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Politics as Unusual

August 2, 2007 By:
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Director Eric Krebs (left) and star Will Durst
Meals as mitzvot? Eric Krebs has sandwiched in a career of wry political bites and crispy creations, toothpicked together with topical observations.

What would Dagwood say?

It's what those who see his works say that speaks to the soul of the creative Krebs, a teacher whose bimah extends from Baruch College to the off-Broadway venue of New World Stages, where the current off-kilter world serves up morsels of mendacities and myopia to be put through the processor that is "Will Durst: The All-American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing."

Directing Durst, the acclaimed one-man band of bipartisan bashing, is a way for Krebs to savor a taste of just desserts. A longtime professor/producer/director and an actor on his convictions that the world is often sentenced to a life of inertia and ineptitude, Krebs creates where others kvetch.

He has brought Bill Maher to Broadway and the Capitol Steps to step on the feet of politicians when those politicians are playing footsies with facts. But his latest off-Broadway venture is off and running -- beginning Aug. 6 -- with the inventive Durst keen to burst any bubble worthy of a prick or two. In a way, the brash "bring it on" bonanza Krebs believes in is his personal patriot act of choosing to shift the world from its wobbly, woozy state.

"What I try to do is present theater that can do some teaching and spawn public debate, as well as be entertaining," says the former Rutgers U. prof whose bio proffers proof of his inspired intent. "And Durst is the smartest of the smart."

Even better than smart-ass Maher? "Durst is a little more thoughtful, and perhaps more accurate." And Krebs, at 62, has given what he does for a career much thought. Political punchlines make for punditry that's relatable; "they can make a difference," he says of stewarding sensibilities to the right -- and left -- side of life. "Just look at Jon Stewart," he notes of the raucous raconteur of a rabble-rouser, "although a lot of what he says is stupid."

Success is no mere dumb luck; smart is as smart does, and what Krebs has done for years is be mindful of the best minds in the business, having years ago made headlines off-Broadway bringing to the stage the headline-reading Jewish leprechaun known as Mort Sahl, whose soulfully searing sound bites are a whole other sinfully rich sandwich.

And if so many of the Jewish wits and wise guys he wrangles on stage are Jewish, it makes sense -- and irreverence. Forget Roy Hobbs; they're the naturals: "It's a combination of their sensitivity, and that they're so socially and politically engaged.

"They're very human; they're great 'livers,' people who live life meaningfully."

Take Krebs' comments seriously, but also with with a liberal dose of laughter -- other comics do. Indeed, Krebs is also producer of "Laughing Liberally," in which those who can't tell their right from their left will be able to do so after seeing the comics in his show. Playing left field is a field of dreams for Krebs, whose electric staging some seasons past of "Electra" with Zoe Wanamaker was eagle-eye insightful.

With "Laughing Liberally," "a comedy show [which spreads] understanding of liberal ideas and advance progressive values," he is attempting to "save democracy one laugh at a time."

My country 'tis of tee-hee? Red, white and blue in the face from frustration?

Politics as unusual is the forte of the funny men and women on stage. As far as respect for the irreverent, Krebs -- founder of off-Broadway's Douglas Fairbanks and John Houseman theaters -- has done it the old-fashioned way: He's earned it.

It all comes from dipping deep in the genetic pool: "My great-grandfather was the rabbi of Temple Israel in New York for 52 years." And the family tree sprouts his relation, too, to Richard Julius Hermann Krebs -- better known as Jan Valtin, a German-born Communist who aided the Soviets in World War II by serving as a double agent with the Nazis, and whose turbulent and topsy-turvy life in which he would later gain citizenship in the United States (as well as a jail term earlier in San Quentin, for assault), is detailed in his demimonde of an autobiography, Out of the Night.

Out of this comes no surprise when Krebs concedes that "political activism and I have something in common."

With a number of political projects playing out on his theatrical agenda, the renegade roomy with memories of the Summer of Love, is celebrating its 40th anniversary by revisiting what he loves best this summer, staging the be-in of all be-ins, to let the sunshine in onstage and off: "I teach," says the rebbe with a cause, "about issues and ideas, and the importance of linking them together."


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