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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

October 13, 2003

Professor’s life brought to the stage

When social work professor Tony Platt read his FBI file in the 1970s, he was pleased to find that his suspicions about the government agency were true: federal agents had been tracking his movements and monitoring the classes he was teaching at UC Berkeley.

Photo of Tony Platt
Tony Platt

"At the start of each semester, when I was teaching at Berkeley in the late 60s, I would welcome my students and the FBI agents who were sitting in on my class," Platt says. "Of course, many students thought I was a little crazy, some maybe even thought I was paranoid, but it turned out I was right," says Platt, who was surprised about the level of detail in the file, even though many sections were deemed too sensitive for public consumption and were blacked out by the FBI.

Years later, many of Platt’s political experiences in the late 1960s and 1970s, although artistically embellished, have come to life in “Continental Divide: Daughters of the Revolution” and “Mothers Against,” a pair of plays about the American political system written by acclaimed British playwright David Edgar that premiered last spring at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The concept came into being when the English-born Platt and his wife, Cecilia O’Leary, a CSU Monterey Bay professor were introduced to Edgar five years ago by a mutual friend. They became the primary consultants to Edgar during the development of the plays.

They told Edgar of their own experiences, introduced them to people who had other valuable information to share, and organized focus groups to discuss the play during the development process. The end result is two productions that have garnered rave reviews in The New York Times and the Times of London, among others.

Although set in contemporary time, Edgar’s original idea was to look at the legacy of the radical and utopian movements of the 1960s and 1970s – both left and right—and see what happened to American politics as a result.

"These plays speak to the need to examine the era from inside the experience of participants and understand the political lessons learned,” Platt says.

According to Platt, the results are two solid productions that are full of ideas and complexity. "The plays are very dense, full of information, and require an engaged audience. There are no easy answers or simple resolutions,” he says.

In “Daughters of the Revolution,” the story follows Michael

Bern, a college professor taking early retirement from a career that has had its share of disappointments. When his wife uses his FBI file to create a skit for his retirement party, he learns that a member of his antiwar group in the early 1970s informed on him. He then sets about tracking down his old pals, one of whom is now campaign manager to the Democratic candidate for governor.

“Mothers Against” is set at the ranch of Republican gubernatorial candidate Sheldon Vine, a 60s libertarian, who is sequestered with his campaign team to prepare for a televised debate with his Democratic opponent. The debate addresses two difficult issues: a controversial proposition and the recent death of an environmental protester. Even more difficult for Vine is the conflict between his personal ideals and the expediency of his campaign staff, who are willing to do anything to win.

Platt describes the plays as "Interlocking, they stand alone but inform each other and change our understanding of the play we saw first.” Although they have different stories, Platt says that many of the same actors, characters and themes show up in both. "You can hear the audience buzz with recognition."

That buzz will soon be heard closer to Sacramento. After the performances in Oregon, “Continental Divide: Daughters of the Revolution” and “Mothers Against” will come to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre Nov. 6 through Dec. 28.

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu