An LGBTQ Love Story in ‘Public Obscenities’

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The following ran in the Feb. 8, 2024 print edition of the newspaper:

Abrar Haque (Choton) and Tashnuva Anan (Shou). Photo by Hollis King for TFANA.

A slow burn, Public Obscenities is a touching story about a Queer Studies PhD candidate who returns to his family home in Kolkata with his African-American boyfriend, a director of photography. Over the course of this 2-hour-and-40-minute play, the couple leans into many layers of pleasure and affect, discussing identity and exploring both the troubles and beauties of translation. This bilingual play, written and directed by Shayok Misha Chowdhury, is performed in English and Bangla. The run, which began on Jan. 17, continues through Feb. 18.

Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) is the producer and presenter of this show. The venue is the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, which TFANA calls home, and is located at 262 Ashland Pl. in Fort Greene.

Remaining Show Dates:

Feb. 8, 7:30pm

Feb. 9, 7:30pm

Feb. 10, 2 & 7:30pm

Feb. 11, 2 & 7:30pm

Feb. 13, 7:30pm

Feb. 14, 7:30pm

Feb. 15, 7:30pm

Feb. 16, 7:30pm

Feb. 17, 2 & 7:30pm

Feb. 18, 2 & 7:30pm

‘Teaching On Borrowed Time’: The Voice of an Adjunct Professor

By Laurence C. Schwartz | [email protected]

Editor’s Note: In our sister paper, the Queens Ledger, reporters Charlie Finnerty and Celia Bernhardt have been covering the last-minute layoffs of more than 20 faculty at Queens College-CUNY. This week, we are profiling a book related to adjunct injustice, including intense schedules and financial challenges, as well as some of the rewards of the job, with mention of Brooklyn.

The following is an excerpt from the book Teaching on Borrowed Time: An Adjunct’s Memoir by Laurence C. Schwartz of New York City, reprinted with permission here. The book guides the reader through his thirty-plus years of teaching part-time as an adjunct lecturer on the university circuit. Always unpredictable and never dull, Schwartz’s journey will take him to twenty different colleges and to twenty-three different subjects. Given that 65 percent of the nation’s undergraduate faculty consists of adjuncts, who have uncertain job security, Teaching on Borrowed Time gives voice to the adjunct community as well as those who stubbornly forge ahead in their professional quests for the sheer joy of the work.

You will find two passages about the author’s time teaching at Kingsborough Community College, part of the CUNY system:

Sometime after the first of the year, I was speaking with a Dr. Mortimer Becker in his office in the Western Cluster of Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York. The Aspen Institute College Excellency Program ranked KCC among the top four community colleges in the nation. Dr. Becker chaired the Department of Communication and Performing Arts. From what little time I spent in his office, I concluded that I was in the presence of a true gentleman. When I attended Dr. Becker’s ceremonial dinner some months after my interview, one of the department’s secretaries referred to his “quiet dignity.”

One day, about halfway into the spring semester, I went to the Department of Communications and Performing Arts to check my mail. Dr. Becker emerged from his office. When he hired me, it was his last semester before retiring. During my first semester at KCC, Dr. Becker still used his office, but he already named a Dr. Cliff Hesse as the new chairman. After Dr. Becker emerged from his office, he smiled at me and, with the wave of his hand, gave me a lyrically dismissive gesture. On hindsight, I interpret this gesture to mean that I was way too young and clueless to really understand mortality. I think that when he made the gesture, he knew he didn’t have a long time left in this world. Dr. Becker died a few months later.

I was referred to Dr. Becker by Dr. Spector at LIU. I believe that during our interview, Dr. Becker was evaluating and assessing me, trying to sense if I had the strengths needed to teach a public speaking course at a reputable community college. At LIU, Dr. Pasternak just wanted to meet and make sure I was a well-spoken young man. I very much liked Dr. Becker. He made me feel welcomed. Mind you, I still tasted ash in my mouth from waiting tables and working in tense environments. Perhaps you can understand why I was so impressed by Dr. Becker’s gentleness and “quiet dignity.” When one works for curt and cold managers, one can tend to overappreciate plain humanity.

When I sensed the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Becker, I asked him, “So can I teach a course for you?”

“I’ll give you two. Come with me.”

