The Playgoer: How does the story end?

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

How does the story end?

When I started this blog ten months ago, I really did not intend it only as a platform for beating up Jim Nicola every day. Honest. I have had many memorable evenings at New York Theatre Workshop and had always respected its ambition despite the occasional selling out that all nonprofits unfortunately find themselves stooping to.

I would like for the "Rachel Corrie" story to be "over" soon so I can get back to my original vision of an online theatre "column" of reviews and commentary....But what does "over" mean here? Every time I open to another NY Times piece on this, or read another Nicola defense on NYTW.org (not updated since March 14, btw) I genuinely hope things will be resolved. But they just get lead to more questions and make things worse. No matter what you thought of the original decision, you have to admit that if an organization can't put a controversy behind them after almost four (!) weeks, they're definitely doing something wrong. (The ol' "coverup worse than the crime" lesson has been lost on them.)

So let me offer two scenarios which I at least would consider "closure":

A) NYTW announces the play will go on as soon as possible--i.e. May or June, when the West End run is done. No discussions, no "companion plays," no "contextualization." Just the play. "Let the people decide"--something like that. Too late to totally heal the wound, but, hey, what ticket sales.
Aside from being desirable, these are probably the only conditions Alan Rickman and the Royal Court would agree to at this point. If Nicola still thinks he can do the play in any other way at any other time, he's living in a fantasy world.

B) Jim Nicola finally makes an unqualified, no-excuses statement admitting a big mistake, that NYTW blew it, and just lets go of the play altogether. If he's smart he adds: "I still believe in the play. And I hope some other company or producer will take it on so everyone can see it."

Then, echoes of disgruntlement in the blogosphere notwithstanding, he and the company really could move on. Providing they ever announce another show!

So let's see if either of these happens this week. If not, I'm afraid you may be tuning in for Week Five...

Other suggestions for an "endgame"? Let's hear' em. (Please comment)

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

The only ending is Jim Nicola's saying, "I made a mistake. I'm sorry." His actions so far demonstrate the very primitive mechanism of projection: I did nothing wrong, THEY did (the Royal Court, Alan Rickman), and THEY did (those who criticized his decision), and THEY did (the blogs and press who keep trying to get to the bottom of the story). This is so psychologically immature that it is hard to imagine he will "see the light" and realize the many mistakes he's made. So I can only forsee an apology if a frightened board forces him to do it to make the story go away.

If Pinter's public statement calling this censorship, and Kushner's public statement calling him a liar, aren't enough to get him to take that latest idiotic statement off nytw.org (March 14 statement, still online as of March 19) then what will?

Philip Munger said...

I think he's been offered a followup job - NEA chair or something on that level, if he can keep the play in a bottle for as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you're talking about, Philip. Jim Nicola can't keep the play in a bottle. The Royal Court has the rights. And I hardly think the Bush administration is telling Jim he's next in line to head the NEA. What an
idiot remark.

Philip Munger said...

might be an unsavvy remark, but you don't have to be rude. And I hope you're right.

Just broke a major rule, which is to not respond to people who lack the character to post with either their name or a handle.

Dr. Cashmere said...

To really put this story behind NYTW in a way that doesn't leave an enduring stain, I think Nicola will need to go further than simply stating that he's made a mistake.

He needs to specify what that mistake *is*: Namely, cancelling a production because of the possiblity that it might offend external critics.

I'd also argue, as I have previously, that NYTW desperately needs to engage in a dialogue with its various constituents about all the questions the last few weeks have raised: How are production decisions made at NYTW? What kind of PR test-marketing goes on and is it appropriate? How might a similarly controversial work be handled differently in the future?

Unless these questions are fully aired before the theater's associate artists, subscribers and donors, they will hang over NYTW for a long time.

dont let's jump the shark said...

No one has spelled out the specific questions as simply and reasonably as dr. cashmere has.

Perhaps the new "meme" that those of us who care so much about this turn of events should be pushing is: There are three questions NYTW needs to answer. This is what they are.

