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Tzivi’s April ’11 Spotlight

Commemorating Triangle Fire; Books, Music, Plays.

shylock image
F. Murray Abraham as Shylock.

At approximately 4:30pm on March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in lower Manhattan burst into flames. Of the 146 people who died that day, most were young Jewish women, recent immigrants to America. Both of the factory owners were Jewish, and so were many of the labor union leaders (like Rose Schneiderman) and politicians (like Fiorello LaGuardia) who subsequently advocated for workplace reforms in the name of the victims. “A direct genealogical line can be drawn from the fire to the New Deal of the 1930s,” says historian Robert W. Whalen.

Roosevelt University will host a commemorative program on Thursday, April 7. Members of Chicago’s Her Story Theater will perform in a new production of The 9th Floor Door: Blocked Justice of the Triangle Fire written by Artistic Director Mary Bonnett. After the performance, guest speakers will participate in a multidisciplinary panel discussion moderated by Maribeth Anderson (Regional VP of the American Society of Safety Engineers).
Bonnett says her goal is to “emotionally connect [with the victims] on a sensory level.” She wants to “engage a modern audience in a past tragedy, and move them to care about contemporary incidents.”

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. (Students free with current ID.) Registration and refreshments begin at 6pm; the program itself begins at 7pm. For complete information, visit:

PBS has also produced a new episode of their American Experience series timed to the fire’s centennial. To order on DVD visit:

Professor Stephanie Coontz has scheduled a book signing event at KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park at 4pm on Sunday, April 10. After watching her speak about her new book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s on The Colbert Report, I called with some specifically Jewish questions, and Coontz was ready.
“I had about 300 letters [in the Friedan archives] that I had to sort through to do my interviews, and I quickly realized a disproportionate number of the women who wrote to her were Jewish. So yes, I do think my book will be of particular interest to Jewish women.
I think that The Feminine Mystique resonated for them for a couple of different reasons. First of all, I describe the stereotypes of the ‘Smothering Mom’ of that time; now magnify them a hundredfold and you've got the stereotypes of the Jewish mom. Second, a lot of these women grew up in families that really valued education, and were then dumbfounded when their parents refused to send them to graduate school, or they realized that the education they had valued was never going to be useful again after marriage. And she never gave much biographical detail, but as far as I can tell, Friedan also had a third issue that entered in for many Jewish women, and that is the blue-eyed ideal of beauty. I think she felt that very keenly.”
For details, visit:

Tzivi’s CD Collection
I finally caught up with Balkano (one of Chicago’s best homegrown Klezmorim) at a rompin’ stompin’ late night show at Martyr’s in Lincoln Square on March 10. Vocalist Diana Lawrence wailed away on standards like “My Yiddishe Mama,” then composer Bryan Pardo introduced his new freylekh for clarinet, and toes started tapping all around the room.
To purchase Balkano’s CD, visit:

Curtain Call
Going into Broadway in Chicago’s new production of The Merchant of Venice on Opening Night (March 15), I knew my Shakespeare backwards and forwards, but I still left the theatre in tears. According to the playbill, director Darko Tresnjak intends his version to be set in “the near future,” so he surrounds his cast with high tech gadgets like cell phones and computers. What? We’d left the Renaissance behind us and landed on Wall Street, and I was totally convinced!

Unfortunately this production has moved on to Boston and LA, but if you have friends in either city, you should urge them to go. F. Murray Abraham is simply splendid as “Shylock,” and I hope someone records his performance for posterity.

Meanwhile there are several DVD versions already available. I am emphatically not a fan of “the Al Pacino version” (directed by Michael Radford in 2004), so if you want to watch Merchant on DVD, I recommend Trevor Nunn’s 2001 production starring Henry Goodman. To read my review of these DVDs, visit:
Jan Lisa Huttner (Tzivi) is an award-winning Chicago critic/columnist. Visit Jan’s new blog,, for a complete online archive of all JUF News columns plus additional interviews and reviews. Send comments and/or suggestions for future columns to

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