Yes, just when we thought "My Name is Rachel Corrie" had come and gone without incident, and proved New York Theatre Workshop wrong for canceling it, the CanStage company in Toronto has now nixed it off their season.
No ambiguity here, though about "cancel" vs postponed, or over whether they were ever really going to do it.
Martin Bragg, artistic producer of Canstage, said in a phone interview yesterday that he has changed his mind and decided not to make the controversial play the centrepiece of the theatre's 2007/2008 subscription series as he was publicly suggesting only a month ago.....See? Now that's smart. If only NYTW's Jim Nicola had come out and said, "I'm not doing it 'cause it sucks," there would have been nothing more to talk about.
And just as there is more than one version of just who Rachel Corrie was and why she died, there also appears to be more than one version of why her story will not be coming soon to a stage near you.
Bragg's version: When he read the script (based on Corrie's journals) he had an emotional reaction and was "absolutely reduced to tears" as he told the Star's Richard Ouzounian five weeks ago. But later when he went to see it on stage at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York's Greenwich Village (where it recently closed) it fell flat. The theatre was half-empty, and there was no standing ovation at the end. "The truth is it just didn't seem as powerful on stage as it did on the page – and the audience wasn't buying it."
Ah, but wait:
The alternate version being told among CanStage insiders: Members of Bragg's board were alarmed by negative response from influential supporters of the theatre, especially in Toronto's Jewish community, who were canvassed for their opinion. Many were dismayed and openly critical when confronted with the prospect of the city's flagship not-for-profit theatre producing a play that could be construed as anti-Semitic propaganda, especially during a frightening period when Israel's existence is threatened by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.Sound familiar?
"I was asked what I thought, and I told them I would react very badly to aThere's a bit of a sneer in the Florida remark, but I love it all the same. (The article is Martin Knelman's, for the Toronto Star.)
play that was offensive to Jews," says veteran cultural activist Bluma Appel, whose name is affixed to the theatre where CanStage presents its mainstage productions. "I would react just as badly to a play that was offensive to blacks or Muslims or white Christians," Appel said from her winter home in Florida.
What's that Marx said about history the first time as tragedy, the second as farce?
A complicating factor: CanStage posted a loss of almost $700,000 this year and has seen its audience dwindle. This is no time to alienate subscribers and risk controversy.
Developer Jack Rose, a member of the CanStage board who, like Appel, has not read or seen the play, says: "I had one phone conversation about this. There was a question whether it would be a mistake to proceed with it, and my view was it would provoke a negative reaction in the Jewish community."
While on the subject, I also want to finally reference the hatchet job The New Republic did on the play toward the end of its run. No Brustein review, but instead two "think pieces" from writers with a pro-Israel agenda. One by a young right-wing political writer, James Kirchick, the other by novelist Cynthia Ozick. (Too bad the complete articles are firewalled.) I especially appreciate this swipe from Ozick:
when the play was turned away by the New York Theater Workshop apparently because of objections from donors offended by its agitprop banalities, there sprang up, amid the foolish cries of "censorship" (as if the Constitution were being subverted), a newborn legend.I guess Ozick's something of a strict constructionist now? If the founders didn't write it, it don't count!
I'm all for non-theatre people writing more about theatre, and I'm all for printing multiple contrasting reviews of a play. But anyone familiar with New Republic head Marty Peretz's politics on Israel will not be surprised by this slanted coverage. He could have used the play as an opportunity for debate, but no.
As Jimmy Carter's new book demonstrates, the basic views expressed in "MNIRC" can no longer be dismissed as "fringe." Oh, people are pissed at Carter, no doubt. So much so that Brandeis University has reportedly refused to allow him--a former president, mind you--to address students unless accompanied by Alan Dershowitz to debate him. (Now that's "balance".) So one would hope the way is being paved for a truly open forum--in both our universities and on our stages--to explore the incendiary issue of Palestine & Israel.
Phil Weiss has some good stuff on the Carter story, too, on his blog.