Keeping it simple and concrete -- that makes it harder for Nicola and co. to cry "hysteria." These are three reasonable questions, and not shrill in the least.

Philip Munger said...

dr. cashmere,

by not owning up to a mistake and continuing to stand by the position that RCT was remiss in publicly exaggerating the gulf between NYTW and RCT, NYTW is likely to claim a tort if RCT tries to open in NYC with another party. That could keep the play off US stages until there would be a settlement of one kind or another. could take years.......

jumped it said...

Philip Munger has officially jumped the shark. The depressing thing about the left is that so often we take that one extra step into paranoia and nonsense. The dailykos hysteria effect. Obviously NYTW is not going to tie this up in court. Sheesh.

Philip Munger said...
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Philip Munger said...
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Philip Munger said...
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Philip Munger said...

so, summing up to anon and jts,

I'm a nothing in Alaska. Nicola is an alternative stage savant in NYC. Stick worked for me in the USA, but Nicola must have been offered some carrot as well. More important, as Rachel Corrie's wise father has pointed out, "follow the money."

Having gone through the anti-Rachel grinder myself (2nd IRS audit coming up! - not making it up), find a way to read this fucking GREAT one-actor play!

Anne said...

Philip, Love the shark story! And sorry to hear about your run in with the self appointed thought police. If it's any consolation, in my experience (admittedly more in the realm of anglo-soviet relations) these things are usually less orchestrated than they look, probably someone cross about your cantata "just" reported you to the IRS as a dodgy character, rather than the IRS maintaining a list of blacklisted composers. But still, it's scary & annoying. Hope you kept your receipts...

As far as an endgame to the Rachel Corrie Affair goes, well I just hope that there is one, but I wouldn't hold out much hope. I think the NYTW, having tried to shift the blame onto everyone else involved, is now a) in a state of shock that their smear tactics haven't worked, b) busy frantically manning the phones and attending lunches trying to get their core backers and constituency onside in private and c) laying low in the hope that this week or next they can triumphantly annnounce their new production and refuse to discuss Rachel Corrie on the grounds that it's old hat, would detract from the message of their new work, can't we all look to the future, and why are people so negative?

I just hope they don't get away with it.

What endgame would I like to see? An apology from NYTW, and a different NY theatre stepping up with space for Rachel Corrie to be performed this year. I don't think NYTW have shown themselves to be trustworthy with her voice.

Anonymous said...
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Philip Munger said...
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anne said...

Just to add to my post above:

While I'm dreaming of the closure I'd like to see to this whole mess, can I specify that I'd like the NY theatre that takes on My Name Is Rachel Corrie to be fairly big? What is the Booth Theater doing after Faith Healer? It is about the same size as the London Playhouse, and given that it is staging Friel's four monologue play I would imagine it must be a suitable venue for the performance of the Corrie play. After all this publicity I would think they have a fair chance of selling enough tickets... and of giving a large number of people a chance to experience the play first hand for themselves, and so being able to make up their own minds. Hopefully the Royal Court's silence is due to them negotiating for the largest theatre they can swing in NY; after all, the last time they broke silence was to announce the play's transfer to the West End, so maybe their next announcement will be similarly cheering.

Anonymous said...

I echo Anne: happy ending is Scott Rudin producing Rachel Corrie on Broadway. The non-profits have basically given up on anything potentially alienating to their audiences. From this point on, controversial work will have to produced by commercial entities willing to lose a half a mill every now and then for the sake of the culture. What perverse times.

The Playgoer said...

Okay, time for the moderator.

I really, really would like the comments on this particular post to be very on-topic, since it's a post I hope others will come check out.

Therefore, with some regret, I am removing any comments to do with Sharks or anyone whose name may or may not be Perrezzi.

Sorry Philip, and others. I welcome your comments, but this time I want to stay on message.

Playgoer

damien said...

