Having lived through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s I was delighted to attend a play written by an esteemed playwright and played by a brilliant actor. It was about the most visible, controversial and successful civil rights lawyer of the 20th century, William Kunstler.
The experience far exceeded my expectations and it brought back so many memories.
As I watched Kunstler, played by the talented actor Jeff McCarthy in a powerful and masterful performance, it made me want to share with him my experiences with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), of which the real Kunstler served as a director.
In the mid-1970s, the ACLU defended the Willowbrook Class Action lawsuit of which my daughter Lara was named a plaintiff, and Kunstler’s colleagues were my lawyers.
During the play, I felt like William Kunstler himself was there. It was so surreal.
The play brings us into Kunstler’s life the year he died, 1995. The setting is an auditorium where a seminar for law school students is being held. Kunstler’s there as the guest speaker, but we hear protesters outside ranting against his appearance. He had defended yet another “unpopular” case because his life was devoted to taking cases that gave him a reputation as a radical lawyer and civil rights activist.
His flamboyant, brave style brought him publicity and results for his high profile clients, from icons such as Martin Luther King Jr. to controversial groups such as the Black Panthers and the Chicago Seven. He even defended Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
I loved a quote that Kunstler made: “I enjoy the spotlight, as most humans do, but it’s not my raison d’etre. My purpose is to keep the state from becoming all domineering, all powerful.” What would he think of politics today!
Sadly, the play ends its run on March 13 at the Intimate Theatre, 59 East 59th St. The Off Broadway theater has two additional stages. What a find for a theater lover! For ticket information, call 212-279-4200; tickets for “Kunstler” are $35.
Pure joy from the theatre
I laughed, I cried, I applauded until my hands hurt and stood applauding at the final curtain of “Come From Away.”
After enjoying “Kunstler,” on Sunday, the entertaining musical at the Schoenfeld Theatre written by the husband-and-wife team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein I was blown away.
The show’s story is based on the people who were on the seventy planes coming to America from Europe on the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks but were diverted to Newfoundland when the U.S. government closed all our airspace.
The experience brought together people from all over the world and the few thousand residents who call Newfoundland home.
“Come From Away” shows how the five days together transformed each other’s lives.
The show certainly rings true today with the theme of people brought together unhappily from different cultures at a time of great fear and uncertainty, forced to live together in a strange place. The way Newfoundlanders dealt with the thousands of people who dropped into their backyards is a truly compelling story.
“Come From Away” is a wonderfully choreographed and written show that really captured my attention. There was no intermission, and I didn’t miss it because the story and music were so entertaining. The cast and musicians received a well-earned standing ovation for many minutes.
It’s Broadway at its best, and because it’s in previews, you can get tickets. Try it, and you too will love it!
Sad goodbye to Borough President Helen Marshall
Helen and I bonded when we first met because we had both been teachers in our first lives. She left teaching in 1969 to become the director of the Langston Hughes Library in East Elmhurst, and from there she began her political career.
She served in the State Assembly, then the City Council before being tapped to succeed the extraordinary Claire Shulman as borough president in 2001.
Helen was a gentle, caring mother of two and a wife who adored her engineer husband, Don, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Don would sit with my husband Stu at different events, patiently watching Helen and I both “work” the room. Helen loved people, and they loved her in return.
I can still picture her sitting at the dais during our Power Women in Business and Kings of Queens events. She took pride and joy in the honorees and was a totally genuine person who cared about people.
Her success was built around having superb staff. Alex Rosa was her right-hand person at Borough Hall, who made it possible for Helen to complete many of the projects that her predecessor Shulman had started.
Last year, Marshall’s children helped celebrate the official opening of the Helen Marshall Cultural Center at Queens Borough Hall. Marshall herself had funded the center’s construction, and it was fittingly named in her honor.
May she rest in peace beside her beloved Donald.