[Originally published in the Star & Wave newspaper on July 2, 2023.]
By Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director
As we approach our Independence Day celebration, I’m reminded of Walt Whitman’s “I hear America singing” as I walk down Cape May’s streets and see houses dressed in bunting and old glory waving in the wind.
Tourists discovered long ago that Cape May is the picture-perfect town to celebrate all things American. Our Victorian architecture provides the quintessential backdrop for “God Bless America,” a song composed by a Jewish immigrant from Siberia born at the end of the 19th century. His name was Irving Berlin.
That American artists across all mediums can express their artistry without censorship is something I give thanks for every day. In the former Soviet Union, the theater had censors and writers’ works had to satisfy the state. Stalin had control over the productions of some of the most cherished writers of all time such as Pushkin and Chekhov. When the Nazis occupied France, playwrights like Jean Anouilh had to hide their political agendas by staging Greek myths with a wink and nod to a knowing audience. He emulated his heroine, Antigone, by “saying no” –just as she had—and escaped to Switzerland until France was liberated.
At Cape May Stage, we have produced plays with allusions to many thought-leaders: Abraham Lincoln (in “Topdog/Underdog”), George W. Bush (in “Red Hot Patriot”), George Washington (in “The Taming”), Texas Governor Ann Richards (in “Ann”), Martin Luther King (in “The Mountaintop”) and a few diplomats in plays like “A Walk in the Woods.” Freedom of speech is a cause to celebrate. We can laud our leaders or make fun of them. That freedom defines what it means to be an American.
Cape May Stage closes our acclaimed production of “Shirley Valentine” on July 2, which explores an entirely different kind of freedom. It’s a poignant play about second chances, and having the courage to change.
We jump into rehearsals for our second show, “Art,” the very next day. Running July 19 to August 27, this play is a French comedy set in Paris that premiered in the “City of Light” nearly three decades ago. It subsequently moved to London, and later, Broadway, winning “Best Play Award” honors in all three markets.
Both France and the U.S. made bids for their freedom that we still celebrate today. Bastille Day on July 14 commemorates the 1789 storming of the Bastille in Paris to free political prisoners held by the French monarchy, setting the stage for the French Revolution. Independence Day on July 4 marks the passage of the United States’ Declaration of Independence in 1776.
All of us at Cape May Stage wish our neighbors and visitors a Happy Independence Day! We are proud to live in a country where our theater can freely present ideas. God bless America.