Posts Tagged Communist Party

Call Mr Robeson


Robeson: a complex man

Spotlites (Venue 278)
Aug 23, 25, 27
1 hour 20 minutes

Dirt & Candy described this show as: “A brilliantly put together history lesson delivered as art.”

Tayo Aluko who plays Robeson certainly informs us about the famous US Communist and Civil Rights campaigner who was also internationally acclaimed as an entertainer. Like Robeson himself this show entertains and informs.

Call Mr Robeson depicts a complex man. A man who loved his wife Essie but conducted numerous affairs. A man who sang spirituals in churches but was a Communist. A man of incredible intelligence who was fooled by the lure of Soviet Communism under Stalin. Someone who sang songs (including Ol’ Man River with use of the ‘N-word’) and acted in films (Ilike Sanders of the River) with politically questionable lyrics and assumptions but used the fame these gave him to construct a platform to condemn the very same.

For me his attraction to Stalinism is the most difficult thing to reconcile with his many fine qualities. As late as April 1953, shortly after Joseph Stalin’s death he wrote a eulogy entitled To You Beloved Comrade for the New World Review, in which he praised Stalin’s “deep humanity,” “wise understanding,” and dedication to peaceful co-existence with all peoples of the world calling him “wise and good”. There is little evidence that he ever revised his view of either the Soviet Union or Stalin.

The show takes us through his life using framed pictures of loved ones as props on a set with Soviet, International Brigade, Welsh, US and British flags.

Robeson was a talented man, a professional footballer, an accomplished orator, a lawyer and a singer and actor. He was deeply influenced and guided by his father (at one time a slave who becae a Pastor). Yet this remarkable man was born into a country where he would often be judged not on his ability or character but the colour of his skin.

Aluko plays Robeson engagingly in a conversational style punctuated by renditions of songs like Old Man River and The Battle of Jericho. Robeson faces many trials and tribulations because of his sincerely held beliefs. His income fell dramatically as a result of cancelled contracts and bookings on account of his outspoken opinions. He suffered FBI surveillance and harassment and had travel restrictions placed on him. His right to travel was only finally restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles. We should recall, however, that dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time were treated somewhat more harshly!

Robeson was a man who seldom backed down. When he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee he was defiant. He refused to sign an affidavit affirming he was not a Communist instead taking the fifth  (the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution giving the right to not incriminate yourself). He also gave them an ear-bashing!

The songs are great and although Aluko is, I think, a baritone and Robeson a bass he does a fine job of performing them. I particularly liked his performance of the Battle of Jericho (which I remembered fondly from attending services at the Meropolitan Tabernacle in London when young).

I really enjoyed the performance from Aluko and learning more about Paul Robeson. It was great to see this depiction of a strong, intelligent man who, though not without flaws, remained steadfast in his belief (even in the face of adversity) that a better world was possible.

Four Stars
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington


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Who Killed Pablo Neruda? (A Poet’s Journey)


Pablo Neruda

Mystery, poetry and the unknown contents of a white bag spark a young woman’s quest into the life, death and writing of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
Age category: 12+

Quaker Meeting House, Edinburgh
7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, EH1 2HE

Pablo Neruda was to Chile and the Spanish-speaking world what Robert Burns was to the Scots; a national poet with a strong romantic bent; radical politics and a complicated personal life.

This play introduces the great man’s poetry; albeit (for the most part) in its English translation. This play recounts one young American woman’s search to find out more about the life, the mysterious death and the poetry of the Chilean bard.

Neruda had been the Chilean representative in Madrid at the time of the Spanish civil war. He was friendly with the gay Spanish poet Garcia Lorca.  Lorca’s murder by the Francoists led to his political radicalisation.  He became supporter of the Communist Party and lived a life on the run from the Videla regime in the 1940s.

Neruda was a man of great contradictions; he supported Stalin, he was a womaniser, yet he wrote the most wonderful and tender love poetry. This is brought out clearly in this ‘jukebox’ play.

Neruda made many enemies.  He was in hospital suffering from terminal cancer when the Allende government was overthrown in a military coup by General Pinochet  (with covert CIA help) in September 1973.  Within a few days, Neruda was dead. The claim at the time was that he had suffered a heart attack.

For years it was rumoured that he had been poisoned on Pinochet’s orders by a lethal injection given to him by a doctor in the hospital. The results of an autopsy conducted on the poet’s exhumed remains in 2013 were released in June 2015 suggesting that he was infected with a highly toxic bacterium. It looks like Neruda really was murdered.

This production is an affectionate look at the poet; with his imperfections and his sublime verse. The Syracuse University Department of Drama have produced a real gem; a fine introduction to the great man’s work for newcomers and a great reminder of his greatest hits for those who already know and love it.

Reviewed by David Kerr

Four Stars ****

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