Elevate Difference

Reviews by Eleanor J. Bader

Eleanor J. Bader is a Brooklyn, New York-based activist, teacher, and writer. She writes a monthly column about the anti-abortion right-wing--called Stoking Fire--for RHRealityCheck.org. She also contributes to The Brooklyn Rail, ontheissuesmagazine.com, The Progressive, Truthout.org, and other feminist and left-leaning blogs and publications. In addition to compulsive reading and writing, she is a long-distance urban walker, photographer, and movie-goer.

Marie and Bruce (4/8/11)

When I was a kid I used to stay out of sight when my parents fought, fearful that their vitriol would extend to me. But I always listened, eager to understand the conflict. So it is with Marie and Bruce, Wallace Shawn’s look at the most dysfunctional of dysfunctional relationships. The play begins even before a word of dialogue is uttered. As the audience enters the theater, Marie (a furious and pained Marisa Tomei) and Bruce (a disaffected and cool Frank Whaley) are lying on a large, ill-made bed in center stage. He’s asleep.

Spy Garbo (3/6/11)

Sheila Schwartz’s Spy Garbo, an innovative multi-media production, takes place in history’s limbo, the eternal resting place of three prominent twentieth century political players. The first is Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, played by Steven Rattazzi with a perfect mix of pomp, arrogance, and affability.


By the age of nine, Michelle LeBeau has already taken more than a few knocks. Her mom has disappeared—whereabouts unknown—and her dad has unceremoniously dumped her with his aging parents in tiny Deerhorn, Wisconsin and left town. Michelle is Deerhorn's first biracial resident—half Japanese, half white—and she is not allowed to forget it. Her only friends are a loving spaniel and her grandparents, a charismatic retiree named Charlie, and his dutiful wife, Helen.

Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbeans Creating Community

When Tamara Mose Brown had her first child in 2004, she began going to different Brooklyn, New York parks on sunny afternoons. In each, she found dozens of West Indian nannies caring for the babies and toddlers of the largely White middle- and upper-income denizens who lived nearby. Questions about both the nannies' work and the race, class, and gender dynamics of their lives prompted Brown—the Canadian-born daughter of Trinidadian immigrants—to begin spending time with these women. Their conversations were eye-opening. For one, Brown came to realize the centrality of paid childcare to U.S.

Teacher at Point Blank: Confronting Sexuality, Violence, and Secrets in a Suburban School

When Jo Scott-Coe began teaching in the same suburban California high school she’d graduated from four years earlier, she had to overcome her reluctance to call former teachers by their first names. Once that was accomplished, she set out to bring new life to the literature and writing classes she was assigned. In seventeen essays Scott-Coe lays bare the disappointments and frustrations that marred her eleven years in the classroom.

An American Radical: Political Prisoner in My Own Country

Twenty-seven years ago, activists Susan Rosenberg and Timothy Blunk were caught transporting explosives to a New Jersey storage facility. Although the pair had no immediate plans to use the incendiary materials, they—and their comrades in the May 19 Communist Party—were stockpiling them for a revolution they believed was imminent. Rosenberg’s searing memoir, An American Radical—a chronicle of sixteen years spent in four U.S.

A World Apart (2/4/2011)

As Susan Mosakowski’s A World Apart opens, Mother Augustina, an abbess in a Cistercian monastery, is deeply engrossed in reading a religious text. Once interrupted, she explains that she is searching for answers to a host of troubling questions. Doubts about all kinds of things have begun to creep in, she says. Take the issue of heaven and hell. Common assumptions posit one above and the other below us.

Blood From A Stone (1/22/2011)

Tommy Nohilly’s first play, Blood From A Stone, treads the familiar terrain of family dysfunction, zeroing in on the return of oldest son Travis [played with anguished complexity by Ethan Hawke] to the family’s ramshackle Connecticut home. What exactly ails this prodigal child is a mystery. We know that he is jobless, broke, single, and addicted to pain killers, but the demons that hover near him are never fully revealed. At first, the reasons he’s returned home are also unclear. Is he looking for solace? Hoping for a financial handout?

Baby Universe (A Puppet Odyssey)

Baby Universe, a one-hour, adult-themed puppet show, begins with a DJ from Apocalypse Radio announcing to the audience that he is ”broadcasting live from the darkest corner of the bunkers.” His tone conveys urgency as he reports that the program will include an interview with one of the last people alive. The situation, we’re told, is grim: “These are the last days. Nothing can keep death from us. The plants are scorched, the animals blistered…The seas? What seas…?


