Ever since the Steiny Road Poet had the good fortune to attend the outstanding July 8th, 2016, reading in New York City of Maxine
Kern’s Red Emma, a new play about the anarchist Emma Goldman, Steiny has been asking herself why Goldman (1869-1940), a contemporary of Stein’s (1874-1946),
was making Steiny think of Trump in the context of Gertrude Stein’s conservative political beliefs.
Red Emma is the life story of the activist Emma Goldman as bookended by the violence and loss of the Haymarket riot in Chicago. Goldman was the child of Jewish Orthodox parents. She was born in Kovno (part of the Russian Empire but now is in Lithuania). She immigrated to the United States in 1885 and became an anarchist in the spring of 1886 after a peaceful demonstration by workers asking for an eight-hour day was bombed. Killed were seven police officers and four civilians with many others wounded at Haymarket Square in Chicago. Her activism on such issues as the draft and birth control landed her in prison until she was finally deported to the Soviet Union in December 1919. She died in Toronto, Canada, and was buried near the Haymarket anarchists in Chicago.
Enjoying a sold out house (some people were turned away for lack of seats), Red Emma was an entry in the Planet Connections Festivity sponsored by a group that promotes themselves as “theater for a cause.” Produced by Parity Productions in The Paradise Factory of Manhattan’s lower east side, Red Emma was directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser who chose a cast of exceptional equity actors, including Jane Ives who played Emma. While the black box theater presented its challenges for staging and accommodating an overflow audience of 80 people, Villar-Hauser and her stage manager Carolina Arboleda, with little time for rehearsals, more than successfully accomplished a seamless flow of action from the birthing screams (Emma’s mother) and infant cries (Emma) to the quiet sad exchange between the ghosts of Emma’s proletariat lover Sasha (Tony Naumovski) and Emma. The end of the play brought tears to Steiny’s eyes.
Because Steiny was able to read the script in advance of the performance, she was fully aware that this untested play could
have benefited from some minor adjustments and cuts. The cast of five (other actors were Brian Richardson, Richarda Abrams,
and Cynthia Enfield), all of whom except Ives, played multiple roles without a single hiccough. What was remarkable about the
production was that in the masterful hands of these players, particularly Jane Ives, the text that seemed flat on the page and
a bit ponderous, was infused with energy and meaningful life from the moment the performance began.
While Steiny’s seatmate suggested that play could be a radio play with a little challenge on how to effectively communicate
the offstage voices of such characters as the newspaper boy, a telephone interview on July 12 with the playwright revealed that
in a more ambitious staging of this work, video projections would interplay between Emma Goldman’s period of time and
current day news. Wow, Steiny said to herself, she wasn’t wrong to make the connection to the current political scene that
includes Donald Trump. The following run of dialogue in Scene 2 is what made Steiny think of the 2016 political situation.
I was a bad girl. I left my angry Papa.
When I got to America, I saw men in uniforms and thought they were like the soldiers of the Czar. I was told that they
were called policemen and were meant to protect the people.
Mr. Policeman, there are people lying on the street with no home or food. They may be dying. Please help.
We see them. The mayor has a plan to deal with homeless, vagrants. Go on your way.
News boys chorus
A bomb thrown into a labor rally in Haymarket Square, Chicago. Policemen and civilians killed.
Eight Anarchists, who spoke against the ills of industry, capitalism and government, were arrested. They were tried and 6 were executed.
Didn’t that only happen under the Russian Czar?
The “Anarchists”called it ”Black Friday”. November 7th,
1887, the date of my third revolution I became an Anarchist.
Papa and Mama immigrated to America. Pogroms against all Jews were now officially supported by the new Czar, for
Papa, life in Russia, became “bad for business”.
At 16, some girls polish their nails and curl their hair. I looked for my anarchist boyfriend.
Steiny will pause here to discuss anarchist because Goldman was not a by-the-book anarchist though she was branded as one.
According to dictionary.com, an anarchist is “a person who seeks to overturn by violence all constituted forms and institutions of
society and government with no purpose of establishing any other system of order in the place of that destroyed.” While
Goldman conspired in 1892 with her lover Alexander Berkman (Sasha) to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, the Homestead steel
plant factory manager, in relation to problems steel workers were striking over, only Berkman tried to carry out the plan by
shooting Frick. Frick didn’t die and Berkman was tried and convicted for this act. Social justice was what Goldman was after
and that certainly is not the ken of an anarchist.
What Stein and Goldman have in common is that they both came from Jewish Orthodox backgrounds but were assimilated Jews.
Both had Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) dossiers though it is unclear why the FBI was interested in Stein. Both were
strong women with a public presence related to speaking events though Stein was a petrified public speaker. While Goldman was
a social revolutionary, Stein was a literary revolutionary with oddly conservative political beliefs that emphasized the American pioneer. And no, Stein and Goldman never met.
This brings Steiny to Trump who attracts anarchists and political conservatives who would curtail government.
Red Emma is a play to watch for. Maxine Kern said she hopes to have college and university theaters take it on for expansion and
proliferation. Again, the Steiny Road Poet feels privileged to have seen it.