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Saturday, April 08, 2006

Washington Post

"I don't think I'm a stupid person," says Nicola, sitting at a kitchen table in the theater's Manhattan offices. "I just don't think I'm savvy in these ways."

So says Jim Nicola now in his latest interview, summing it all up in a major, major 2,000-word feature article in the Washington Post(!), Sunday Edition. Post "Staff Writer" David Segal provides a mostly balanced catch-up for readers of the other "nation's newspaper"--again ratching up the story's exposure significantly--especially to the Washington/political crowd. His biases are clearly against the politics of the play, faulting it for lack of balance. But he also is unswerving in his depiction of Nicola and NYTW as feckless.

Some highlights, in the way of making news:

-On the Royal Court: A Court spokesman claims that in his "postponement" call of February 17, Nicola did say "If you want to talk to other partners, I will completely understand." And NYTW has been proceeding for the last six weeks since then as if they were still doing the play! And, moreover, has acted surprised that the Court ceased negotiations. Shocking.
Segal writes only that the play's premiere last year at the Court "was a 'sellout hit' according to the Royal Court." But what's with the quotation marks? Isn't that easily verifiable? Not, I suppose, if you are skewering the story to undercut the play's popular success. Segal says of the current West End transfer that it received "many positive reviews and some negative" and proceeds to quote only from the latter. True, there were not only raves. But he doesn't mention the show just extended for three weeks.

-Whose Jews?
... the Workshop has unintentionally resurrected the idea that Jewish patrons constitute a super-powerful force in Manhattan that controls the cultural agenda there and will countenance a hearty debate about any topic except Israel.
It hasn't helped that Nicola won't say which advisers he talked to -- a blank spot in the narrative that all but invites the conspiracy-minded to infer the hand of a Jewish cabal. The most that Nicola will offer is that the rabbi of a board member expressed some concerns, as did an old friend.
"Once Jim names names, they're going to become part of the story," says Wayne Kabak, president of the Workshop's board and a senior executive at William Morris, the talent agency. "It's not fair to ask someone to comment on a play and then later tell them, 'By the way, that conversation is going to wind up in The Washington Post."

News to me that Kabak was also one of the heads of William Morris. Hm. I wonder if that has made it even harder for theatre professionals to speak out. Talk about "cabals"...

-More for the Honor Roll: Two more theatre artists speak out, and they're Artistic Directors!
Rattlestick's David Van Asselt is respectful of NYTW's legacy but adds: "That's what makes this story so striking."
And Culture Project's Allan Buchman (who happens to be Jewish and a self-described "bar mitzvah boy") becomes the first AD to publicly acknowledge he is actively campaigning for the NYC premiere of the play. Bravo. As Playgoer mused the very first day of this scandal, Culture Project (home of Exonerated and Guantanamo) would have been the perfect venue all along. (Even if perhaps less profitable, at cheaper ticket prices.)
Another, more noncommittal, AD interviewed is Oskar Eustis, who tries to rise above the fray. Says Segal of Eustis' reponse: "There's a slight hint of 'after you'."

-Future of the Play: Segal claims "a dozen theatres have been in touch" with the Court for the rights. But it's not clear how many are New York theatres, since Seattle Rep is one of them. The Court does confirm, though, that they are indeed hoping for it to be here first, and in the fall. Asked whether NYTW is a candidate, they answer: "Now they're bowing to media pressure and saying they'd love to do this play... It just seems whoever leans on them, that's what happens. You can't program theater like that."

Last word goes to Nicola who finds a way to claim credit, I hope ironically: "We wanted to foster a community dialogue about it, and I think, in almost a perverse way, we succeeded."

So take a look-see. Lord knows the DC punditocracy will. Who knows, what follows. Stay tuned for an O'Reilly segment?


Anonymous said...

My letter to Mr. Sigel:

April 8, 2006

Dear Mr. Segal,

I consider your article on “My Name is Rachel Corrie” in the April 9, 2006 edition of the Washington Post to be quite good, with a couple of small problems.

I’ve yet to read an article about this play or other Rachel Corrie art which does justice to the high level of involvement in this subject matter by Jewish artists and by Jewish activists who sympathize with Corrie.