Tom Stoppard’s 1988 espionage thriller, Hapgood, addresses the insanity of the Cold War by zooming in on a band of British spies. Alongside the CIA, the group engages in crosses and double-crosses, the end result being little more than a game of chicken. Led by Mrs. Elizabeth Hapgood, AKA Betty, AKA Mother--played by actor Elise Stone with a perfect mix of sass and sadness—the reconnaissance team’s efforts are a showcase for three distinct plot lines: The juggling of employment and child rearing responsibilities for single mothers; the temptation of forbidden love; and the competitive race for scientific knowledge between the “free world” and the Communist bloc. While the first two themes are presented with straightforward punch, the latter is muddled, perhaps emblematic of the Cold War itself. As Hapgood says near the denouement of the play, “It’s them or us. We’re keeping each other in business. We should send each other Christmas cards.”

Raging Grannies: The Action League

If you’ve been to a demonstration during the last two decades you’ve likely seen them: Bold, sassy, elders calling themselves The Raging Grannies. Mixing street theatre with costuming, their zany hats, political buttons, and boisterous, if often off-key, singing sets them apart from other protesters. They’re fun—and they defy stereotypes about what old women can and should be doing.

A Man’s A Man

If playwright Bertolt Brecht were alive today, he’d likely blanch at the contemporary tendency to seek common ground with those whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one’s own. His dozens of plays speak truth to power in daring, direct language and, while farce and sarcasm are employed, his repeated denunciations of colonialism, war, and militarism are boldly presented. A Man’s a Man (sometimes called Man Equals Man) was first staged in Dusseldorf and Darmstadt, Germany in 1926. Eighty-four years later, The Phoenix Theatre Ensemble’s beautifully-presented staged reading of the play is so relevant that the audience quickly forgets the age of the work.

Perfect Harmony

At the start of Perfect Harmony, a narrator tells the audience that the Acafellas, an all-male acapella singing group, have won the last eighteen high school singing competitions. What’s more, we’re told that they were the inspiration for “that show.” Like Glee, Perfect Harmony celebrates dorkiness, this time in an elite private high school. Five male songsters—two of them grandsons of the Acafellas’ founders—are itching for their nineteenth win. The obstacle?

Going Away Shoes

The protagonists of Jill McCorkle’s exciting collection of stories, Going Away Shoes, are middle-aged heterosexuals deep in the doldrums of life’s disappointments. Whether because of a stalled career, a divorce, a death, or simply the exhaustion born of juggling family, work and social obligations, these are women who’ve been battered by everyday tragedies and everyday pressures.


Phillippe Lioret’s award-winning film, Welcome, zooms in on the anti-Muslim attitudes now gripping much of the Western world. The result is compelling, poignant, and profoundly tragic. At the center of the story is Bilal (Firat Ayverdi), a seventeen-year-old Iraqi Kurd who has somehow traveled to Calais, a small city on the northern coast of France.

The Two Horses of Genghis Khan

When actor Urna Chahar-Tugchi was growing up, her grandmother showed her the hand-carved neck of an ancient violin—all that was left of a precious family heirloom. On it were a few words from a once-popular song called "The Two Horses of Genghis Khan." "No other song touches the soul of the Mongolian people like this one," Chahar-Tugchi says in Davaa Byambasuren’s powerful documentary, a tribute to cultural legacies called The Two Horses of Genghis Khan.

Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County

Orange County, California is known for both wealth and political conservatism. In fact, the most recent American Community Survey reports that the largely Caucasian locale boasts a median household income of $81,260. But as filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi’s latest documentary, Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County, demonstrates, more than ten percent of OC residents live below the poverty line.

Meredith Monk: Inner Voice

Dutch Filmmaker Babeth VanLoo’s compelling tribute to sixty-seven-year-old choreographer-musician-teacher-composer-artist Meredith Monk does many things. In addition to introducing us to this enigmatic Jane of many trades, it showcases the artist’s creative processes and worldview. Along the way, it looks at the ways Buddhism has infused Monk’s work. “Silence is her source,” VanLoo explains. The engrossing eighty-two-minute film includes footage of Monk performing, writing, and living in both upstate New York and New Mexico.

Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires

Approximately 900 years ago, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides wrote a book, called the Mishneh Torah, that acknowledged the presence of women “who rub against each other.” His advice to the tract’s male readers was clear: Keep your wives away from them. Sadly, it is one of the only Hebraic texts in which the existence of lesbians is acknowledged. Kabakov’s collection of fourteen personal and scholarly essays not only acknowledges Jewish dykes, it argues that as long as Orthodox Judaism exists, there will be Orthodox LGBTQ people.

Prophecy (6/6/2010)

Forty years ago, Edwin Starr’s “War” was a Billboard Top 100 hit, an explicit denunciation of armed conflict. “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing,” he trilled. Karen Malpede’s Prophecy takes this sentiment as her starting point. Her latest play, an ambitious, layered look at the damage wrought by centuries of strife on the battlefield—and in the personal relationships that ensue once military action is over—is bold and dramatic. It’s also shrill. Numerous stories unfold simultaneously.

Nothing Out Loud

Alejandra O’Leary has released an album of high-quality, well-articulated, catchy pop songs that plumb the depths and the banalities of modern life. Influenced by 1960s British compositions and production, the record is wonderfully warm and the songs are well arranged with fleshed out, but never overdone, instrumentation. The album begins with the pop-perfect tumult of “Ever After,” “Love I Been In,” and “Tremor.” The lyrics crackle with accessible Ivy League intelligence and innuendo. Sleepless nights and frustrated affairs never sounded so good.

MILK (5/1/2010)

Emily DeVoti’s provocative two-act play, MILK, opens in a spare farmhouse kitchen. It’s 1984. Ronald Reagan has just been elected US president and local newscasters seem to have nothing good to report. Meg (played by Jordan Baker), a former mathematician who loves precision and order, and her husband Ben (Jon Krupp), a former investigative reporter, are sitting at the table and talking, but it’s the kind of tense conversation that can quickly turn from controlled anger to fierce argument. Things are bad, very bad.

Come Hell or High Water: A Handbook on Collective Process Gone Awry

Mahatma Gandhi famously urged his followers to “be the change you want to see in the world.” It sounds so simple: Be kind, listen well, mediate conflicts, and treat all living things with respect.

Conversate Is Not A Word: Getting Away From Ghetto

I admit it: I bristle when my students talk about conversating. At the same time, I try to catch myself, remembering that decades back no one spoke of googling or used the word text as a verb either. Language, like social mores, constantly changes. African American author, provocateur, blogger, and lawyer Jam Donaldson understands this, and her message is simple: Everyone, but especially people of color, needs to know the difference between slang and proper grammar, and everyone needs to take responsibility for the things they can control.

Dispatches from the Abortion Wars: The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us

Maybe I’m wrong, but in my understanding of war, combatants will do whatever it takes to destroy the opposing side. And that’s not what has happened in the conflict over abortion. Instead, one side, the anti-abortionists—from the Army of God to the Lambs of Christ, from Operation Save America to The National Right to Life Committee—have organized a multitude of campaigns to stop what they call “the murder of innocents.” Diverse tactics, from the ballot box to the bullet, have been used.

Government Girl: Young and Female in the White House

In the 1940s, thousands of adventurous young women flocked to Washington, DC to take wartime jobs in federal agencies.

Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark

When Septima Clark began teaching in 1919, she quickly learned that good education is very much like community organizing. Both start by identifying pressing needs, involve the affected in formulating solutions, and give them a stake in the final outcome.

The Things We Do To Make It Home

When Beverly Gologorsky’s powerfully written and beautiful novel, The Things We Do To Make It Home, was first released in 1999, most U.S. residents weren’t thinking about war. The Vietnam conflict had ended decades earlier, the Cold War was over, and for at least a fraction of a minute, world peace seemed possible. Then 9-11 happened, and a world without armed conflict became the stuff of pipe dreams. In short order the U.S.

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

Ask people to picture the Great Depression of the 1930s, and they’ll likely envision bread lines, rural poverty, and ragged families trying to hold destitution at bay. One photo, of a tired-looking woman, personifies the crisis. Called Migrant Mother, it depicts a worried female, hand on chin, looking into the distance as two cowering toddlers curl into her body. Taken by Dorothea Lange, the chillingly beautiful, if austere, photo has been used for nearly eighty years to illustrate the personal toll of economic troubles.

Girldrive: Criss-Crossing America, Redefining Feminism

Fifty years before writer Nona Willis Aronowitz and photographer Emma Bee Bernstein set out on a months-long journey to hear what young U.S. women had to say about feminism, gender, and social inequities, Jack Kerouac’ iconic road trip narrative, On The Road, hit the shelves.