Last night, I went to the theatre. I saw Daniel Fish’s recent Broadway revival of Oklahoma! I attended the play for two reasons: In seventh grade—Good God, the 7th Grade!—my very progressive junior high school music teacher directed a G-rated version of the show (my experience last night reminded me just how G-rated the production was). I played the part of Will Parker and my real-life girlfriend at the time played Ado Annie, Will’s love interest in the play. So, I guess it’s understandable that I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this show.
Secondly, I heard that Fish intended, without changing a single line of dialogue, to expose some of the underbelly of contemporary America with this production (see Frank Rich’s brilliantly thoughtful review of this aspect of the current revival here). I was curious to see how its staging and techniques, its integration of breathtaking contemporary dance, its innovative musical arrangements and video technology accomplished this feat. It did not disappoint.
One striking aspect was that the character of Ado Annie, the flirtatious girl who “cain’t say no” was played by Ali Stroker, the first actress to appear on the Broadway stage who uses a wheelchair for mobility. Stroker’s character is both funny and—if you read between the lines, especially in the age of #Metoo—tragic. Her performance is electric. Her real-life struggle to get to the Broadway stage is remarkable and her intentional effort to open the Broadway stage to inclusivity is inspirational. Her story represents the best of what America is all about.
While Ali Stroker was striking a blow for inclusivity on the Great White Way, another real-life drama was unfolding in the not-so-great White House. Tricia Newbold, an eighteen-year government employee, was blowing the whistle on Trump administration officials who were overturning national security professionals’ recommendations to deny security clearances to more than 25 political appointees.
The act of whistle blowing at that level is courageous on its own; but Trica Newbold is a dwarf and, in addition to summoning the necessary courage for her actions, she has endured repeated harassment by her superiors who stored reports necessary for her work on shelves too high for her to reach. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe on April 3, commentator Mike Barnicle asked the rhetorical question: “Who are these people” who would stoop to such petty and humiliating tactics to keep Ms. Newbold from her duty to defend the security interests of the US?
These two experiences stand in stark contrast and serve as a lesson for us all. In both cases, brave young women overcome what some in power consider to be limitations and serve their country in ways that are both symbolic and actual. In the case of Ms. Stroker, she is rewarded with a standing ovation. In the case of Ms. Newbold, she is harassed in humiliating fashion and put on leave without pay. Which incident better expresses our aspirations as a country?
Last week, in my post Returning to Pakistan, I shared the news about continuing UPIC (the US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium) under the auspices of Seton Hall University and announced the launch of a new website. I asked for your support of this venture though our crowdsourcing page as we continue to build bridges of peace and understanding between our two countries. You responded magnificently! We raised almost $6,500. Thank you. Thank you. There is, of course, a lot more to do, but in just one week, we are more than 30% towards our goal for this site. If you have not yet contributed, I invite you to join us and give generously. Stay tuned for updates as we move toward returning to Pakistan in October.