Bias wasn’t funny at Jacob’s Pillow

Saturday September 1, 2012

I was delighted to be attending my first Jacob’s Pillow performance of "Fraulein Maria" on Aug. 25. In this beautiful setting, a kind of Brigadoon, I felt so at home. Having been a student of dance, I waited eagerly for the performance. What talent demonstrated by the dancers; what creativity on the part of Mr. Elkins and the directors in this production of based on a favorite musical, "The Sound of Music!"

However, at one point, the production went dark. It be came a surrealistic experience for which I was ill prepared and, by which I became deeply saddened. That moment of feeling kicked in the gut came when the Mother Superior character left the line of dancers and positioned herself in the first row of the audience to give "communion," and then in grossly comic movements, proceeded to stuff her mouth with the communion, as if chomping on a burger.

Yes, I understand that hyperbole is a form of satire. Nonetheless how au courant to mock the Catholic faith! Mr. Elkins’ reputation of pushing the envelope and exposing taboo subjects failed him here because in this display he carried the message of many others in the media to marginalize those who are Catholic. Most citizens of the world know that, for Catholics, this moment in the production would have been seen as profane; as mocking a sacred belief. Would this have been even considered with other faiths? How ironic that within a production recalling the unspeakable inhumanities of the Nazi era that I, as a member of the audience should have been targeted, albeit indiscriminately, for a form of bullying, a form of violence.

I am not comparing the fate of the Jews in Germany to present-days Catholics; I am comparing pre-WW II Germany’s slow, determined, little-by-little, incremental methods of marginalizing and de-humanizing one group of people to the kind of display in this production. Remember the malevolently telling cabaret acts in the movie "Cabaret," so brilliantly enacted by Liza Minelli and Joel Grey? At first, there was just a joke at the expense of Jews -- and then things progressed. Last Saturday, as the audience laughed, I was suddenly in that 1930s Cabaret.

So, just one little Catholic woman within an audience felt: "These people don’t want me here," so what? Next season, perhaps, the Pillow might seat all the Catholics in yellow seats in the back of the theater, so we would know where we really stood.




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