DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. On our program this week, we play new music from Dengue Fever…
We also tell about the anniversary of an important event in America’s civil rights movement.
But, first, a report on four Broadway shows nominated for top honors…
Tony Nominated Plays
DOUG JOHNSON: This week, actors Matthew Broderick and Anika Noni Rose announced nominations for the twenty-eleven Tony Awards. The Tonys are the highest honors for Broadway shows. The American Theater Wing and The Broadway League will present the awards at ceremonies on June twelfth in New York City.
Faith Lapidus tells about the nominees for Best Play.
FAITH LAPIDUS: “Good People” takes place in the Boston, Massachusetts neighborhood known as Southie. It is home to many working class Irish-Americans. Frances McDormand stars as Margie Walsh in “Good People.” She has been struggling to survive after losing her low-paying job. She is hoping for changes when she visits with an old boyfriend, Mike. He has made money, moved out of Southie and married.
Artistic Director Lynne Meadows says “Good People” is a play about class in America. Writer David Lindsay-Abaire says he wanted to write respectfully about Southie. He says it was important that he had a strong opinion about the place he was writing about.
Frances McDormand was also nominated for a Best Actress Tony for her performance in “Good People.”
Briton Nick Stafford is the playwrite of “War Horse,” another Tony nominated play. It is based on a book by British writer Michael Morpurgo. The play was first produced in London.
“War Horse” is the story of a boy during World War One. He loses a horse he loves very much to the British armed forces, which needs it for the war effort. The boy searches Europe to find the animal.
The production of “War Horse” includes beautiful puppets of horses. These life-size objects are strong enough to carry actors in the play. The Handspring Puppet Company is receiving a special Tony Award for its creations in the play.
Another Tony nomination for Best Play went to “Jerusalem,” by Jez Butterworth. The play also received five other nominations, including two for acting.
Like “Warhorse,” “Jerusalem” was also performed in London before its New York production. The play takes place in the English countryside. Tony nominated actor Mark Rylance plays Johnny Byron, also known as the Rooster. He sells drugs to teenagers, drinks too much alcohol and does not pay enough to attention to his young son. But he is also a lively story-teller with many qualities people find likable. His neighbors, however, want him to leave the area.
Jez Butterworth says he was surprised when British critics called “Jerusalem,” a “state of the nation” play. He said he wanted to write about the passing of time, and about how people move on.
The fourth production nominated for Best Play this year is, “The Motherf**ker With the Hat.” It is the seventh work by playwright Stephen Adley Guirgis.
Veronica and Jackie are each in their late twenties and living together in New York’s Times Square area. Jackie recently stopped taking illegal drugs with the help of a twelve-step program. However, the play opens with Veronica using cocaine. As theater goers will learn, she is also involved with another man -- a person central to Jackie’s recovery.
“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” was nominated for six Tony Awards in all. The New Yorker magazine praised the play as funny and sharp. The magazine noted the mix of desire and dishonesty between Jackie and Veronica. It said the quality made them one of the most beautifully drawn couples to appear together in a Broadway production in years.
DOUG JOHNSON: Americans are marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Rides. They were an effort to protest racial segregation on public transportation in southern states. Thirteen civil rights activists became the first Freedom Riders on May fourth, nineteen sixty-one. In the months that followed, more than four hundred men and women, blacks and whites, rode buses, trains and airplanes to support the Freedom Ride movement.
A group called the Congress of Racial Equality organized the Freedom Rides. It wanted to force state governments to honor a ruling of the United States Supreme Court. The court had declared that racial separation in bus and train stations was unconstitutional. But southern states were not enforcing the ruling. Public restrooms and restaurants at bus stations still had signs that read “Whites Only.”
Fifty years ago this week, the first Freedom Riders left Washington DC. Seven blacks and six whites rode on two buses. They were supposed to travel through the southern United States on their way to New Orleans. However, neither bus completed the trip.
One bus was firebombed in Alabama. The attackers blocked the doors to prevent the Freedom Riders from escaping. When the civil rights activists finally did get out, they were beaten.
An hour later, men carrying baseball bats, pipes and chains attacked the second bus. The Freedom Riders on this bus were severely beaten. Some were taken to doctors. But no one died.
The Congress of Racial Equality refused to let violence end the trip. The group found another group of riders to continue on. These Freedom Rides continued throughout the year. News of the violence spread throughout the country and the world. It also got the attention of President John F. Kennedy and his administration.
Soon the Interstate Commerce Commission announced rules banning racial segregation at all public transportation centers. The rules took effect on November first, nineteen sixty-one.
The Freedom Riders had taken their civil rights campaign on the road and won. Many suffered beatings, threats and even imprisonment.
This month Americans are remembering these brave men and women for their influence on American history. A film about the Freedom Riders will be broadcast on May sixteenth.
There are also several celebrations planned. More than one hundred Freedom Riders and their families are expected to travel to Mississippi for a special reunion on May twenty-fourth.
DOUG JOHNSON: Music from Southeast Asia has strongly influenced the California based band Dengue Fever. The band started out playing Cambodian pop music from the nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies. This music, in turn, was influenced by American surfer music of the same period.
Brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman formed Dengue Fever ten years ago after Ethan’s travels in Cambodia. The band recently released its fifth album: “Cannibal Courtship.” Barbara Klein has more.
BARBARA KLEIN: That was “Cannibal Courtship,” performed by Dengue Fever’s lead singer, Chhom Nimol. The Holtzman brothers first heard her perform years ago while they were searching for a singer for the band. Ms. Nimol had recently moved to the United States from Cambodia. She came from a well known family of Cambodian musicians. Ethan and Zac Holtzman knew she had the just the voice to help Dengue Fever remain true to the spirit of Cambodia’s pop music tradition.
Listen to Chhom Nimol singing “Sister in the Radio.”
The name for the band Dengue Fever came to Ethan Holtzman during his travels in Cambodia in the late nineteen nineties. At one point, he says, he was in the back of a truck travelling to the capital, Phnom Penh. The driver was playing Cambodian pop music from the sixties. Ethan’s friend was sick with dengue fever. Ethan loved the music and later bought many recordings.
He says Dengue Fever’s music has an important message. Many Cambodians who made this music popular disappeared or were killed when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country in the nineteen seventies. Ethan Holtzman says his band attempts to shine a light on this fact to help make sure such a situation never happens again.
We leave you with “Family Business.”
DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by June Simms, Dana Demange and Caty Weaver, who was also the producer.
Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.