Given that it looks less and less likely that the "happy ending" will be Nicola apologizing and/or the Royal Court and Rickman agreeing to have Rachel Corrie done at NYTW, what's a happy ending if that DOESN'T happen? It just seems that Nicola has now had so many opportunities to say "Sorry I screwed up"--and declined them all, and sprayed the nonsensical excuses in so many different directions, from prevaricating about a "Homebody/Kabul" precedent to pinning the problem on unnamed members of the "Jewish community" to blaming unreturned phone calls from the Royal Court, that his chance to wipe the slate clean feels like it has passed. So, in that case, what next? There seems to be little doubt that some enterprising producer or company will decide to surf this wave of controversy and open "the show they didn't want you to see!" in New York....so that just leaves the Workshop.

I'd like to know what people, including Playgoer, think a happy ending would be on that front. I assume that nobody who loves theater wants to see the Workshop collapse, or limp on in a weakened and gutted state. Do people really want Nicola, if he doesn't apologize, to resign or be fired? Or can he move on from this and try to rebuild his damaged credibility? Is it possible that a month of sustained publicity and opprobium from much of the theater community is enough? Because frankly, if he is fired, whoever replaces him could easily take this whole incident as a message to just stay out of trouble altogether rather than to be bolder. I'm not sure I know my own opinion on this, but I'd be very curious to know what others think.

Philip Munger said...

Playgoer,

No problem. I do rant sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Nicola should resign. So should a lot of other a.d's around town. Why do these boards of directors keep the same old faces around year after year after year? In the UK, most a.d.'s stick around for no more than ten years before making room for new blood. It keeps the theatres fresh and allows new voices to filter in more easily. The "lifetime appointment" syndrome in American non-profits is a big part of the problem here.

Philip Munger said...

Might it be best to premiere this play in the USA outside of NYC?

June said...

I wonder if Rickman and the Royal Court looked exclusively to New York. Seattle, where I lived for 15 years, has an active theater community with several strong companies. (Though, in this case, I guess what's needed is a venue, a mailing list, and supporters who don't interfere with artistic decisions.) It's also suitably liberal and is just down the road from Corrie's alma mater, Evergreen. Of course Ben Brantley never goes near the place ...

anne said...

If Rachel Corrie, a charming, funny, ultimately heart-breaking, award-winning production about a young upper middle class American girl growing up, struggling to come to terms with her own privilege, abilities and place in the world and then being killed before she could realise her potential* cannot be staged in NYC, well... What can I say? I despair? Are people so sunk in fear and torpor? These are difficult times and we must meet them with courage and good humour or we are lost. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a great idea to stage it elsewhere also, but the idea that this play is "Too Hot For New York" is a tragic one.

As far as the discussion of the future of the NYTW goes, well I agree that they have shown no indication that they will apologise for their actions, I fully expect them to continue to try to bull this out, and while I do think this will weaken them with those who value free speech, I don't think it will lead to the collapse of the Workshop, but I think it might lead to it being perceived as more of a mainstream venue than it currently is. Which is arguably fair given that it seems to have been behaving as more of a mainstream venue than people realised (“People think that their voices are heard free and unfettered, of course, we like to create that atmosphere but that’s a perception. Do they think that happens without someone working at it carefully?” Nicola to Cote, Time Out NY 546).

As to whether Nicola should resign, well, does anyone really think that would cure the problem? He has certainly shown himself in a very unpleasant light in the past few weeks, but no one from the NYTW has exactly covered themselves with glory in this affair so I am not convinced that curing the NYTW's ills is as simple as getting Nicola to walk the plank. As one of the anonymouses (anonymi?) said a new AD may be a good idea just from the point of view of getting a fresh artistic vision, but this complacent timidity of theirs seems to have deeper roots than can be blamed on one man.

And the happy ending? People have a better idea now of how things actually work in the NYTW, and they have better questions to ask the people who run it.

*To honour Playgoer's request to keep this thread strictly on topic, I won't post quotes here, but I'll put some of my favourite quotes from the play that I don't recall seeing excerpted elsewhere on the "Best Theatre Experience" thread later this morning if I can, to give those without access to a copy a feeling for its tone.