a new play and film by Jed Bolipata
In 1943, the American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was indicted for treason after ranting and raving on a fascist-backed radio program in Italy where he was living at the time with a wife and a mistress. He did this twice a week, got paid for his services, and the speeches were broadcast in America on short-wave radio. His diatribes were generally anti-FDR and anti-Semitic and the FBI and the Department of Justice moved quickly towards the indictment.
Two years later, at the end of World War II, the 60-year-old Pound was captured and brought back to the United States to stand trial. But before the trial proper could begin, his sanity came into question, possibly as a defense ploy. Treason is a crime punishable by death so the stakes couldn't have been higher. The presiding judge, who denied Pound's request to represent himself, ordered Pound remanded to a mental hospital for observation and a few months later impaneled a jury to assess his sanity.
This is where the play begins, on February 13, 1946, inside a federal courtroom in Washington, DC. With the burden of proof on the defense, and Pound brooding silently in the background, Prosecutor and Defense Attorney examine and cross-examine, in one grueling 90-minute session, three psychiatrists, two from the government and one hired by the defense.
The Defense Attorney tries to show that Pound's mind has come unhinged due to a lengthy period of solitary confinement shortly after his arrest. The Prosecutor is convinced he is faking it in order to avoid the death penalty. The final witness, the head of the mental hospital where Pound is being held, seems to have ulterior motives.
It is an ignominious chapter in the annals of post-war history, and it's as relevant today as it was 67 years ago. Only the fashions have changed.