Council representative Margaret Chin (third from left) drops her compost material at Bowling Green on Tuesday, October 20.
Outside of Battery Park City, there aren’t many places in Lower Manhattan to drop off your compost material. But now, downtowners can bring their vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells to the Bowling Green Greenmarket on Tuesday mornings. After 10am, the material will be picked up by Earth Matter staffers and brought to a composting facility on Governors Island.
Composting—separating organic material from garbage to be recycled and broken down into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer instead of decaying in landfill—is one of the easiest ways for individuals to take meaningful action in addressing climate change. And composting is easy: it’s not messy or smelly, and you don’t need a special bucket (although Bed Bath & Beyond does sell such things). Just keep a bag in your freezer and add to it each day.
The Earth Matter compost program accepts fruits, vegetables, coffee, dried flowers and plants, as well as eggshells, tea, nuts, bread, grains and pasta. Please, no meat, fish, dairy, pet waste, wood, paper, metal, glass, plastic, diapers, or medical waste.
These are precious days for monarch butterflies embarking on three-thousand-mile-trips in their annual migration to Mexico—and for humans privileged to see them. With Lower Manhattan on the monarch flyway, the gardeners of the Battery Park City Authority, Liberty Community Gardens, Hudson River Park and the Battery Conservancy have planted milkweed in recent years, an offering to these delicate yet amazingly hardy creatures, who rely on this plant’s nectar for strength and nourishment.
Improve balance, strength and focus through gentle exercises. The sights and sounds of the river provide a serene background for the ancient flowing postures. Program is first come, first served for up to 12 participants. Masks and contact information required upon arrival. Spatial parameters will be set. Participants must remain 6 ft apart for the duration of the program. All programs will be held in accordance with New York State reopening guidance. Esplanade Plaza. Free
These virtual visits offer the opportunity to see and learn the history of Schermerhorn Row, at the end of Fulton Street in Manhattan–one of the most significant examples of early 19th century commercial architecture in New York and home of the South Street Seaport Museum. Visit the upper floors of these New York City Landmarks, located within the National Register-listed South Street Seaport Historic District. Hear about the buildings’ incredible history and developments, and explore the remains of two 150-year-old hotels made famous by New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell’s “Up in the Old Hotel.” Part of Archtober. Free
A Veteran Poll Worker and Community Leader Reflects on a Moment When the Franchise Is More Confounding Than Usual
Longtime Battery Park City resident Bob Schneck has always looked for ways to serve—whether as a member of Community Board 1, or a poll worker or an activist for more than a decade.
Asked to reflect on what drives him to show up at local voting locations before 5:00 am each Election Day, and stay until 10:00 pm, he says, “I see it is a civic responsibility, plus I get a rush out of it. It is a wonderful chance to meet the neighbors and fellow poll workers each year.”
“The challenge is that this work is extremely difficult and demanding,” he reflects. “And it needs to be delivered 100 percent. Poll workers put in almost 17 hours, with three minimal breaks. But overall, it is a system that works reasonably well.”
While hundreds of Lower Manhattan restaurants have shuttered as a result of the pandemic coronavirus (and dozens of these have announced that they will never reopen), one operator has gamely chosen to open his doors for the first time, instead. Last week, City Winery debuted its new flagship location, on Pier 57, within the Hudson River Park (near the intersection of West 15th Street and the waterfront).
With 32,000 square feet in floor space, City Winery is one of New York’s largest restaurants. Originally slated to open in April, but rescheduled for October as a result of COVID-19, the current (truncated) 200-seat indoor capacity will be complemented by another 70 seats on an outdoor deck, overlooking the Hudson, which are likely to prove handy in the era of socially distanced dining. (When pandemic precautions end, however, the facility will be able to host more than 900 people.) But the true specialty of the house is wine: the list of more than 1,000 bottles (from a dozen-plus nations) easily makes the new location the most capacious wine bar in the City.
State Judge Halts Planned Transfer of Homeless Men to FiDi Hotel
In a dramatic reversal of a previous ruling, New York State Supreme Court Justice Debra James on Monday afternoon granted a temporary restraining order barring the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio from implementing its plan to begin moving homeless men into a Financial District hotel—a transfer that was slated to start on Monday.
The last-minute motion, filed on Monday morning by attorney Michael S. Hiller, acting on behalf of the homeless men who were scheduled to be transferred to the Radisson New York Wall Street (located at 52 William Street), argues that planned move “would have a devastating effect on the lives and well-being of the Lucerne Residents.”
The Harbor House Restaurant on Pier A has shut down, with no definite plan to reopen. A spokesman for the Battery Park City Authority says that agency, “is working with all relevant parties to determine a path forward.”
This distress (which predates the restaurant-industry woes triggered by the pandemic coronavirus and the economic slowdown that followed) was highlighted in December, 2018. To read more…
A Lament for Local Luncheonettes
Losses and Closures Mount Among Downtown Dining Spots
A new report from State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli documents the impact of the ongoing pandemic coronavirus on the restaurant industry in Lower Manhattan.
In this report, Mr. DiNapoli finds, there were 1,981 operating restaurants and bars before the pandemic began, which places Lower Manhattan behind only the Chelsea/Clinton/Midtown Business District PUMA area, with 2,661 such establishments. (Together, these two areas account for nearly 40 percent of the City’s restaurant jobs.) To read more…
Quay to Success
Pier 26 Opens with Amenities Galore
The tally of great public spaces in Lower Manhattan has increased by one. Last Wednesday, the Hudson River Park Trust officially opened Pier 26 in Tribeca (near Hubert Street), the product of a decade-plus of planning and construction, and a $37-million budget.
The result is 2.5 acres of woodland forest, coastal grassland, maritime scrub, and a rocky tidal zone—all culminating in a breathtaking view of the Hudson River. Additionally included in the design are a multi-use recreation field and a spacious sunning lawn, as well as boardwalks and seating areas. To read more…
TODAY IN HISTORY
42 BC – Liberators’ civil war: Mark Antony and Octavian decisively defeat Brutus’s army. Brutus commits suicide.
425 – Valentinian III is elevated as Roman emperor at the age of six.
1707 – The First Parliament of Great Britain convenes.
1812 – A French general begins a conspiracy to overthrow Napoleon, claiming that the Emperor died in Russia.
1906 – Alberto Santos-Dumont flies an airplane in the first heavier-than-air flight in Europe.
1958 – Canada’s Springhill mining disaster kills seventy-five miners, while ninety-nine others are rescued.
1973 – Watergate scandal: President Nixon agrees to turn over subpoenaed audio tapes of his Oval Office conversations.
1983 – Lebanese Civil War: The U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut is hit by a truck bomb, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. A French army barracks in Lebanon is also hit that same morning, killing 58 troops.
2002 – Chechen terrorists seize the House of Culture theater in Moscow and take approximately 700 theater-goers hostage.