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Portrait of a Human-Rights Activist (for Q SAN FRANCISCO magazine)

By Robin Dorman (

Human-rights activist Ginetta Sagan has shunned the public life. Subterranean, protean, a secretive shadow, Sagan's harrowing tale finally shot out from her, and with this rupture a desire to cleanse the world of evil: to appeal to the conscience and morality of nations, to speak out against suffering, to expose betrayers of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With a ferocious audacity and robust energy, Sagan has been a scientific investigator monitoring the universe, with its infinite dark places, a singular voice rising out of the conflagration of a matchbox

...Sagan is the daughter of physicians who were among a circle of anti-Fascists active in the underground centered in her hometown of Milan, Italy. Many were Jewish, including Sagan's mother. She never saw her parents again after they disappeared in early September 1943. Her father was killed immediately. Her mother never returned from the death camps. In July 1943, a seventeen-year-old Sagan joined the underground movement of the Resistance, Giustizia e liberta, (Justice and Liberty), assisting a family friend with the dangerous task of printing and distributing clandestine pamphlets. Parentless, her world transmogrified, she plunged into the work, providing food, clothing, and shelter to those in hiding, locating those who disappeared, sending messages of urgency to the Allies in Switzerland and money to resistance groups in Italy. Called "Topolino" (little mouse) to hide her identity, the small and agile teenager stealthily crept along the escape route to a hole in a barbed wire fence separating Italy from Switzerland, bringing with her the hunted. As the hole in the fence changed almost nightly, young Sagan's contact in Switzerland, a woman called Lidia, would place bells on her goats, the sound signaling which hole to pass through. Simultaneously, Lidia would entertain guests at a party to distract the Nazis and border patrol from the escapees. Sagan, the youngest member of the group and its mascot, guided three-hundred Jews, anti-Fascists, soldiers who deserted, and many others to safety.


Theater Review

By Robin Dorman (

CHICAGO, the most seductive, sassy, and sizzling show on Broadway, is a ticking bomb exploding with magic. The very minimalist, cynical, and bewitching revival at the Shubert Theatre, directed by Walter Bobbie, and winner of six 1997 Tony Awards, is straight out of some postmodern Cabaret idiom transposed to the states. It is gangster culture overwhelming real culture set in the violence-laden Chicago of the twenties. This Chicago is an enchantment at first encounter and leaves the audience gasping for air. A musical about an ingenue, Roxie Hart, played by Karen Ziemba (the original Roxie of this production was Ann Reinking, who did the choreography and was a protege and sometime romantic partner of Bob Fosse) who does in her lover and gets away with it, tells of a kind of sexy corruption where the heroine rises from vengeful murderer to celebrity saint. Bebe Neuwirth, who plays the vaudevillian Velma Kelly, also a murderer in her own crime of passion and jailbird rival of Hart, is the lean, lithe, and luscious star of the show, and its sparkling fuse. Pouty, sultry, and owner of the most brazen blood-red mouth around, Neuwirth is exquisitely tailor-made for the role. In “When Velma Takes the Stand,” her imagined cross-examination is like falling helplessly in love with Trouble.

All of the action revolves around the orchestra at center stage, a clever recreation of a witness box in a courtroom. The lighting is film noir stark and the set is comprised of some chairs, ladders, lights on poles, and an elevator for the more dramatic entrances and exits. But how it all shimmers with such ghost-seizing brightness and unexpected forms, transmutations, and illusions in this Fosse-inspired fairy tale of “murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery, and treachery.” A looking-glass musical which puts the audience in the grip of a thrilling and wild elsewhere, Chicago is about the rapturous joy which pierces through an audience seeking the rapture and delicious pleasure of being wooed. And wooed and stunned and staggered we are.

The dancers, sinewy, streamlined, and provocatively clad in basic black with lots of skin, are magnificent--my gape has never before taken in such tantalizing movement. The brilliant musical score by John Kander and Fred Ebb are robust show-stoppers--“Cell Block Tango,” “When You're Good to Mama,” “Mr. Cellophane,” among them, chronicle the women’s defense of their murders, the lawyer’s defense of the women, the prison matron's entrepreneurial spirit, the jailbird's dream of show-biz fame following their life in the slammer.

