The Script: From Writing Though Production
The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg is a play I wrote in 1976 with Paul Richards and Judith Binder. The Rosenbergs were an American Jewish leftist couple caught up in the famous “Atomic spies case” of the 1950’s. They were accused by the government of stealing atomic secrets and giving them to the hated enemy, the former Soviet Union. Even though, as we all know today, there were no atomic secrets, the Rosenbergs died in the electric chair, leaving behind two small boys in 1953. The play tells the Rosenberg’s story entirely from the transcript of their trial and from their letters. A narrator fills in the historical context. It was performed on stages, on television and radio in the late 1970’s. I played Ethel Rosenberg. Paul Richards played David Greenglass and Judith Binder directed and narrated. Now, forty-two years later, the script has been digitized and made available on the web for new In 1976 generations to use.
Why offer it again after all these years? It has become shockingly clear that their story is more relevant than ever. Chelsea Manning was punished after blowing the whistle on crimes being committed by the government. Julian Assange faces the draconian attempt by the U.S. to extradite him to the U.S. to face sedition and treason allegations. The same lies and techniques of hiding crimes behind classified documents that were used to kill the Rosenbergs are still operating in plain sight. The fight for truth and transparency in government today cannot ignore the lessons of the past. The legacy of the Rosenbergs, told in their own words, needs to be heard today if we are going to move forward towards a more democratic world. The play and its 2016 revised version are now available as an eBook and a paperback.
The Back Story
I was contacted by the young history professor Paul Richards in 1976, who heard I had worked on the Rosenberg letters. He was interested in developing a multimedia presentation about the Rosenbergs. He’d gone to graduate school with one of the Rosenberg’s son’s, Michael Meerpol. I involved my friend and writing partner Judith Binder in the project and the three of us went to work. Paul, with this intense academic training, studied the trial transcript of over a thousand pages, selecting key moments on for our note cards. Judith and I reviewed Julius and Ethel’s prison letters and made similar note cards. We laid all the cards on the floor and decided to create a script using only the words from the trial and the letters. Upon evaluating our collected notes, the three of us voted to stay true to Ethel and Julius’ testimony and letters, that they were innocent and were framed in an unfair trial.
At the time I served as the artistic director of Community Theatre Arts Workshop, a multi-cultural non-profit organization which produced the play. We first produced “The Story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg” at La Pena Cultural Center in Berkeley and then toured it to local college theaters. The last performance was a TV version for KQED-tv’s Open Studio. Paul acted David Greenglass and me, Ethel Rosenberg. Judith directed. John Parkinson, an innovative theatre artist, played Julius. Beryl Landau created the memorable artwork for the brochure and poster.
Since then I married co-author Paul Richards. We live and tend to our garden in Vallejo, California.
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