The Playgoer: from Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

from Timberlake Wertenbaker

Today's New York Times prints a letter from London playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, a former resident writer at the Royal Court and author of Our Country's Good, The Love of a Nightingale, Three Birds Alighting on a Field. She is apparently in teaching in the US at Georgetown currently.

To the Editor:

Re "Tensions Increase Over Delay of a Play" (Arts pages, March 7):
I recently taught "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" in a student seminar
at Georgetown University. It was the last play we read with the theme of war and
peace (the first was Euripides'"Hecuba").

Like all good plays, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" shows how individuals get caught up and are often broken by historical events. My students did not take the play as an apologia for Hamas. They were moved and impressed by this young woman's passion and commitment. It made them think about courage, action and about themselves. As they read it, they felt both pity and fear for Rachel. In other words, it did what a play should do.

It is a great shame that a play that speaks so directly to young people should be tainted by political overreactions. The play does not present itself as a polemic. Its heart is the character of Rachel Corrie: this was a human being filled with courage.

The theater needs to display the same courage.

Timberlake Wertenbaker
Washington, March 7, 2006

Interesting how Rachel Corrie's much referenced sentimental appeal has made it easy to attack yet also perhaps what got it in trouble. Might someone at NYTW have been worried it would speak too "universally" to "young people"? Regardless, anyone who knows Wertenbaker's work knows she is no sentimentalist. This is as close to Caryl Churchill as we're going to hear from for a while, probably.

But wait--equal time! Alongside (or underneath) the above, NYT offers this:

To the Editor:

Since its inception, New York Theater Workshop has taken risks that few other theaters take and has provided support to artists who might very well not have found it elsewhere. It has pursued its mission with artistic integrity and intellectual honesty.

I am dispirited by the shrill chorus of voices publicly condemning New York Theater Workshop for its decision to request a postponement of the production of "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" for a relatively brief period. It is destructive of an institution that warrants the support of those truly committed to the theater — even though they may take exception to this particular decision.

Wayne S. Kabak
New York, March 8, 2006
The writer is president of New York Theater Workshop.

"Shrill"? Yet again, why can't the Times mention Playgoer by name!

Seriously, if Mr. Kabak (the "president" of NYTW's Board, listed just under Chair) thinks such an adamant rehash will help their cause--on this, day 12 of the story--they are headed for even more grief over this than they could imagine. (Sounds like Bush's first response to the Dubai Port deal, no?) It's become so clear from the past week and a half that NYTW now has now lost some of that "support" from its years of "risk" taking by trying to avoiding risk altogether, and then endlessly obsfuscating about that decision. To tell politically committed theatre lovers and progressives to now just shut up, effectively, and close our eyes and remember the good times, well...

Addendum: As much as Playgoer would like to take credit for being the chief voice of "shrillness" here, I do wonder who else Kabak might be referring to as this "public chorus" of dissent. Once you take into account this is a specific letter responding to a specific NYT article (3/7), then make no mistake: he's aiming at our friend and NYTW "Usual Suspect" Christopher Shinn, so prominently quoted in that article. Theatre artists are indeed taking chances in speaking out. But if they don't do so, they implicitly accept working in a cowered and timid theatre scene.


Anonymous said...

I would like to know how criticism is "destructive of an instituton -- unless, of course, it's true.

Anonymous said...

I'm also wondering what Mr. Kabak means by "postponement" at this point, as it seems that the Royal Court has made it clear that even if NYTW changes its mind and wants to go ahead with the show, NYTW will no longer be given the rights to do it.

So who IS going to do it now?

Anonymous said...

Worth noting, also, that the names Eve Ensler and Stephen Adly Guirgis now appear on Jason Grote's petition--and Guirgis includes a short note.

So the chorus is growing...even if Kabak is wrong to describe it as shrill.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Mr. Kabak should re-read the Mission Statement of the NYTW every day ... no, at least three times a day ... until he has the thing committed to memory. Either that, or rewrite it to suit their new purposes.

The chorus is not shrill. It is honest indignation.