Tom Stoppard’s Latest Play Is an Angry Masterpiece about Anti-Semitism

Nov. 21 2022

Best known to American audiences as the screenwriter of Shakespeare in Love, the celebrated British playwright Tom Stoppard was eighty-three when his most recent work premiered on London’s West End. Leopoldstadt tells the story of an extended Viennese Jewish family, and its members’ various Gentile spouses, during the first half of the 20th century. Jonathan Leaf reviews the play, which recently made its Broadway debut, praising it as a “remarkable drama.”

Leopoldstadt is a triumph of the playwriting art. It’s also a triumph of marketing. That’s because its advertising and publicity campaign has sold the public on the idea that it’s a multigenerational saga.

It is that, but only secondarily. To a much greater degree, it’s a ferociously angry Holocaust drama. . . . Although Leopoldstadt has moments of levity and even a brief bit of farce, it is darker and grimmer than past efforts to depict the Shoah such as Schindler’s List and Europa, Europa. Stoppard has said that he thinks the word play should convey the spirit of a stage presentation; a night at the theater ought to be fanciful and fun. But Leopoldstadt is as lighthearted as a sermon by Jonathan Edwards and as relaxed as a vacation to Putin’s Moscow.

The music foreshadows the dire fates due to befall but a few of those present. This hellishness will be visited not only upon the adults but also the children. One of these, fascinated as he is by soldiering, will die in the First World War. Another returns as a one-eyed amputee. Much worse, however, is to come, and in an epilogue set in 1955 we learn the despairing ends of those with whom we have just spent the past two-plus hours. In between, we see [one older family member] being humiliated by a scornful fin-de-siècle dragoon and Nazi officials forcing the various family members to kneel and beg that they may be permitted to go on a little longer before they are shipped off to Auschwitz in cattle cars.

The play’s title refers to Vienna’s old Jewish ghetto—Leopoldstadt—and the suggestion is that the ease and comfort its deracinated characters think they have attained outside it is illusory. They are no freer outside and in greater danger.

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Read more at Acton Institute

More about: Anti-Semitism, Austrian Jewry, Holocaust, Theater

 

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship