Thursday, September 17, 2009


Terrific article by Jo Glanville in the Guardian today about Samuel Beckett and Vaclav Havel trading plays during Havel's incarceration in the early 1980s. Beckett's play, Catastrophe, was answered by Havel's Mistake.

The article is short enough that it needs no summary here. This bit, however, I found hilarious and grim -- as any playwright would:

Catastrophe is a short work consisting of one scene, in which a director and his assistant discuss a mute figure they are preparing for a performance: he is a dehumanised character, like a tailor's dummy, at the mercy of their direction; his only gesture of independence is to raise his head at the end of the play – an act of resistance in the face of oppression.

Knowlson recalls Beckett's furious response when a critic described the ending as ambiguous. "I can still remember sitting with him outside a cafe in Paris," he says. The playwright pounded the table and told him: "It's not ambiguous – he's saying, 'You bastards, you haven't finished me yet!'"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll: The Meta Post

So Scott McLemee blogs about Jim Carroll's untimely death here, swiping (with attribution, permission and wild encouragement) a small moment I had with Carroll that I mentioned on Facebook. We've passed some kind of border here -- at least for Balkans via Bohemia.

The junket where I met Carroll was one of the strangest weekends of my life. It was a joint junket for The Basketball Diaries and The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. The movie company put us up in a swanky Upper East Side hotel. (Omar Sharif was hanging around in the lobby, trolling for ladies or a bridge game.) The PR people ruthlessly herded us to the screenings, and then through the in-person interviews with cast members and other people associated with the films.

As a novice at these things, I was frankly appalled at the slippery and toxic combination of cynicism and sycophancy in my alleged journalistic colleagues. They would knife these actors and directors with words behind their backs, while unctuously sucking up to their faces. (Guessing that the same dynamic was at play for the movie folks.)

Anyway, I insulted Hugh Grant by asking him why he made so many costume dramas. ("You mean 'frock flicks?'" he hissed back at me.) I really liked Leo DiCaprio. (The angst about Leo's turn to "gay" roles --both in this film and in Total Eclipse, his next film about the affair between Rimbaud and Verlaine -- was a source of much agita among these critics.) And I bonded with Jim Carroll, who pretty much acted like I was the only person worth talking to at the table.

My tablemates didn't know who Jim Carroll was, really, and thus didn't care. They were busily preparing for Lorraine Bracco's appearance at our table. I never went on another film junket again.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hussein Ibish's New Book: "What's Wrong With the One State Agenda?"

My friend and colleague Hussein Ibish has a new book out: What's Wrong With the One-State Agenda? It's a terrific addition to the intensifying debate on the Middle East peace process, and -- if you read on -- there is also a useful Balkan connection to be made in regards to recent events.

But first to the book, which is Ibish's attempt to nip in the bud what he views as a fallacious and dangerous twist in articulating Palestinian aspirations in the region.

Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. Put simply, he sees the "one-state agenda" as an attempt to elide the considerable difficulties of (a) negotiating an end both to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza and (b) creating two parallel states -- Palestine and Israel -- by simply stating that a single state could encompass all citizens of the disputed region.

He argues that the fantastical nature of the proposal is rooted in its development as "a quintessentially diasporic discourse, largely reflective of the perspectives, imperatives and ambitions of those living outside of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories." The idea has little support among Palestinians in the region, and virtually none in Israel, Ibish observes.

Yet Ibish takes the one-state idea seriously enough to articulate its claims in an intellectual honest manner before demolishing it. In particular, he poses a series of pointed questions to one-state advocates. The first two questions Ibish poses are particularly stinging in their unmasking of the fantastical nature of the single-state agenda:

* "If Israel will not agree to end the occupation, what makes anyone think that it will possibly agree to dissolve itself?"

* "What, as a practical matter, does this vision of a single, democratic state in Israel/Palestine offer to Jewish Israelis?"

The book -- which is a short monograph of 137 pages -- is available for download here. It is well worth the time to read it. The book had its debut at an event hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars last week, and video of the panel discussion on the book that included Ibish, Robert Malley (Middle East and North Africa Program Director of the International Crisis Group) and Aaron David Miller (Wilson Center Public Policy Scholar) will be available here in the next few days.

