Folks not familiar with northern Westchester who hear the name Goldens Bridge easily could mistake it for merely a water crossing rather than the colorful name of a two-and-a-half square mile hamlet in the town of Lewisboro.
What likely is not known even to longtime residents of Northern Westchester is that Goldens Bridge was settled in the 1920s by people who subscribed to certain aspects of socialism.
That history helps form the basis of a new play that has its premiere last weekend in Manhattan in the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at Theatre Row on 42nd Street.
I happened to be in the cast of the play, titled “Goldensbridge,” by award-winning writer Albi Gorn of Hastings-on-Hudson. With his wife, Robin Anne Joseph, they write, direct, produce, and act in both original and classic works, operating under the banner of GoJo Clan Productions.
In these fraught times, the word socialism is a lightning rod for emotional outbursts, on both sides of the aisle. If the mere mention of the word is susceptible to instant demonization, there’s a good reason: the term is routinely misunderstood and misused, sometimes willfully, sometimes obliviously.
If you move past the overheated politics that infuse and distort it, it becomes apparent that there are eight different types of socialism. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that there are strains of socialism in our current society, such as Medicare. Point being that the multi-layered philosophy is a lot more granular and complicated than it’s made out to be by its most vocal detractors in our benighted age of superficial sound bites that distort rather than elucidate.
Upon hearing the word, people react to without benefit of specific context and based on their feelings toward whomever is using the word. The dynamics of our culture dictate that it’s not always what is being said that matters as much as who is saying it.
The story told through the play “Goldensbridge” provides context for what the denizens of the colony were all about.
This passage from the Wikipedia entry for the real Goldens Bridge serves as a concise and accurate summation for much of what unfolds on stage: “In the mid-20th century, the hamlet was home to a majority Jewish community, which governed itself under communal living standards…”
The characters in “Goldensbridge” are drawn by the playwright not as political symbols but as relatable, flesh-and-blood beings, based on his own formative experiences living there in the 1960s and beyond.
These are everyday folks who are, in the same breath, earthy and ethereal. Their communal passions are to work the land, help their neighbors, champion the hard-working laborer, socialize through recreational and cultural activities, value family bonds, listen to and play classical and folk music, read books, engage in conversations that stimulate the mind, and elevate ideas that animate humankind. Call them farmer-philosophers.
In the playwright’s fictionalized account of his own family’s experience, it is the early 1990s and lifelong political activists Maury Goldin (played by Patrick McGuiness) and wife Lilly (Julie Griffin) have lived in the colony for 30 years.
Heading into their eighties, the couple faces a life-altering decision of whether to remain in Goldensbridge or to pull up roots from their beloved community and move to an assisted living residence in the Bronx.
The full-length play shifts continuously and cinematically, with scenes seamlessly crossing over into other eras, including the 1930s, 1960s, and 1980s.
For instance, in 1934, we see Maury, accompanied by best friend Sam (my character), trying to prevent a scab from entering a place of business where the workers are trying to form a union.
In the 1960s, having just moved to Goldensbridge, Maury and Lilly’s teenage son Harvey (Andrew Griffin), a gifted musician, is smitten by a girl he has met, Emma (Julia Boyes). Harvey, though, can’t make up his mind what he wants, even with his friend Ivan (Michael Manzi) giving him pointers.
Later, as an adult in his 40s, Harvey has grown apart from Goldensbridge and its communal ethos, but also wants to do right by his aging parents. He is at a crossroads of whether to continue his New York City bachelor life or become a family man in Goldensbridge.
At the same time, Maury, ever proud and feisty, is beset by physical aillments in his legs and hands. It’s an especially cruel fate for someone whose life revolves around playing cello, growing tomatoes, and fixing things. “If it’s something I can get my hands on, I could usually make it work, make a difference,” he says, calling himself “Golden Hands Goldin.”
It is through Maury that we learn how a communal society like Goldensbridge works. He tells Harvey that the colony came to life on the backs of workers from the city, who were looking for a place where they could build a community to live the way they wanted to.
“They bought the land,” he says, “built bungalows, the lake, and a stage in the barn,” whch has hosted renowned artists like Pete Seeger and The Weavers.
As Maury points out, the community’s form of self-governance also controls the garbage collection, water distribution, roads, and other infrastructure essentials. In one scene, Maury and Harvey rush over to help a neighbor, Myra (Ann Gulian), whose water has stopped running, by fixing her water valve.
Maury succinctly describes Goldensbridge as “a society that the people control, where we govern ourselves, look out for one another…”
Wait a minute. Minimal government. Mutual respect for the rights of the individual. Personal responsibility. Did someone say socialism? Or conservatism?
For tickets and information on the play “Goldensbridge,” go to GoJoClanProductions.com.
For more information on the real-life Goldens Bridge colony and its homeowners group, the Goldens Bridge Community Association. visit goldensbridge.org.