Tensions Increase Over Delay of a Play
Just a week after a potential production of the controversial British play "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" was delayed at the New York Theater Workshop because of political concerns, the Royal Court Theater in London said it was considering several other offers to take the play to New York.
Ewan Thomson, a spokesman for the Royal Court, confirmed that officials there wanted to stage it in New York "as soon as we possibly can" and have talked to other producers. Mr. Thomson said the company was hoping to capitalize on the show's momentum from a coming run in London's West End, where it will play from March 28 to May 7, approximately the same dates it had been tentatively scheduled to run at New York Theater Workshop.
And in a sign of heightened tensions between the two theaters, the Royal Court also issued a statement to address "factual inaccuracies" in a letter posted on the workshop's Web site and assertions made by James C. Nicola, the workshop's artistic director.
In particular, the Royal Court's statement took issue with the workshop's assertion that the planned production of "Rachel Corrie" was not definite, saying that press releases had been finalized, previews set, budgets approved, flights booked and tickets listed for sale. "I don't want this to become a spat between two theaters," said Mr. Thomson, who faxed a copy of the statement to The New York Times. "But there were certain factual inaccuracies we wanted to address."
Mr. Nicola was traveling yesterday and unavailable for comment, but Lynn Moffat, the workshop's managing director, disputed the Royal Court's statement, saying that many production details and creative elements were still being settled when the show was delayed.
"Everything was in the soup," Ms. Moffat said. "But we were going on good faith. We were moving forward."
Mr. Nicola said last week that he had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish leaders as to their feelings about the play, which follows the story of Rachel Corrie, an idealistic American demonstrator who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in March 2003 while trying to prevent the destruction of a home in the Gaza Strip.
Written by Alan Rickman, the actor, and Katherine Viner, a journalist with The Guardian newspaper in London, and pieced together from Ms. Corrie's own journals and e-mail messages, the show was a hit in London and garnered strong reviews. But Mr. Nicola said recent conversations with Jewish leaders had uncovered an unease about the play's message at a time when Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, had scored a victory in recent elections.
The workshop later posted a statement on its Web site elaborating on the decision, saying it had not canceled or censored the production and that time pressures — particularly "Alan Rickman's pre-existing film commitments" — had driven it to delay the show.
"We asked a rather routine question, or so we thought, to our London colleagues about altering the time frame," the workshop's statement read. "Our intent in asking for the postponement was to allow us enough time to contextualize the work so Rachel Corrie's powerful voice could best be heard above the din of others shouting for their own purposes."
But the announcement of the play's delay caused some concern in artistic circles on both sides of the Atlantic. In a letter posted on the political Web site Counterpunch.org, for example, the actress Vanessa Redgrave, a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause, called the workshop's decision "censorship of the worst kind" and the "blacklisting of a dead girl and her diaries."
In New York, the playwright Christopher Shinn — a member of the workshop's extended artistic ensemble, the Usual Suspects — also published a short essay online calling for more playwrights to come forward to protest the workshop's decision. "If I were a young playwright, I would get the message loud and clear: don't write political plays if you want to get them produced," Mr. Shinn wrote. "And if you write a play that gets scheduled, and then pulled for political reasons, don't expect the theater community to come out and support your freedom of expression. This is a ghastly message to send."
Ms. Moffat said that she and Mr. Nicola were surprised by the reaction, in particular an op-ed piece by Ms. Viner in The Los Angeles Times that accused Mr. Nicola of "exercising prior censorship."
"The charge of censorship is what's really distressing to us," Ms. Moffat said. "We didn't take the word postponement to mean censorship."
Ms. Moffat added that the workshop still intended to present "Rachel Corrie" next season. But the Royal Court's statement yesterday made that seem less likely.
"A postponement at any time, but especially at this late stage, is not the action of an organization committed to producing 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie,' " the statement read, adding that there was no assurance that the political climate in the Middle East would change anytime soon.