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”I was ignorant of the Rosenberg case,“ he says of the time he worked at the Goodman Theater, whose stages are located underground. ”The Second Coming could have been going on upstairs on Michigan Avenue, and I wouldn‘t have been aware of it.“
His interest in the Rosenbergs was awakened by Walter and Miriam Schneir’s 1965 book, Invitation to an Inquest, which inaugurated a national debate about the case that continues to this day.
”In the heavily censored culture of the 1950s, there were people all over New York who would never openly discuss the Rosenberg case,“ Freed remembers, ”but when a play, film or book forced open the closet, then many people rallied to it. The Rosenberg case opened very raw feelings for Jewish people in theater.“
Freed began his writing career with two plays, one about Gandhi and the other about the Rosenbergs. Inquest was first staged in Cleveland in 1969, an event that caught the attention of the Rosenberg trial‘s presiding judge, Irving R. Kaufman. According to Freed, Kaufman alerted his friend J. Edgar Hoover -- whose agents duly opened files on everyone involved in the project, and even stole a copy of the script for analysis.
”The great critics of the American theater are in the FBI,“ Freed says ruefully. ”They are institutional criticism, and they will tell you just how important your work is.“
In 1970, the play moved to New York and starred George Grizzard and Anne Jackson. Freed says strange things began to happen, including the disappearance of a paragraph from Clive Barnes’ New York Times review. By this time, however, Freed had become a pro at spotting the hand of government security agencies in shaping public opinion. His epiphany in this regard can be summed up in one word: Dallas. According to Freed, the Kennedy assassination and its alleged cover-up unleashed ”the great rip tide of disbelief and dissent“ across American campuses that truly launched the radicalization of its youth.
”The psychological effect of the shock of the murder of the president in the street,“ he says, ”was compounded by the transparent denial that there was a conspiracy. It was right before your eyes, and the campuses became electrified.“ Soon, Freed joined not only the growing number of ordinary citizens who doubted the Warren Commission‘s conclusions, but the small corps of professional skeptics grouped around Mark Lane and New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. He remembers that exciting time as though it were yesterday: ”You were watching films, listening to tapes, reading transcripts, looking at diagrams and ballistics. Science and history and politics and forensics were all wrapped up in one magic bullet.“
Despite the way many people perceive him, Freed claims he is not a conspiracy theorist. ”I don’t see conspiracies explaining everything,“ he says. ”But an entire culture became toxic because major elements of the establishment set out to brand as crazy anyone who would not accept what was patently unacceptable to anyone with any intelligence.“
Still, his investigations with others have caused him to discern government voodoo behind many subsequent tragedies, including the SLA and Jonestown catastrophes, and the murders of Nicole Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey. Perhaps it‘s a tribute to Lane and Freed’s early work that so many Americans today mistrust official explanations, that we view the contemporary historical landscape as one vast Roswell, with Washington functioning as a kind of Area 51 of top-secret government. This also might explain why a simple Internet search for ”Donald Freed“ quickly leads to outre Web sites speculating about government mind control, satanic murder cults and other X-Files topics.
Freed‘s translation into theater of his jaundiced view of official explanations might be explained by the fateful alignment of John Kennedy’s assassination occurring at the very moment Freed was auditing a theater course at Cal State Northridge. It may account for why he views politics as dramatic metaphor. (”The Panther and political trials of the late ‘60s were the best shows in town -- tremendous drama.“) It certainly explains why he sees the mission of writers as ”setting up a series of myths that run against the myths of official power.“
For Freed, storytelling is the sole impulse and skill that makes our species immortal. ”All that Homo sapiens have accomplished is found in storytelling,“ he says. ”All that will be left of our 10,000 years will be those handprints on the cave walls, and drawings of pregnant rhinoceros and buffaloes.“
Of course, the more rebellious those handprints appear, the better: ”There is nothing more disturbing and subversive than theater -- by its nature, it tells a different story from the establishment’s, which is the story of the winners. Art is telling the story of the losers.“
Certainly, Freed‘s own oeuvre is a robust inventory of alternative interpretations of our age’s crimes and misdemeanors: Alfred & Victoria: A Life (about Alfred Bloomingdale and his doomed mistress, Vicki Morgan); The General & the Archbishop (Manuel Noriega and the Vatican‘s man in Panama); The White Crow (Eichmann in Israel); and the JFK-assassination novel Executive Action, co-written with Mark Lane and adapted into a film.
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