That's my question after reading Deb Margolin's comment here explaining why she pulled Imagining Madoff from Theater J's season next year:
The play had a reading at Theater J in Washington DC, and pulled the audience into an important meditation on morality and issues of trust within the Jewish community, which is why Ari Roth, Artistic Director, expressed a desire to present the play in his theater. The collapse of this arrangement, precipitated first by Professor Wiesel’s frightening letter to me threatening litigation and secondarily by Roth’s promise to the Foundation that I would edit the play and submit it to the Wiesel Foundation for their assurances that they would not litigate, saddens me deeply. This sequence obliged me to pull the play from Theater J’s season. I was not averse to editing the play, to removing references to Wiesel’s fictionalized character; I could not, however, bring myself to submit a play for approval to a man who has for years stood for the struggle for human rights and freedoms, including the freedom of speech. (emphasis mine)
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? If anything, this sounds far, far worse than NYTW pulling the plug on Corrie. With Corrie, the reasons were always nebulous-- Jim Nicola consulted unnamed Jewish friends of the theatre who voiced opposition to the play-- whereas here, you have an artistic director telling a foundation that a playwright will submit their play for the foundations approval. Leave aside for a moment my admiration for Wiesel as a writer and this looks like rank intimidation by someone who doesn't want any public acknowledgement of his past friendship with a reviled con man, even if the portrayal is positive.
That's pretty scandalous in my book. And I don't think it's totally of character for Theater J. After all, although they did readings of both My Name is Rachel Corrie and Seven Jewish Children, in the latter's case they'd only present it with a speech denouncing it, an after-show discussion with a holocaust survivor railing against it and three different "Response" plays taking either pro-Zionist or anti-Palestinian views (one of them, ironically enough, written by Deb Margolin). Not only that, according to Playgoer, Theatre J's artistic director Ari Roth was NYTW's "main defender" at a panel discussion about Corrie back in 2006.
I really want to hear Ari Roth's side of this, and I hope the recent theatre journalism competition between City Paper and the WaPo over Joy Zinoman's retirement at Studio will start a war between the two of them to get to the bottom of this story.
UPDATE: A friend of mine contacted me about this post to point out an unremarked upon dynamic in way of defending Ari Roth and Theater J. What he points out is that Theater J's position as part of the DCJCC means that Ari Roth reports not to his theater's board, but rather to JCC's executive director. Seven Jewish Children, even presented in the highly compromised form that Roth did it in, brought a lot of heat on Theater J, and several donors (according again to my friend) actually pulled JCC contributions because of it. In other words, there's a careful tightrope that Theater J walks in terms of when it challenges and when it placates its community and, essentially Margolin's play bore the brunt of this balancing act this time around. (This was sent to me as a defense of Theater J's actions, the reasoning being that Roth et al have to pick their battles).
I don't know enough about the inner workings of the DCJCC to really comment on this (although it's a friend in the know about this sort of thing) so I'll simply say: This is an interesting thing to consider for those of us who are invested in the idea of theaters serving and flowing out of their communities.