The show is straight autobiography. The title, though never explicitly explained, can be reasonably inferred to connote a lifelong tussle with the forces of reaction and bigotry; or, as his mother put it, the battle between two types of people: "nice and not nice."
He begins with the wonderfully observed description of growing up in New Jersey as a gay adolescent and trying to fit into the high school social milieu and follows it with a chronicle of his migration to the University of Denver and his nascent political activism. One of the utterly charming low-tech aspects of the show is Rothenberg, rather than using slide projections, passing around photos of himself at various ages.
Rothenberg's love of theatre led to his becoming a publicist for such memorable Broadway productions as John Gielgud's Ages of Man and Richard Burton's Hamlet. The latter is related as part media circus/part personal insight into how the celebrity deals with his or her own cultural status, with an especially vivid portrait of Elizabeth Taylor's emotional survival mechanisms.
But probably the most intriguing aspect of Rothenberg's life path is his 17-year stewardship of the Fortune Society. The organization's name is taken from the play Fortune and Men's Eyes, which Rothenberg produced and which featured post-performance rap sessions about its subject of life behind bars. As ex-convicts grew to cluster around such performances, he began to grow more and more involved with the real-life issue of how to acclimate these men to life on the outside so as to lessen the likelihood of their return to criminal behavior. The anecdotes he relates are spiritually uplifting without a saccharine trace. The feeling of redemption through hard work and faith is contagious and dramatically involving.
With a political lineage that stretches from civil-rights work with the Congress on Racial Equality (prior to its Roy Innes-led marginalization) to the gay-rights movements of the '70s and '80s, the show could easily have slid into a turgid catalog of liberal causes. It transcends this by showing how the fabric of an individual's life makes up the sum of his or her political vision. This is as true of his views on his run for the New York City Council in 1985 as it is of his characterization of Equity showcases as the scourge of New York theatre. [Full Disclosure: I volunteered on that 1985 campaign. -- JMK]
Indeed, there are so many aspects of life tasted, savored, and mused over in his show and so many philosophical bases covered that the mind tends to swirl a bit. But, eventually, all is anchored to the host's engaging personality.
The show ran a scant hour but felt like it should have run twice that. Several segments of Rothenberg's life are mentioned in passing when they cry out for elaboration, such as his army stint: "the battle of Fort Benning."
Rothenberg does the show on an irregular basis. Look for it in listings at the Mint or listen to his show on 'BAI Saturday mornings from 8:30 to 10:30 to learn when it is coming up.
Copyright 1996 John Michael Koroly
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