There are now three or four plays about Corrie, thousands of poems scores of songs, and in London a set of ten-minute plays inspired by the NYTW fiasco will open in May. All of these productions involved Jewish artists and organizers. My cantata about Corrie, “The Skies are Weeping,” which premiered in London on November 1, 2005, after being canceled in Anchorage (two years ago today) and New York City, couldn’t have been produced without the talent and dedicated work of several London Jewish artists, activists and organizations. There were three demonstrations outside the theatre the night we premiered the cantata. Although the demonstrations were all organized by Jewish groups, one of the demonstrations – the largest – was in favor of the work and the work’s viewpoint.

You state “[I]n the Middle East as presented through Corrie's writing, there are no Palestinians with bad intentions, or Israelis who want peace.” It seems to me, having read a lot by and about Corrie, that she did know of Palestinians with bad intentions and had met with many Israelis with good intentions. Your statement is quite similar to one made by conservative National Review Online polemicist Giliad Ini, in an op-ed he wrote for the April 4, 2006 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Ini accuses the play of “creating a false dichotomy of blameless Palestinians and faceless Israeli oppressors.” But, too often, the image we get here in the U.S. is one of blameless Israelis and faceless. malevolent Palestinians.

I saw the play in London last October 29. I bought several copies of the script, and have kept one. I don’t think the play could quite work and meet your criteria. She wrote and wrote home about the people she met, the stories they told her, and the things she did.


Philip Munger

Anonymous said...

Two points about the article:

1) Segal writes:

Whatever your position on the Middle East conflict, it certainly has more nuances than a showdown between Innocent and Evil, and any play that ignores those subtleties shortchanges the subject. That's exactly what "Corrie" does.

That statement doesn't belong in a news article. Period.

Segal may think that a play on the Israel-Palestine issue can't be successful without swallowing the entire conflict. But that's his opinion. And it's an opinion that's far from universally held.

2) Oskar Eustis is quoted as saying:

"There are two dangers here. One is the suppression of a play, which is a very serious problem, and the other is the threat to a brave and groundbreaking artistic director who made a mistake. It would be a huge loss if the Workshop and Jim were somehow crushed by this."

Maybe Eustis was quoted out of context. But he would sound less calculating and more forthright if he noted that it's Jim Nicola--his evolving story and his failure to come anywhere near conceding error--that is jeopardizing the Workshop's reputation.

Or does Eustis think that Nicola's critics have something to apologize for?

Anonymous said...

Here's David Segal's reply to my letter this afternoon (your time):


I wish that I had made the point you describe here -- that so many Jewish people were involved in the creation and staging of this play. That's an interesting detail and one worth including.

I think you're right, too, that "Corrie" wouldn't work if it were balanced. It wouldn't be the play that it is. But I think the play is an artistic failure as it reads now. My sense is that the day there is Middle East -- I know, but one can dream -- is the day that "Corrie" is doomed to never be staged again.


Anonymous said...

The issue of balance seems a red herring in this case. And it doesn't win universal approval when it's present. The movie Munich (which as I recall was co-authored by Tony Kushner) was faulted by at least one prominent writer for what I think he called "the sin of equality," that is, attempting (and apparently achieving) balance in its story. The opera The Death of Klinghoffer (music by John Adams, libretto by Alice Goodman) also attempted a kind of balance; as a minor example, the two choruses that begin it, for exiled Palestinians and exiled Jews respectively, are exactly equal in duration in the recording I have. This work, too, has been faulted for failing to take one side or the other.

freespeechlover said...

The rhetoric of "balance" is coming from the right wing and is a trap, in fact, the oldest one in the books. The call for "balance" is mostly only publicized on certain issues, and those who use it on a regular basis to criticize others have a strong tendency to take a point of view, then hide behind a claim to seeing from everywhere and nowhere--i.e. "objectivity," and then project onto their opponents being "ideological," or "biased" or "taking sides."

Bbyoned this ploy, the rhetoric of "balance" comes from the most part from the mass media or at best, government as in "checks and balances," but the latter means something different than how it is being used in common parlance today.

"Balance" is not a value of academia, education, art, theater, music, or intellectual life in general. It tends to mark bad faith or dishonesty or fear of showing that one has some kind of viewpoint and can't, by definition, look down from someplace akin to heaven onto mere mortal beings.

Anonymous said...

As I think Greg Mosher or one of the other panelists mentioned at Barnard, no one was calling for "balance" in the case of "Golda's Balcony" on Broadway...

Anonymous said...

