Well, reports of the demise of commercial Off-Broadway may have been premature. Two adventurous producers have made the deal to bring the London production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie to one of its last outposts, the Minetta Lane Theatre, this October.
Nut graph from the Times today:
Pam Pariseau and Dena Hammerstein, partners in James Hammerstein Productions, are bringing the play, critically acclaimed in London, to the Minetta Lane Theater in Greenwich Village. Previews are to begin on Oct. 5, with an opening scheduled for Oct. 15. The play is to run for 48 performances, closing on Nov. 19.
This seems a perfectly fitting venue. The Minetta Lane is a beautiful small space, it's in the Village, with a politically sympathetic audience built in, and which also attracts the kind of adventuresome tourists that made the play such a success on the West End. Seems like a good choice.
And so the guessing game is over. Who knows what took so long. Waiting on the Public and other high profile non-profits? They must have passed. Ironically, Alan Rickman & co. may profit by default... But all along, a commercial mounting has seemed the only way to go with this controversial piece of material. No funders, no grants, no board. Just a committed producing team who doesn't have to answer to anyone. Could it be that such a model is the last best bet for guarantees of free speech in the theatre?
I won't pick bones with the article's account of the controversy. Obviously to say "what happened is a matter of debate" is itself...a matter of debate. The Times does get a highly diplomatic response from NYTW:
"Although the Royal Court and its collaborators have decided to produce 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie' commercially, the New York Theater Workshop is pleased to learn that New York audiences will have an opportunity to see this powerful play," Richard Kornberg, a spokesman for the workshop, said yesterday. "We're especially pleased that Dena Hammerstein is the producer because she produced in London one of the workshop's biggest hits, 'Dirty Blonde.' "
I can hear the relief in that actually. Although we'll see if the fall run of the play stirs up the old ghosts. No doubt the reviews will have to assess in paragraph one, was canceling it the right decision.
You gotta love, by the way, "Although the Royal Court and its collaborators have decided to produce 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie' commercially..." As if NYTW was still awaiting a call? As if it was still the Court who dropped out, and for money!
The big question a commercial production raises, of course, is... what about that "context"? One thing that most distinguishes the experience of going to a commercial production as opposed to a company is the absence of any supporting materials or, usually, post-show talkbacks. Commercial producers are great believers in letting the play stand for itself because...it's cheaper! (And generic program services like Playbill keep it that way.) Non-profits may get special grants and funding to cover all the dramaturgy and events they do around a play. So it will be interesting to see if Hammerstein and Pariseau make any gesture toward contextualizing at all. Will they feel pressure to do so? Or will they assume--rightly--that by this point the press coverage is providing the necessary background?
BTW, for the record, yes, Dena's father-in-law was the Hammerstein. (She must be married to son James?) How fitting. In their own way R & H, of course, made a specialty of taking on mildly confrontational social issues. Some might even say the play's Rachel Corrie even seems like a Mary Martin-esque plucky heroine!