The discussion was terrific. But it quickly pivoted from the "one-state agenda" -- which all three participants rejected as fantasy -- to the prospects for the only other available option: the two-state solution.

At the panel, Ibish strongly asserted that a recent plan proposed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad -- Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State -- provides the blueprint for moving forward. Fayyad calls upon Palestinians to establish "de facto" institutions of governance, thus creating the necessary facts on the ground that will inevitably lead to recognition as a state. To quote directly from the document, Fayyad says:

... the Palestinian government is struggling determinedly against a hostile occupation regime, employing all of its energies and available resources, most especially the capacities of our people, to complete the process of building institutions of the independent State of Palestine in order to establish a de facto state apparatus within the next two years.

And here is where the Balkan connection comes in. In Kosovo, for nearly a decade after the revocation of the province's autonomy by rump Yugoslavia, Kosovar Albanians created such parallel institutions in nonviolent fashion under the leadership of the late Ibrahim Rugova. The problem with these efforts by the Democratic League of Kosovo was that the effort met with little international support or recognition, especially in the period when the international community was actively soliciting Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's support in ending the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia.

Eventually, frustrations boiled over and an armed Kosovar Albanian force -- the Kosovo Liberation Army -- was created to press the issue of Kosovo's independence.

But the lesson for Palestinians in this is clear: create these parallel institutions proposed by Fayyad and actively press for simultaneous international recognition of these efforts.

(Ibish himself posts his thoughts on the questions raised by the Wilson Center panel about Fayyad's proposal and his answers here.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

1989 and all that.... and Colin Woodard

As the 20th anniversary of the momentous events in Europe of 1989 start to come fast and furious, here is something Balkans via Bohemia regulars will be interested in checking out: My friend and colleague Colin Woodard -- author of three terrific book, Ocean's End, The Lobster Coast, and The Republic of Pirates -- is starting to post his reminiscences of his own travels in the region during the collapse of communism on his blog, World Wide Woodard.

The first post in the series follows Colin as he crosses from Austria into Hungary just at the moment when East Germans were permitted by the Hungarian government to transit through the country and get to West German and other parts of Europe.

Colin also has a story in the Christian Science Monitor today about that momentous event. Lets just say that World Wide Woodard is well worth bookmarking... I've done so in my own preferred links.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Burn Your Bookes: The Sneak Preview Recap

After last night's sneak preview of Burn Your Bookes, the proprietor of Balkans via Bohemia knows how lucky he is.

First... let's take care of business. The link to Taffety Punk Theatre Company's sneak preview -- courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and its Millennium Stage program -- can be found here as a streaming web video. (Running time slightly over 21 minutes.)

And my friend Hussein Ibish posted his immediate reactions to the performance at his own blog. Hussein does a terrific job of weaving together the action of the bit of the play we performed last night with larger historical currents. I am immensely grateful to him.

And while we're on the subject of gratitude, let me send shout outs to my cast -- Daniel Flint (Edward Kelley), Joel David Santner (Muller) and Paul E. Hope (Syrrus) -- and our costume designer Scott L. Hammar and all the Kennedy Center Family Theater staff who coped with a full house.

I am most indebted, however, to Taffety Punk artistic director Marcus Kyd. I gave Marcus the play last spring. He said Taffety Punk was interested in doing it just around this time last year. And at the same time that he gave me that happy news, I signed up to help the Punks with their press relations.

I can say that this has been one of the best decisions that I've made in recent times. Not only because Taffety Punk is doing great work, but because Taffety Punk walks it like it talks it. They say that they want to attract younger and more diverse audiences to theatre -- and Shakespeare at that -- and they do it by keeping ticket prices lower than the movies ($10 or free) and bringing a brash and ebullient approach to everything they do.

Including this sneak preview of my play, of course. We hope to mount the full production in March or April. Stay tuned here.

And while I am on the subject of thanks, I also want scroll back in time and thank the cast and the organizers of the one-act Burn Your Bookes, which won the first Prague Post Playwriting Festival in 2007-- a contest that is now reinventing itself as a production of Prague Playhouse and continuing as strong as ever.

Akiva Zasman, Mark Bowen and Brendan Payne were the first Kelley, Muller and Syrrus. And my director in Prague, Julek Neumann, really put an amazing amount of thought and passion into the play and its first production. I remain very grateful for that experience as well.