Harvey Fierstein on the Timely Lessons of AIDS, Gay Rights and Bella Abzug (Listen)

Tony-winning Broadway favorite Harvey Fierstein can’t be onstage right now — so he’s bringing his newest work to your earbuds. After a premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club last year, his play “Bella Bella,” the solo show in which Fierstein also stars as the groundbreaking activist and politician Bella Abzug, now arrives on Audible with a fresh, timely relevance to a country grappling with the coronavirus shutdown and in the midst of a national reckoning spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

Speaking on the latest episode of “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast, Fierstein noted that his play includes a story about Abzug going to the South because she was the only lawyer who would step up to defend an accused Black man, and another about Abzug’s experiences in politics, battling misinformation and voter suppression. Both segments of the show, he said, have taken on new resonance now, adding that he was initially inspired by the 2016 presidential election and the dirty politics he saw wielded against Hillary Clinton. Those tactics, he realized, recalled the methods of Abzug’s opponents 40 years earlier.

What struck him, Fierstein recalled, was the assertion that Clinton was anti-Israel: “I said, ‘I know she’s not anti-Israel. She was Secretary of State. Where is this coming from? Who would make up this stuff? But it sounds awful familiar…’ And then I remembered, almost line for line, it was the same stuff they put out about Bella. And I realized it’s the same boys’ club, and the boys’ club was out there coming up with this stuff … to get you not to vote for her.”

Fierstein added that he felt real urgency in getting “Bella Bella” out in the world. “I wanted to do it as quickly as possible,” he said. “The idea being: Do the play, and as soon as the play is done, release the play to groups that want to put it on to raise money for women candidates. I created a version of it that could be read, a concert version of it, so that they could go to a woman running for office and use it as a fundraiser. That was the idea,” he explained, before the COVID pandemic shook up the 2020 campaign trail.

Also on the new episode of “Stagecraft,” Fierstein reflects on how his experiences with the AIDS epidemic, and with the fight for gay rights, influence his perspective on the coronavirus pandemic and the uprisings in support of Black lives.

“Any of us who lived through the AIDS epidemic are not in as panicked a mode,” Fierstein said of the current pandemic. “We’re more angry.”

New episodes of “Stagecraft” are available biweekly during the summer, with a weekly scheduling resuming this fall. Download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. Past episodes are available here and on Apple Podcasts.

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