Meeting of Minds #19 (Part 1 – Smith, Ghandi, Sanger)

Sunday night we went down to the Steve Allen Theatre for the last “Meeting of Minds” at that location. As a reminder, for those unfamilar with Meeting of Minds, it was an innovative PBS program developed by Steve Allen that brought together four (three in the last season) historical figures for a round-table discussion on a variety of topics. Extensively researched, it is both entertaining and educational. These programs were only available for a short time on videotape, and have never been released on DVD. Late in 2009, the good folks at Working Stage productions—in particular, Dan Lauria, Bob Ladendorf and Diana Ljungaeus brought back Meeting of Minds as a staged reading. Their goal is to not only produce these programs in Hollywood, but to perform at colleges, high schools, universitites and other educational or cultural venues, with name actors. With respect to the Hollywood production, they have been on a regular schedule of the third Sunday every month at 7pm at the Steve Allen Theatre; however, they have lost this location as of last night’s show.

Last night’s episode was #19, and featured:

  • Adam Smith (1723-1790) [Ian Buchanan]. Scottish economist and philospher who developed the foundations of classic economics in his book, The Wealth of Nations.
  • Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) [Chacko Vadaketh]. The founder of Modern India, known for his non-violent protest methods.
  • Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) [Barbara Bain]. American Birth Control activist.
  • Steve Allen (1921-2000) [Jack Maxwell]. Writer of more than 50 books, composer of more than 8,500 songs, TV host (invented The Tonight Show as well as Meeting of Minds), actor, comedian, author, rationalist.

One of the first thing you may notice is that we had the same actor as different characters in back-to-back episodes: Ian Buchanan was both Oliver Cromwell and Adam Smith. It is a testiment to Mr. Buchanan’s skills that you didn’t easily realize this: he embodied each with drastically different personalities, voices, and mannerisms. His Adam Smith wasn’t a dry Scottish economist, but you clearly got the sense that this was a man who enjoyed the pub and the fruits of his earnings as well as any Scotsman could. Complementing him were the other actors: Vadaketh’s Ghandi projected a wonderful sense of inner piece and strength, whereas in Bain’s Sanger you could see the activist trying to get out, but having difficulty with the other personalities around the table. Yet again this demonstrated the quality of the actors this production draws, as well as the work of the director, Frank Megna.

Being the first episode of this pair, there was more exposition. We learned about Ghandi’s life, but didn’t have time to go deeply into what lead to his pacifist approach. Rather, we learned more of his attitude towards self restraint and self control, which he felt was more significant than birth control. Sanger, on the other hand, was strongly promoting birth control, including handing out a pamphlet enumerating the seven cases where she felt that birth control was needed: (1) the husband or wife has transmittable diseases (e.g., epilepsy, syphilis, or certain forms of insanity; (2) the wife suffers from afflictions of the lungs, heart, or kidneys if a cure is retarded by pregnancy; (3) parents have subnormal children; (4) husband, wife, or both are teenagers; (5) husband’s earnings are insufficient; (6) births should be spaced two or three years apart for the mother’s health or better care for children; and (7) newlyweds for one year. It is hard to believe those seven cases were controversial, but in her time, they were extremely incendiary. There wasn’t much exploration of Adam Smith’s philosophy, other than to note his background and the fact that he was more than an economist, but also looks into the moral and philosophical issues.

“Meeting of Minds” has been produced monthly by Bob Ladendorf and Diana Ljungaeus for Opening Minds Productions. There is no formal next episode, although an episode will be produces as part of the Secular Humanism Conference in October.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. August 21 brings the last 81 Series production: “Side Man” at REP East. September starts with “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4. The following weekend brings The Glass Menagerie at the Mark Taper Forum on September 11. Pending ticketing is “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 11-October 24, Hottix on sale August 17; potential dates: 9/19, 9/26, or 10/10), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (September 17-October 16; potential date 10/2). The only show currently ticketed in October is “Happy Days: The Musical” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 30, but I’m sure some interesting productions will pop up. They always do.

As always: live theatre is a gift and a unique experience, unlike a movie. It is vitally important in these times that you support your local arts institutions. If you can afford to go to the movies, you can afford to go to theatre. If you need help finding ways, just drop me a note and I’ll teach you some tricks. Lastly, I’ll note that nobody paid me anything to write this review, and that I purchase my own tickets to the shows. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.