Last weekend a dear friend invited me to attend the play, Cabaret, with a group of friends. While I am far from being a sophisticated connoisseur of the theatre, I do enjoy a good story. Moreover, this particular play, Cabaret, by Christopher Isherwood, really speaks to me in the ever-increasing irrationality that is our world today. Although I would never claim to be a film critic, I would be remiss not to mention that director, Derek Whitener did a superlative job. The cast were all professionals and although I expected it to be good, I didn’t expect the story to grab me emotionally and not let go. As a writer and a freedom activist, I consume far more of the tragedies and insanity that embody the daily news cycle. The talented cast of musicians and actors flawlessly executed a story arch that took the characters and audience alike from a world of escapism that was the late 1920’s into pre-war Berlin on the verge of embracing Adolf Hitler’s militant fanaticism. Not only did individual characters grow and change along with the times, emotionally, I found myself grieving for the Berliners from eighty-five years ago as they lived through the event’s first hand.
The Cast really did a wonderful job, but in particular I was impacted by a few characters in particular. Emcee, played by Mikey Abrams was the central figure in the story and as such, it fell to him to carry the story from scene to scene. I found him to be creepy, funny, frightening, and the end of the story tragic as events washed over him. Mr. Abrams is clearly a talented young man. Lindsay Hayward played an older woman, Fräulein Kost, who simply wanted to hold on to the world she knew. Like many Americans today, she was too afraid to risk what little she had to really live her life. In a sense, she was a prisoner of her own reality bias. How many of us simply refuse to accept the truth before us when that truth implies that everything we hold dear may likely be lost. Finally, Sally Bowles, portrayed by an immensely talented Rachael Robertson, and her on-stage love interest, Clifford Bradshaw played by Billy Betsill depicted the quintessential questions we face today. What impacted me was most was the raw emotional surrounding the decisions faced by the couple as they did their best to cope as society fragmented around them. Several days later and I still find myself reliving a gut-wrenching scene when Sally Bowles is devastated by events, and like so many of our neighbors, family and friends, she simply refused to accept that profound darkness was descending upon them. For his part, Billy Betsill did a great job expressing his frustration at being unable to get those around him to realize what was coming.
They say that history repeats itself. Stories like Cabaret illustrate that in spades. Director, Derek Whitener really did a wonderful job bringing those truths out in a way that emotionally connected with the audience. I often say that art is the way to reach people. This kind of story can inspire Americans to wake up to the abuses we are seeing by elites in Washington DC, even if only subconsciously.
The story is set in late 1929 – early 1930, only a few short years prior to the event which literally lit the fuse to full scale totalitarian rule in Germany. After the February 1933 Reichstag Fire, Hitler eviscerated freedom of the press, requiring all news to be approved by Joseph Goebbels’ Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Goebbels aim was to ensure that the Nazi message was successfully communicated through art, music, theater, films, books, radio, educational materials, as well as the press. In today’s world we have leaders from both political parties working very hard to erode free speech in America with bills like the “Free Flow of Information Act” designed to give political leaders the authority to decide who may cover them and what can be said near an election. In our America of 2014, how important would you say pleasure seeking is to the average citizen? Obviously there are millions of concerned citizens from all political perspectives, but we have all cringed as we watched late shows doing so-called man on the street interviews. Entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel asking people what they thought of the president’s State of the Union Speech, before it happened, and actually getting answers from people is really funny, but at the same time, tragic. In Cabaret, Clifford Bradshaw has a great moment, where in frustration he asks the Sally if she ever read a newspaper. The truth is that like the characters in the play, too many Americans just want to tune out and leave politics to the politicians. There are always so-called experts with impeccable credentials more than willing to tell us what must be done.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with entertainment, how like Sally Bowles are so many of our neighbors, so unconcerned with the real issues of the day. After a hard day at work who could blame us for just wanting a little diversion. The riots in Ferguson give us a hint at the underlying tension and division in the country. Our Elections from this past century reflect this division. The vitriol in the country continues to increase every year. Political leaders will say and do almost anything to win. Like Sally Bowles, Many Americans choose to be ignorant of the tough issues of our day. The last two presidents have borrowed and spent vastly more money than all previous presidents combined. While ISIS establishes a Caliphate in the Middle East, we have a border crisis with tens of thousands of people pouring into our country illegally, government abuses of our Bill of Rights, and the militarization of the police go unnoticed as emotionally detached citizens sit in front of their favorite television shows. In a word, so many of our neighbors, family, and coworkers simply don’t care. Life is a Cabaret, after all. Leaders in both parties realize we no longer have a stake in defending our own freedom. They know full well how easy it is to manipulate a witless population into promoting their agenda by convincing us to turn on each other, Republican versus Democrat, black against white, or men against women. Where will our apathy lead? Sadly, as Clifford noticed in the play, apathy inevitably takes us to where it always takes us, into a period of profound darkness. The question is, are Americans like Fräulein Kost, fatalistic with good hearts, but unwilling to stand up for what we know is right? Are we willing to look past the hyped up, or even manufactured differences, with our neighbors to seek common ground with our neighbors? Are we willing to live like men and women determined to be free!