He stood, came around from behind his desk, and made a gesture befitting a nobleman that parlayed that I was to lead the way. He certainly had a way of gesturing, Dr. Becker did. When he followed me out of his office, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said to his secretary, “Larry will be joining our adjunct faculty.” Then he turned to me. “Like to fill out the paperwork now?”

“Of course.”

Then Dr. Becker nodded to his secretary, cuing her to begin the process.

This was style!

“Welcome to Kingsborough,” his secretary said. And she meant it. She was a sweet elderly woman. There was another elderly secretary in the office who was just as sweet. I have since come to learn that among faculty and administration in academia, sweetness can be a welcomed surprise; eccentricity, a find for the ages. A cool and distant politeness is the norm.

I’ve always regretted not having the opportunity to get to know Dr. Becker. I suppose I could have learned a good deal from him about a great many things. He was the kind of man who, if you poked your head in his door and asked to see him about something, he would stop whatever he was doing and give you his time. Dr. Becker’s replacement, Dr. Cliff Hesse, was no different. A good man was chosen by a good man.

•••

Another small victory at KCC was introducing a couple of students to two of the books that I loved. One of the students was a jittery yet lithe Hispanic with a pencil-thin mustache. There was a restlessness in him that I recognized on the very first day of class. To this young man, I introduced Time of the Assassins by Henry Miller. This is Henry Miller’s tribute to French poet Arthur Rimbaud. You can appreciate it on more than one level, not the least of which is ecstatic appreciation one writer has for another. Another level is Miller’s dissection of the poet’s role in society. Another is Miller’s facile psychological analysis of Rimbaud. And, too, there is the sheer buoyancy of Miller’s prose. There are enough goodies on the plate to choose from.

When I handed the young man the book, he immediately turned to the first page and began reading.

“Thank you,” he said, “but why me?”

“Why not you?” I rejoined.

Another student to whom I introduced one of my more exciting and informative reads was a rotund young man with a jolly disposition. If he’d been dressed in red velvet and had a white beard on him and a red stocking cap on his head, he could have easily played Santa Claus’s young understudy. Why would I give a copy of Jean Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew to such a young man? Like Time of the Assassins, you can appreciate Anti-Semite and Jew on more than one level, not the least of which is its probing examination of the bigoted and racist mind. In the spring of ’92, news of the Brooklyn killing of Yusef Hawkins and the Crown Heights riot were still fresh. Racism in America would always be a fresh topic of discussion, even if dishonestly approached. I was sure this young man could take something away from Sartre’s work. Anti-Semite and Jew was terrifically accessible.

Both young men thanked me when they returned the books, and both told me they enjoyed it—small but sweet victories.

Laurence C. Schwartz is a New York based theatre director and educator. He recently directed for the New York Theatre Festival. Last spring he directed Sam Shepard’s “True West” for the NYPL’s Special Event Series. He is currently directing for The Secret Theatre’s Short Play Festival. Laurence is an Adjunct Lecturer at Mercy University in Manhattan where he teaches Communications Arts and Cinema Studies.

Teaching on Borrowed Time can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, LibroWorld.com, Magers & Quinn Booksellers, and eBay.

“Badass Lady-Folk TV”: Jada Bennett of the Brooklyn Cyclones

The following is an excerpt from an episode of the TV talk show “Badass Lady-Folk,” featuring guest Jada Bennett, a dancer, singer, actress, and Brooklyn Cyclones entertainment coordinator based in Bay Ridge. Hosted by Christine Stoddard and filmed at Manhattan Neighborhood Network, “Badass Lady-Folk” is a feminist talk show that originated on Radio Free Brooklyn, where it airs on Fridays at 9am.

This transcript has been edited and condensed for print purposes:

Christine: You’re  watching  “Badass  Lady  Folk.”  I’m  your  host,  Christine  Stoddard  and  this  episode,  my  guest  is  Jada  Bennett.  Hi,  Jada!

Jada: Hi,  Christine!

Christine: It’s  so  wonderful  to  have  you, Jada.  Actress,  singer,  Brooklyn  Cyclones–what  is  your  title  there?

Jada: [I’d put it as Entertainment Coordinator and Captain of the Surf Squad.]

Christine: Yeah,  so  we  met  at  “The White  Blacks” [at Theater for a New City]  which  is  a  production  that  has  come  up  on  this  show  a  couple  different  times  because  I  had  Melanie  Goodreaux, the  writer-director  on.  When  I  met  you  at  that  production,  I  was  immediately  struck  by  your  range  because  you  played  a  couple  different  characters and you  also  sang  beautifully in  it.

