May 27th, 2005


Atheism + Women's Rights in Bangladesh

Wednesday's SV Atheists meeting featured another interesting talk, this time a woman from Bangladesh who has lived in the US for 25 years was talking about Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi woman physician/writer whose strong and public women's rights campaigning and writing caused such an uproar she was forced to flee the country. The speaker, Masuma Ahmed, was raised as an atheist and women's rights advocate.

One interesting point she made is she doesn't believe it's religion which determines the level of women's rights, it's the culture. Bangladesh does not have a state religion, but the culture enforces the rules which keep women down. That those rules are based on what we see in Islamic fundamentalist countries, she said, is not because of Islam but because that's what the men in power propagate.

As a member of a wealthy, educated, non-Islamic family, Masuma said Taslima's writings don't really impact her very much. Taslima is writing from having been in a more middle-class, observant Islamic family. Masuma seems very comfortable in the US, while Taslima, who lives in Sweden, makes frequent trips to Calcutta, and has tried to get India to allow her to move to a part of India near Bangladesh.

When asked how come women's rights don't get more mileage in Bangladesh, considering their current PM is a woman, and the PM though the late 80's and early 90's was also a woman, Masuma said the government is a puppet, its funding comes from fundamentalist Islamic countries.

Yes, I'm an atheist, but no, I'm not a member of any group. I'll attend any talk which looks interesting, is at a convenient time and place, and free.
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Crazy Poets Society

The Psychic Life of Savages by Amy Freed is the current offering at the Pear Ave Theater in Mountain view. Mostly well-acted, the play itself is an attempt to make the incomprehensible understandable.

It's about a handful of modern poets who are, each and every one of them, clinically insane. And what's more, they hang out together and feed each other's insanity and push each other's hair trigger buttons. This is a work of fiction, but based on the lives of actual people. In the play, real-life poet Anne Sexton is called Anne Bittenhand, Ted Hughes is Ted Magus, Robert Lowell is Robert Stoner and Sylvia Plath is Sylvia Fluellen. Amily Dickenson appears as a vision - Fluellen in channeling her, sort of.

Anne is an aging alcoholic pill-popper. Ted is a full-of-himself poetry professor who routinely seduces his female students. Robert is a retired Poet Laureate of the United States with severe bipolar disorder. Sylvia likes to cut herself - she gets off on pain, and it inspires her to write and have visions. Early in the play, Macho Ted is seduced by masochist Sylvia and they are married.

I missed a lot by not being familiar with any of these poets' works. You can tell the playwright is doing heavy-duty parody here, poems fly out of their mouths as often as normal conversation. More. And in four distinctive styles. Five, counting Emily.

It's an extremely difficult play to perform, what with all the verse and highly charged emotions and mood swings. The cast is mostly up to the task. Diane Tasca had it easiest as Anne, who hardly ever spouts any verse, and has the very common afflictions of pills, alcohol and infidelity. It's not an easy role, just not as difficult as the others. Kevin J. Kelly is superb as Ted, the poster child for the macho man whose verse rips off Native American earth-mother soar-with-eagles imagery. Equity Actress Jennifer Erdmann is amazing as Sylvia, whom we first see silent, wheeled into Anne's ward in the loony bin (Anne's phrase, not mine). Sylvia is sometimes silent, sometimes fierce, sometimes powerful and sometimes lost. She's both the ultimate domestic wife and the hellion, usually within 60 seconds of each other. Tom Ammon, who played Robert, was given the toughest role, going from tears to mania and back again in a single sentence, all the time with a self-esteem somewhere in the gutter. He's not quite up to the role. Not many actors are. Some of it I blame on the script, which exaggerates the hell out of the nature of bipolarism. But it is set in the early days of lithium treatment, and mentions insulin shock therapy so...

It's not that Ammon does a poor job, far from it, he just wasn't as believable to me, as someone who used to date a bipolar person who sometimes forgot to take her meds.

The supporting cast is good too. Troy Johnson opens the show as a radio talk show host, and rotates that with being an orderly, a female student in Ted's class (the blonde wig didn't match his beard), Anne's husband and a party guest. Patricia Tyler, who co-produced the show with Tasca, plays Emily Dickenson's ghost, and Robert's wife. And Amy Provenzano, who may be a recent inmate of the State Home for the Terminally Cute, was adorable as a loony bin inmate, one of Ted's students, Anne's daughter and a party guest. Stoner and Tasca also fill in as students (whom we only see from the back in all but their last scene).

Savages runs Thurs-Sun through June 5.
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