Review of ‘Heartland’

In an era of dwindling newspapers, it seems heartless to criticize so valuable a resource as the Montclair Local. You provide much needed coverage for the wonderful events and businesses in our area, and your accolades are well-deserved. And it’s also amazing that you do it with the smallest of staffs!

Thus, it was with dismay that I read Gwen Orel’s review of “Heartland” at Luna Stage, which so misses the mark on this subtle, three-dimensional play. And that’s the true pity — for it deprives Montclair readers of an accurate sense of the play.

Full disclosure: I am author who has collaborated with Ms. Kreith on the dramatic adaptation of my novels, “Watched,” about a Muslim teenager under surveillance, and “Tell Us We’re Home,” about immigrant daughters of maids and nannies. However, Ms. Kreith knows I never hold back on my concerns and criticisms about her productions. I do not write this letter out of blind loyalty, but as a writer and theater-goer who was deeply impressed by this production’s sophistication and ambition.

Of course one can criticize — but a review should address the actual world of the play. Unlike Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” which Orel cites, “Heartland” is not about the sin of financial opportunism. It is about moral grayness — which is how the play should be discussed and understood.

The very premise cited as faulty — that a propaganda textbook created for children in Afghanistan during the Cold War, by a scholar who loves Afghanistan, creates a rift in the family — is a brilliant stroke. During the Cold War, many cultural institutions served as cross-cultural havens while doubling as ‘fronts’ for CIA-State Department political objectives. “Ghost Wars,” the Pulitzer-winning book that meticulously details our well-intentioned entanglement in the region. (Luna Stage also thoughtfully provides context and information in their hall and gallery space.)

That’s why the figure of the professor is so utterly affecting and believable — he is of a generation that thought they were doing good in the region, despite the devastating consequences. The play becomes a piercing generational tale — one in which a daughter discovers a beloved father, who has given himself to Afghanistan, is not all he seemed to be.

The assertion that the play literally links the school attack is inaccurate. The play never asserts this. What the play is suggesting — in the most subtle of ways — is that this propaganda book contributes to the radicalizing of an entire generation — which wound up being the Taliban. All of this comes full circle for the daughter who dares to teach “Anne Frank” — a contraband book in modern-day Afghanistan. Like any good tragedy, this one pits a hot-headed, purist younger generation against an older one steeped in compromises and regret.

Third, and perhaps most offensive, is the assertion that it didn’t “track’” that a Muslim man would fall in love with a non-Muslim. It was disheartening to me that the Montclair Local would publish such a comment, one that is frankly, Islamophobic.

In my view, “Heartland” is the very best play of the Luna season — rich, complex, provocative —a n intricate weave of the personal and the political. There are always criticisms to be had, yes, with all art. But subtle, worldly plays need worldly reviews. Surely your readers deserve this.




Invitation to my garden

I get such pleasure from gardening and my health has improved so dramatically since I’ve been raising most of my family’s vegetables that I will be opening my garden to the public this month while others can still start a productive garden for 2019.

Everyone is welcome to my garden in the backyard at 56 Gordonhurst Ave., Montclair, this Saturday, April 27 from 10 to 11 a.m. There you can see how I have raised vegetables for decades with no power machinery, poisons, or commercial fertilizers. You can also see flowers on a tomato plant, lush Chinese cabbage from which I have been harvesting all winter, and many small plants under cut-off juice bottles that keep away the predators and provide warmth. Abundant garlic that will be harvested in June is descended from one bulb I bought decades ago. Lettuce is starting outside and you can see the winter supply through my kitchen greenhouse window.

Come! It’s fun!




A miracle in this child’s mind

When I was very young while my family lived on Pine Street here in Montclair, I was one of the few children whose family celebrated Christmas, that didn’t attempt to catch Santa in the act of leaving gifts for us. I was afraid I’d scare him off forever.

When my family moved to Cedar Avenue, I was a little older and in the early years of grammar school, it was a different thing, I had my own room.

The Easter Bunny would leave a large hollow chocolate likeness of his or herself on the top of my tall dresser just about four to five feet from my bed.

I was determined to see it being left, so, each year I would take an early nap on Easter Eve so that I could stay awake all night. I believed I would succeed. I’d constantly keep an eye on my dresser except when I’d get uncomfortable with my position, so I’d turn my body a little and quickly turn back to look. Every single time bar none my chocolate bunny was standing high on my dresser.

In this child’s mind it was a wonderful miracle even though I never saw the actual Easter Bunny leave it.

Ah, to be young again with my loving family all around me and them young alive and well.