The Language of Birds: Rosa Luxemburg & Me

Donna Blue Lachman performs a one-woman show about Rosa Luxemburg.

00:12Copy video clip URL The outside of the Blue Rider Theater and the Playbill for “The Language of Birds: Rosa Luxemburg & Me” written by and starring Donna Blue Lachman.

01:11Copy video clip URL Shots of newspaper clippings and a police photo of Rosa Luxemburg, dated Warsaw 1906.

02:42Copy video clip URL The lights come up on Donna Blue Lachman, sitting at a writing desk in late-nineteenth, early-twentieth century costume, as Rosa Luxemburg. She is narrating as she writes a letter to a woman named Sonia. “Please have courage, have patience.”

04:10Copy video clip URL Sonia’s husband Leo is in jail. Luxemburg encourages her to go outside and be free. “I am busily engaged in feeding wrens and magpies.” She is imprisoned, but she is allowed to tend a small garden.

05:52Copy video clip URL She’s been reading about birds, and how smaller birds take shelter with large birds of prey for migration.

07:12Copy video clip URL She admires Goethe, seeing the French Revolution and still continuing all his studies. “A political fighter has even more need to try to stay on top of things.”

08:18Copy video clip URL She takes hope from the “new events of Russia” and is hopeful that when the war ends there will be a worldwide communist revolution. She misses speaking with Lenin. “He’s the kind of ugly mug I miss so much.”

09:45Copy video clip URL She concludes her letter to Sonia and writes to Leo. She is hopeful that he will escape prison. “Something in me stirs that wants to come to the surface. Something to write.”

11:40Copy video clip URL She concludes her letter, and mourns that all their letters have become purely business. She speaks to Leo, about how she wishes he was there, and how she misses the relationship they used to have. “You never danced with me. You said you didn’t believe in dancing. Oh, Leo, you don’t have to believe. Just dance.”

14:12Copy video clip URL She goes to sleep on her cot. Sounds of National Public Radio news, reporting on Clinton’s willingness to bomb Bosnia. Another report says that school censorship is on the rise. A discussion of Rosa Luxemburg on NPR, sharing her history as a German socialist leader.

16:30Copy video clip URL While the radio program is playing, Lachman plays a twentieth-century woman getting out of bed. Luxemburg was very critical of Lenin’s approach. She believed that socialism depended on full-fledged democracy.

18:00Copy video clip URL Luxemburg was brutally assassinated by proto-Nazis in 1919. Lachman struggles to sort through her papers and start her day. She goes to get the mail. The radio program continues to play in the background. Lachman sorts through the trash in order to find a cigarette and matches. “Luxemburg was killed for many different reasons”– that she was a radical, a woman, a socialist, and a Jew.

21:15Copy video clip URL Someone calls Lachman and leaves a message on the machine. “I know you’re depressed, I know you’re sad.” The caller tries to cheer her up. It’s her mother. Lachman makes coffee, but doesn’t answer the phone.

23:12Copy video clip URL She plays video of herself doing a show, and then mutes herself, saying “Oh, shut up.” She gets a call asking her to do a piece for a women’s benefit.

24:06Copy video clip URL The radio show becomes audible again. A male caller wants to know where she is, and if she’s gone to her shrink. “It’s not Emma Goldman, it’s Rosa Luxemburg.” She talks on the phone to someone about Rosa Luxemburg, about her death.

26:35Copy video clip URL She’s depressed and angry because she got the video of her show back from New York, and her agent says it’s “dead in the water.”

29:00Copy video clip URL She remembers teaching little girls how to do drama in Poland behind the iron curtain. They all wanted to know what life was like in the “Free West.” She was 23 years old, and she started becoming a storyteller then. They held performances outside because they thought the school was bugged. “I felt like I had some contribution to make or something.”

31:29Copy video clip URL She searches for an old heart pendant. “What we love deeply becomes part of us.”

34:57Copy video clip URL She gets off the phone and throws it in the trash. The radio program is audible again. Talking about how Rosa Luxemburg had a garden in prison. “She was so charming and so articulate, that she basically won over the prison staff.” Luxemburg also grappled with her Jewish identity, her Polish identity, her female identity. “She saw herself more as a human being that transcended, in some ways, any of those limitations.”

37:08Copy video clip URL Luxemburg writing about Lenin. She believes he is wrong. “Without a free exchange of opinions life dies out and only bureaucracy remains active.” She says, “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.” She is horrified at the news that there is censorship and massacre in Lenin’s government.

39:52Copy video clip URL “Everything I worked for is coming to pass, but not the way I expected it.”

41:30Copy video clip URL She grows irritated with Leo, and his single-minded focus on revolution. “If we don’t understand the art of living… how can we make a better life for others?”

45:12Copy video clip URL She recalls seeing wagons pulled by buffalo entering the prison yard. The animals are worked to exhaustion and beaten until bleeding.

47:45Copy video clip URL Pre-recorded sounds of chaos.

48:34Copy video clip URL Back to Lachman in her apartment, as the sounds of speeches and the radio and the answering machine play over each other. She picks up her papers and looks through them and then throws them down.

49:55Copy video clip URL Lachman looks at the Polish heart pendant, while the sound of singing plays in the background.

51:01Copy video clip URL The sounds of birds start to play. Lachman picks up leaves and examines them. Lachman is in Rosa Luxemberg’s cell. She puts the leaves on the writing desk and washes her hands in the basin. She puts on Luxemburg’s dress and styles her hair like Luxemburg.

54:30Copy video clip URL She is now Rosa Luxemburg completely. She tends her garden.

56:07Copy video clip URL “My real soul belongs to you, the titmice, more than my comrades.” She talks to the birds, and how, no matter how devoted to her cause, she feels she belongs to them more than to humanity.

57:00Copy video clip URL It is dark. She talks about everything they believed in, when they were young. She reads Goethe.

59:50Copy video clip URL Writing to Leo her intentions to go back to work in Berlin when she gets out of prison. She is packing up her things, as she is about to be released, and is making arrangements to resume her activities. “I have decided to complete my pamphlet on the Russian revolution… we cannot stand by while the Bolsheviks let democracy slip away. Nothing in my life has ever been so painful to write.”

1:02:54Copy video clip URL “We are like the Jews who Moses is leading through the desert.”

1:04:00Copy video clip URL She talks to her dead mother. About how they grew apart. About how she blamed her mother for many things, and did not believe she was strong. “I’m getting old exactly the way you got old.”

1:05:51Copy video clip URL She talks about how her mother said she could understand the language of birds. “I, too, can understand the language of birds.”

1:07:32Copy video clip URL The lights dim. Rosa Luxemburg enters Lachman’s apartment and looks around as she removes her clothes and becomes Lachman once more. Lachman takes seeds from Luxemburg’s seed bag and plants them in a flower pot.

1:09:45Copy video clip URL Music plays and the audience applauds. Lachman takes her bows. Music and sounds of the audience filing out.

1:11:21Copy video clip URL End.



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