Too Hot for New York
Just whom was the Workshop consulting in its deliberations? It has steadfastly refused to say. In the New York Observer, Nicola mentioned "Jewish friends." Dodgson says that in discussions with the Royal Court, Workshop staffers brought up the Anti-Defamation League and the mayor's office as entities they were concerned about. (Abe Foxman of the ADL visited London in 2005 and denounced the play in the New York Sun as offensive to Jewish "sensitivities.") By one account, the fatal blow was dealt when the global PR firm Ruder Finn (which has an office in Israel) said it couldn't represent the play.
In its latest statement, the Workshop says it consulted many community voices, not only Jews. These did not include Arab-Americans. Najla Said, the artistic director of Nibras, an Arab-American theater in New York, says, "We're not even 'other' enough to be 'other.' We're not the political issue that anyone thinks is worth talking about."
The run had been scheduled for March 22-May 14. Tickets were listed on Telecharge in February. But the Workshop had not announced the production. According to the Royal Court, Nicola at last told them he wanted to postpone the play at least six months or a year to allow the political climate to settle down and to better prepare the production. The Royal Court took this as a cancellation. The news broke on February 28 in the Guardian and the New York Times.
The Times article was shocking. It said the Workshop had "delayed" a production it had never announced, and reported that Nicola had been "polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings." Nicola was quoted saying that Hamas's victory had made the Jewish community "very defensive and very edgy...and that seemed reasonable to me."
The Red Sea parted. Or anyway the Atlantic Ocean. The English playwright Caryl Churchill, who has worked with both theaters, condemned the decision. Vanessa Redgrave wrote a letter urging the Royal Court to sue the Workshop. At first, the New York theater community was quiet.
Enter the blogosphere, stage left. Three or four outraged theater bloggers began peppering the Workshop's community with questions. Whom did the Workshop talk to? Why aren't theater people up in arms? Garrett Eisler, the blogger Playgoer, likened the decision to one by the Manhattan Theater Club to cancel its 1998 production of Corpus Christi, a play imagining Christ as a gay man--a decision that was reversed after leading voices, including the Times editorial page, denounced the action.
The playwright Jason Grote circulated a petition calling on the Workshop to reverse itself. Signers included Philip Munger, a composer whose cantata dedicated to Corrie, The Skies Are Weeping, also had experienced politically motivated cancellations. The young playwright Christopher Shinn spoke out early and forcefully, saying the postponement amounted to censorship. "No one with a name was saying anything," says Eisler. "And Chris Shinn is not that big a name, but he is a practicing theater artist whose name gets in the New York Times."
By the time I visited the Workshop, a week into the controversy, it was a wounded institution. Linda Chapman, the associate artistic director, who had signed Grote's petition, said she couldn't talk to me, because of the "quicksand" that any statement had become. The Workshop had posted and then removed from its website a clumsy statement aimed at explaining itself. Playgoer was demanding that the opponents of the play come forward and drumming for a declaration from Tony Kushner, who has staged plays at the Workshop, posting his photo as if he were some war criminal.