Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Harvey Fierstein's 2014 play, "Casa Valentina" told the story of one weekend in 1962 at an upstate New York resort for cross-dressers, and was based on a real place. At that time, cross-dressing was illegal and cross-dressers risked losing their jobs and families for expressing their true selves. I visited the New York City-based headquarters of Cross Dressers International (CDI) to ask members how the play resonated with them and how things have changed for cross-dressers since the 1960s. You can also click here to read my interview with Casa Valentina star Reed Birney. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015


"The Americans" -- the hit TV show about a pair of Soviet spies living in the U.S. under the guise of a regular American married couple with kids -- comes back this January 28th for its third season. That's the season preview, above.

The show was inspired by the real-life case of a Russian spy ring that was broken up in 2010, producer Joe Weisberg tells Studio 360

One of the intelligence agents in that ring was Andrei Bezrukov, who was living under the alias of Donald Howard Heathfield. That alias sounds like it was generated by a computer programmed to spit out the most ordinary-sounding name possible.

Andrei Bezrukov
Bezrukov and his wife and fellow agent Yelena Vavilova (alias Tracey Lee Ann Foley) were living in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time of their arrest in 2010. He ran a consulting firm and she was a real-estate agent. They had two sons, then aged 16 and 20 -- neither of whom had ever been to Russia or spoke a word of Russian.

Imagine the shock the kids received when their parents were arrested. It happened when the family was celebrating their elder son's birthday party. "For a few minutes, [our sons] thought it was some kind of prank – a crowd of people in dark suits arriving in black cars," Bezrukov told the Russian Reporter in a 2012 interview. (Here's the full interview in Russian, and an abridged English translation.)

In the interview, Bezrukov talked about his views on the U.S., the work of intelligence gathering, and how his kids were adjusting to life in Russia, where they were deported soon after their parents had returned to the country in a prisoner swap.

The two sons, it was initially reported, knew nothing of their parents' double lives. But then in 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that the couple had groomed their older son, Tim, as an agent. The couple issued a statement dismissing that claim as "crap."

The new season of "The Americans" picks up as the fictional married couple are considering recruiting their teenage daughter into the family profession.

In the English translation of the Russian Reporter interview, a few answers are omitted. Here, with help from Google Translate, is my admittedly faulty rendering of those questions and answers.

What qualities are important for an intelligence agent? What is the main one?

I think patriotism. This and only this is the whole meaning of the work. Money cannot be the meaning for an agent. Only a person loyal to ideas can do his work, understanding that the rest of his life might be spent in prison. No material benefits can justify that. 

What does the word “patriotism” mean to you? 

I think patriotism is understanding your place in the world as part of Russia. These are my friends, these are my parents, this is my family tree that goes back in the days of Yermak, when my great great great grandparents came to Siberia. For me to forget that is to be left with nothing. ... I am especially close to the idea of ​​a great and tragic history of my country, the ruptures through which it has passed, its endless, painful search for itself between East and West.

Everyone has a national spark like that. But isn’t that just the cover for a cold political struggle?  

No. Let’s talk about the national idea, without even touching on the political struggle. The national idea is to grasp what place your country occupies in the world, what we as a nation want, what we can allow and what we can’t. If we have a commonality and an understanding of who we are, where we are going, what the underlying principles arethat's what unites people, that’s what is called the national idea. The ideas that united us before are no more. They are gone. Russia is now in the process of forming new ideas. The political struggle is about the future of Russiaevidence of the ongoing process of the crystallization of the national idea, the element of creation.