(Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)
Rachel Corrie was an American college student killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to block the demolition of Palestinian houses near a refugee camp in Gaza. (Israel officials claimed the demolitions were intended to stifle attacks along a road parallel to the Egyptian border.)
Those who follow the New York theater world know all about the controversy that ignited earlier this year when New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) dropped plans to produce the U.S. premiere of My Name is Rachel Corrie. The play, a one-woman show with a script culled from Corrie’s own writing, had originally premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London under the direction of Alan “Shoot the Glass” Rickman.
NYTW claimed that they cancelled the production because of time constraints, not politics, but many in the theater community suspect that the subject matter had become too-hot-too-handle for the non-profit theater. (We recommend turning to Odets expert and theater blogger Playgoer for an exhaustive analysis and timeline of the imbroglio.)
Rickman, in turn, picked up his marbles and went to the Minetta Lane theater, where, despite decidedly mixed reviews (Brantley said, 'Meh', Lahr said, ‘Yeah’) the production has been extended through the end of the year.
The Minetta Lane has been hosting a series of lively post-show talkbacks on Tuesday nights. Last week featured a panel with playwrights Tony Kushner (a friend of NYTW but critic of their stance on this play) and David Hare, whose Via Dolorosa, about his journey through Israel and the West Bank, was a Broadway hit in 1999. While we spent the night watching beer and drinking election results, theater director and blogger Mr. Excitement was in the house taking notes.
According to his account, Kushner explained NYTW’s cancellation thusly: “They freaked out and panicked from internal stimuli. There was no evidence that crazy right-wing groups had any intention of attacking them. They got some very bad advice from public-relations firms.” Then Hare took non-profit theater companies to task, “saying that counter to his original understanding that the American non-profit was meant to be an alternative to the commercial theater, the ‘not-for-profit appears to be a training ground for the commercial theater.’ Theater management, he observed, is ‘way behind the audience’, ‘further to the right’ and ‘hysterically fearful of its donors’.”
In a mono-cultural climate in which regional theaters find it increasingly difficult to stay afloat (Seattle’s Empty Space is the latest casualty), is the work of non-profit theaters bound to grow more staid and subservient to subscribers’ (i.e. senior citizens) tastes? Is NYTW’s cancellation part of a play-it-safe tendency for non-profit theaters? Trends are often in the eye of the reporter, but it seems clear that more municipal funding for theater is crucial if midsize theaters are to not merely stay open but take risks as well.
We recommend tonight’s My Name is Rachel Corrie talkback panel, which will include Rachel Corrie's parents Cindy and Craig Corrie and the founders of Combatants for Peace, Yonatan Shapiro and Suliman al-Chatibr. Tickets are $45/$65, but $25 rush tickets are usually available two hours prior to performance.