Actually, it was I who brought up Golda's Balcony, in order to make two points: First that nobody thought it necesary to take the temperature of the Arab-American community in order to do that highly ideological one-woman show about Isr-Pal, and, second, that nobody demanded that it be balanced. I agree entirely with freespeechlover about the bogusness of the calls for 'balance' in academia and the arts. And as a once noble principle in mainstream journalism, it has become quite perverted. This phony insistence on balance, btw, was the justification for the House bill a couple of years ago that demanded GOVERNMENT intervention into Middle East studies programs at universities (though Title VI funding): they essentially wanted to put Likudniks (or even further-right Zionists) into every discussion of Isr-Pal. The ploy in this knee-jerk notion of balance is that it is a way of disregarding what we used to call Truth (contestable as it may be). It's not as if any of these guys would accept Holocaust deniers in European History departments in the name of balance.

Alisa Solomon

Anonymous said...

Just in case that last post wasn't clear: Nor do I or should anyone accept Holocaust deniers. The point is that sometimes the claim of 'balance' is bogus because one side is false, fabricated, exaggerated, and/or downright mendacious.


Anonymous said...

John Branch,

Maybe you're already aware of this, but a late 2001 performance of the "Klinghoffer Choruses" by Adams by the Boston Symphony and Chorus was cancelled. At that time, the story from the orchestra management was that in the wake of September 11, any equivalence between Palestinians and Israelis (as you describe in your post) would be offensive. The composer soon afterward declared he would no longer do business with the BSO. Maybe things have mellowed after five years. I haven't kept up on it.

Anonymous said...

Alisa, sorry for misremembering. And thanks so much for standing up in this very important fight.

A question I'd love to have had the chance to ask at the panel, I wonder if you might like to take a crack at it:

There was a lot of talk at the panel about discarding the non-profit theatre model. But why not just cut out the corporate types from the boards and replace them with artists, or *true* friends of the arts? Is that just completely naive?

I understand that this might undercut fundraising. But isn't a (somewhat) poorer theatre scene with its soul intact better than what we have now?

Is the Wooster Group maybe a model for this? I have no idea who's on their board (and maybe they're a special case because there is movie star cash involved?) but they do seem to be an example of a company that's more interested in pursuing a particular aesthetic than in trying to increase its size and prominence at all costs.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Cutting out corporate types -- or at least reducing their role -- would be useful, imho. That would be one way of REMAKING the non-profit theater, not necessarily throwing it out. (And it's not because they aren't "friends of the arts" -- they genuinely love the arts, but because they bring a mindset that has come to dominate, and I'd argue, in some cases even destroy, producing organizations.)

I did a big piece for the Voice in the early 90s, I think (in any case, before they went online, so I can't link the story) about the impact of the emerging "corporate model" on arts institutions and I stand by the analysis I tried to offer there, addressing the impact of big-money types on boards and of MBA-types in management positions in arts orgs (who expect, like all good capitalists, to see constant "growth," whose eyes never stray from the bottom line, etc. etc.), and tracing the shift, over a decade or so in what grant applications from NYSCA demanded for arts orgs seeking $$:, from "social responsibility" to "fiscal responsibility".

And that was all before the "culture wars". Since then it has only gotten worse, but with few exceptions, we still haven't radically re-imagined our insitutional strutures. I don't think there's a formula -- indeed, one problem with the current corporate model is the misplaced notion that one-size-fits-all. The Wooster Group model works great for them, and could be adapted for other sort of collectives, but wouldn't make sense for, say, the Public. I think the Foundry (Melanie Joseph's joint) is developing some new framework, though I don't know much about it. Of course, everything from granting structures to Equity rules make total new invention very difficult. But I do think the standard old model needs serious rethinking.


Playgoer said...

Thank you, Philip, for posting your correspondence with the Post's David Segal.

Would you care sharing his email with the rest of us?

(Please post without "@" or "." so as to avoid spamming him)

thanks. PG

Anonymous said...

Dave Segal's e-mail is at the bottom of his WaPo article, but here's his e-mail reply to me (I thought I already posted it):


I wish that I had made the point you describe here -- that so many Jewish people were involved in the creation and staging of this play. That's an interesting detail and one worth including.

I think you're right, too, that "Corrie" wouldn't work if it were balanced. It wouldn't be the play that it is. But I think the play is an artistic failure as it reads now. My sense is that the day there is Middle East -- I know, but one can dream -- is the day that "Corrie" is doomed to never be staged again.


Playgoer said...

Sorry, Philip, I meant his address and didn't realize Segal's email accessability was so easy.

I found no listing of his address but anyone can send him an email at WaPo by going through here:

Tell him what you think! and that you care about this issue