Jada: Thank you.

Christine: No  one else  really  sang in that show,  so  it’s  nice  to  have  some  singing.

Jada: Yeah,  I  had  to  sing  in  the  audition  for  that  show.

Christine: Were  you  told  you’d  be  singing?

Jada: No,  not  initially. I  auditioned  for  that  show  [in 2022],  and  I  came  in–I  knew  that  the  show  had  already  been  done  before  and  that  I  was  coming  in  and  I  wasn’t  sure  how  many  people  had  done  the  show  before  that  were  coming back.  I  wasn’t  sure how  everything  was  gonna  work  but  I  went  in  and  I  knew  that  I  would  be  playing  a  couple  of  characters,  but  I  also  didn’t  know  the  extent  of  all  of  that. So  I  read  for  both  Raunika–no,  Raunika  doesn’t  have  lines–I  read  for  Gladys  and  Patricia,  only  one  scene  for  each  one, and  they  were  very  different  from  each  other,  and  I  was  like,  “Okay,  all  right,  let’s  roll  with  this.”  That show definitely  tested  how  much  I  could  do  at  once.

Christine: Yeah.  (laughs)

Jada: Because  even  though  I  had  smaller, shorter  time  on  stage,  I  knew  that  I  had  a  lot  to  convey  in  that  short  amount  of  time.  So  I  was  just  making  sure  that  when  I  was  in  that  character, I  was  in  that  character  just  living  in  that  person’s  world  and  making  that  world  as  big  as  I  possibly  could,  so  that  the  words  that  I  was  saying  still  had  the  story  behind  them.  Yeah,  that  was  a  lot  of  fun. I  would  do  that  show  again  in  the  heartbeat.

Christine: Yeah,  that  was  a  beautiful  show.  So  then  during  the  audition,  they  were  just  like,  “Hey,  can  you  sing?”

Jada: Yeah,  so  I  was  reading  for  Patricia  and  there’s  a  story– you  and  I  are  in  the  scene  together,

Christine: I’m the mean  white  girl.

Jada: You  were  a  passé  blanc  in  the  street  and  I  knew  you  and  knew  who  you  were. So I  had  to  read  that  in  the  audition.  And  it  said,  “The  hills  are  alive”  because  I  was  singing  “The Sound of Music.” And  so  I  just  went  for  it  and  sang  it, and  they’re  like,  “Fantastic,  great.  So  you’re  gonna  really  sing  this then.” She  was  like,  “Can  you  sing  it?  Can  you  do  it?” So  I  just,  I  sang  it, and  I  went  for  it,  and  she’s  like,  “That  really  did  it  for  us.  So  now  you’re  doing  this  on  the  show.”  I  was  like,  “Sounds  great.”

Christine: So  how  did  you  get  into  acting?

Jada: Oh,  I  mean,  I  have always  been  doing  it  since  I  was  little.  I  was  always  that  kid  that  was,  like,  doing  performances  for  my  stuffed  animals  and  for  my  family. Like,  I  did  it  all  the  time.  I  made  my  little  brother  do  it.  So  I’ve  always  been  around  art.  I  started  as  a  dancer  first.  And  then,  when  I  really  got  into  acting  and  shows  would  have  been  my  fifth  grade  year. I  had  just  moved  to  a  new  town  and  I  met  some  people  and  they  were  doing  the  school  musical  and  so  I  decided  to  do  it  as  well.

Christine: Aw,  so  you  would  have  friends?

Jada: Yeah,  correct. It  was  “Cinderella”  and  I  got  the  fairy  godmother. Ever  since  then,  I  did  every  school  musical,  like,  from  then  on  till  I  graduated. In sophomore  year  of high  school,  I  was  doing  “Hairspray” and  decided  that  I  just  wanted  to  do  it  forever.  So  here  we  are.

Christine: Aw.  So  what  kind  of  dancing  did  you  start  doing?

Jada: I  did  what  every  little  girl  who  did  dance  as  a  little  kid did.  I  started  at  like  two,  three  years  old,  and did  the  same  tap /ballet  combo  class: half  of  the  class  is  tap  and  half  of  the  class  is  ballet.

That’s the end of the excerpt! Watch the full episode at Youtube.com/@badassladyfolk or below. Find out more about Badass Lady-Folk at BadassLadyFolk.com.

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