I am not sure why I have wanted Ralph and Claire to see the show. I just know that it has been a strong “urge” that emerged shortly after I started performing nearly three years ago. A little history is in order.
Ralph was my first boss. I started working for him 45 years ago when I graduated from law school. I reported to work on July 8th, 1970. A week late, my son was born on the official start-date, July 1st. After a short stint at the Public Interest Research Group , I returned in 1978 to work under his leadership to found another public interest organization. And even though I moved on to other work, I have kept in close touch with him and his family. Among the experiences I had were to be present during the loss of Ralph’s brother Shafteek and his mother Rose. I experienced Ralph and Claire as people of deep personal love of family who experience their losses with deep emotion.
I have also experienced Ralph Nader very much as the rest of the nation has, as the ultimate “Unreasonable Man,” the name of the HBO documentary about his life. He has often been referred to as angry. I admire and stand in awe of his personal energy, intellectual brilliance and vision of a more perfect world.
We met when he was 36 years old and he had just settled a lawsuit against General Motors for having launched a campaign to get “dirt” on his personal life after he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. On Friday he turned 81!
I have to admit that there was a bit of trepidation on my part about how Ralph and Claire would react to the show. My heart told me that they would understand the gift of the show and how theater can help change the world as much as perhaps a 300 page book full of good arguments, facts, figure and new ideas.
Ralph’s question after the show didn’t surprise me – did I ever consider changing doctors. Of course: Ralph the man who will always do something, act, fix. At first I said no. Then I thought, wait, yes, there is a whole scene where is exclaim that what “I wanted to do,” was “to take Susan to the Mayo Clinic or Dana Farber Institute or M.D. Anderson in Huston or to somewhere or anywhere else.” But I chose not to do so because there was another value that took precedence, the need not to add an element of tension in our relationship and marriage. It was hard enough for Susan to face stage three breast cancer. Having to fight with me over treatment options would not serve either of us, even if it meant “the wrong decision.” And despite the dire diagnosis, I already knew that in cancer there is no way to know “the right decision” in the moment. What is important is the patient’s mind set.
In our post show discussion Susan answers the question of how she dealt with the situation by saying simply that she “decided” she would survive. Claire noted that there are a number of examples of positive mindsets leading to miraculous recovery. And in classic Nader style she lambasted the medical community for failing to explore the biological impact of a positive attitude. She shared her belief that people can will themselves to survive. In retrospect, I think my decision not to add the friction of a disagreement over treatment options helped Susan stay positive. (Yet, we are all aware that a positive attitude is only one element in a complex illness. The person who does not survive is not at fault for not willing themselves well.)
My reflection after the performance and Ralph’s and Claire’s reaction is the contrast and similarity of the lawyer and the artist. The Ralph Nader who is even now writing his next book, scheduling the next press conference and launching the next advocacy group; and the Sam Simon who is taking The Actual Dance from page to stage, adding music to the words, and taking it from venue to venue, reaching out to “everyone who needs” to see the show so that they can be moved to insight and strength in the most sacred of all journeys.
It occurs to me that both approaches are needed for change in the world. Facts and figures are needed to establish the right course; the arguments need to be presented in persuasive and logical fashion. We need to know the right path. Then we need to move people to act and to change. That takes heart and soul. What I have learned in my journey from lawyer and advocate to playwright and actor is that Art and Love can move people to change.