Chicago was well worth the three thousand miles of traveling to see it. But Bay Area theatre lovers need not get the next plane out. September 29 - through November 7, Chicago will be at the Golden Gate Theatre at 1 Taylor @ Market & 6th. Starring Khandl Alexander as Velma Kelly, she has had roles in two hit television series, “News Radio² and “ER.² Starting out as a dancer on Broadway, she worked with such choreographers as Fosse, Alvin Ailey, and with Michael Bennett in Dreamgirls. She eventually became a choreographer herself working on such shows as “The Grammy’s,” “The American Music Awards,” and Whitney Houston’s “I'm Your Baby Tonight” tour. Her films include the heroin-addicted mother in Sugar Hill, Menace II Society, andWhat's Love Got to Do With It. She can be seen in her upcoming film, Thick as Thieves, starring Alec Baldwin and Rebecca DeMornay. Playing the part of Roxie Hart is Charlotte d’Amboise, who originated the role on the tour and is receiving rave reviews. She played Lola in Damn Yankees on Broadway, for which she won the Fred Astaire Award; Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, which earned her a Tony nomination; Carrie, Song and Dance, and Cats. Her film credits include the The Preacher’s Wife, The In Crowd, and American Blue Note. Of special note is her performance at the Kennedy center Honors for her father, Jacques d’Amboise, famed choreographer of The American Ballet Theatre. The role of the lawyer Billy Flynn will be played by Brent Barrett, who most recently played Maxmillion in the Hal Prince Broadway revival of Candide at the Gershwin Theatre. He made his Broadway debut as Tony in the revival of West Side Story under the direction of Jerome Robbins...



By Robin Dorman (

Every weekend, San Francisco’s Tenderloin District swells with pilgrims from all over who revel in the Sunday Celebrations at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. Recently honored as “The House of Miracles,” Glide is a sanctuary amidst an area under siege. Located in a neighborhood devastated with the violence of poverty, crime, physical and social deterioration, Glide is a house of worship that transcends race, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, and background. Theological as well as social convictions have helped Glide stake its identity to illumining diversity, thus rejecting the blur of the melting pot. This mosaic of humanity is linked not only by a spiritual faith that touches on the redemptive but by an unshakable belief in the value of being visibly who you are.

The 9:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Celebrations open with the sizzle and rattle of the church Band accompanying the brightly robed and rousing Glide Ensemble, encircling the packed congregation like a giant embrace singing “Keep Your Loving Arms Around Me.” Here life’s complexities and obstacles are metaphorically faced and overcome, invoking the idea of setting oneself upright again, hauling life back up the slope against all odds, insisting on the freedom to change one’s life. Those who have been licked by the flames of misfortune in one way or another have a yearning to be transformed, which goes hand in hand with the dailiness of a spiritual or God-covenanted culture, according to Glide’s transcendent Reverend and master storyteller Cecil Williams.

“Being spiritual means you gain a new being, a new way, a new understanding, a new sense of yourself, a new direction, a new journey,” he says in the cadences and rhythmic drive of a lifelong preacher. “To be spiritual is to be in contact with God. It is being responsible. Spirituality always has with it an act of deliverance, liberation, of those who are oppressed, marginalized, on the outside, that we enact ways with them by which they come to know that we really care, so much so that we’re even willing to give up what we have, if in fact it oppresses them. To be spiritual is a way of life; itıs a way of doing things; it’s a way of acceptance related to every human being. And that way of acceptance is always in what I call unconditional love.”

Outside Glide, long lines of men, women, and children stretch around the block waiting to be seated inside at either Mo’s Kitchen (the main kitchen, where the majority of people are served) or Glide’s Coffee House ( for families, the disabled, elderly, pregnant women, and GA recipients). Southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes under a rich brown gravy, cream of spinach, bread, and pastry is on today’s menu. Three thousand and five hundred people will savor three robust meals a day, over a million meals a year, as well as the famously bountiful holiday specials. Glide’s Food and Meals Program has twenty-six staff members and about one-hundred volunteers each day to help with the enormity of kitchen duty. (During holidays, that number can soar as high as seven hundred.) The Food and Meals Program is only one of many programs operating within one of the most comprehensive and revolutionary service agencies in the world, a cornucopia of educating, embracing, inspiring.