By JASON ROBERT BROWN
February 22, 2023, Nyack, NY
So, the Neo-Nazis.
There is a website about the Leo Frank case that is not hard to find on Google. It has been around in some form or other since we first opened Parade in the late 1990’s, and perhaps even before then. It’s quite extensive and you might even think it was a legitimate research archive if you didn’t dig too deep. But then you’ll run across something like this article from October 28, 2019, written by the site’s curator, N. Joseph Potts: “Jewish Men Dying In Jail For Ravaging Young Girls: [Jeffrey] Epstein v [Leo] Frank.” And suddenly there you are, deep in the world of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory and fear-mongering that has followed the Jews around since Ptolemy ruled Ancient Egypt.
Here’s your copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Here’s your blood libel. Your Great Replacement Theory. Your Globalists. Your New World Order. Your thirty pieces of silver. Look, it’s the Illuminati! There’s Shylock, Fagin, Svengali, oh hi Ezra Pound, hi Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Sand, Ballllllzac. Everywhere a Jew turns, his or her religion, culture, race is being derided, mocked, slandered.
When Jews first encounter this stuff at a young age, our instinct – well, let me not generalize – my instinct was to laugh; surely no one believed this. We had horns? We baked matzah with the blood of Christian children? We secretly ran the world’s banking systems? Madness, obviously. As I got older, I developed a wary familiarity with the nonsense. It didn’t seem to affect my life too much, but it was always there, this persistent mockery and hostility that seemed so ridiculous on the surface but was continually being given little infusions of oxygen.
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s all been getting a whole lot more oxygen recently. Maybe since, hm, 2017. Correlation may not equal causation, but the Jew-haters have certainly gotten noisier and bolder since Trump’s election. You know that. I know that. They know that. Let’s not be coy.
It’s not that Parade hasn’t been on their radar before. Mary Phagan’s grand-niece, Mary Phagan-Kean, has been loudly denouncing Leo Frank and our show (which she of course has not seen, though I can hardly blame her) since we opened at Lincoln Center, and has been duly embraced and amplified by anti-Semitic groups; there was a certain degree of hubbub when we opened our tour in Atlanta in 2000; and there are many websites (including the one I mentioned above) that include Parade in their list of sins against the good White people of Georgia and America, but by and large, to be honest, the show itself hasn’t had a large impact on the general public, so it hasn’t drawn out the crazies as much as it would have had it been, say, Hamilton.
But before we opened at City Center last fall, our producer Jenny Gersten called me to ask whether there had been a history of threats against the show. I didn’t need to ask why she was calling. I took a deep breath. Ah, I thought. That’s where we are now.
I feel terrible that audience members who are waiting in line to see our show on Broadway may be accosted by Neo-Nazis. (I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence.) But I’ll tell you the truth: I’m glad the assholes showed up. I’m glad they feel threatened enough to emerge into the light and show their faces. I suspect they don’t particularly know or care about the case; they just want to yell out the words “Jew” and “pedophile.” They won’t really engage with you, they can’t; everything they could tell you about Leo Frank and the case has been decisively debunked, over and over again. No legitimate conversation about the murder of Mary Phagan will end with you believing Leo Frank was guilty. There is plenty of research, much more than there was when Alfred and I started work on this show, which details in stark clarity the myriad ways in which Leo Frank was targeted and attacked by a society which did not care about the evidence or the law; the wounded, frightened populace of Atlanta wanted a Jew punished, and in the same way that some people will tell you that there was fraud in our last election no matter how much you show them that there wasn’t, the people of Georgia in 1913 believed that a Jew killed that girl no matter how much you proved that he couldn’t have. Some of them still do.
I have always suspected that Leo Frank was a difficult man to like. He was no hero. He was no martyr. But one of the things Parade says is that you don’t have to praise or admire Leo Frank to see that he was the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice, fueled by rage and fear and anti-Semitic hysteria.
For the past couple of months, lots of people have been saying to me how important it is that we’re bringing Parade to Broadway right now, how the world needs to see this story at this moment in time. Honestly, I’ve been kind of skeptical; the story’s been there all along. But I have to acknowledge in light of last night’s events that there’s something about Ben Platt, a Jewish star, leading this American story about prejudice and scapegoating, right there in our weird little corner of the National Cultural Conversation, that really counts. Clearly it affects our audience. Obviously it’s affecting the other side as well. The Conversation was brought right to the stage door last night. That’s where we are now.
יְֽהֹוָ֗ה עֹ֭ז לְעַמּ֣וֹ יִתֵּ֑ן יְהֹוָ֓ה ׀ יְבָרֵ֖ךְ אֶת־עַמּ֣וֹ בַשָּׁלֽוֹם (“Adonai blesses God’s people with peace.”)