The Playgoer: "Desert Sunrise"

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Desert Sunrise"

That cooky George Hunka is at it again, reviewing more shows for the MSM. Today he thankfully brings our attention to what sounds like another interesting play about Israel, Desert Sunrise, downtown at Theatre for the New City. Doesn't sound especially "challenging," but George finds much to recommend.


Alison Croggon said...

That "cooky" George Hunka? Do you mean "kooky"? Or is he kind of chef-like?

Puzzled of Williamstown

Anonymous said...

Off-topic, but on the eve of NYTW's first panel discussion, I wanted to recap a couple of points:

1) With all the talk about visas, lighting designers, contextualization and so forth, it's important to revisit the initial explanation Nicola gave for the "Rachel Corrie" postponement, before NYTW's PR offensive began. Here's an excerpt from the first New York Times article, Feb. 28:

Yesterday, James C. Nicola, the artistic director of the workshop, said he had decided to postpone the show after polling local Jewish religious and community leaders as to their feelings about the work.

"The uniform answer we got was that the fantasy that we could present the work of this writer simply as a work of art without appearing to take a position was just that, a fantasy," he said.

In particular, the recent electoral upset by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, and the sickness of Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, had made "this community very defensive and very edgy," Mr. Nicola said, "and that seemed reasonable to me."

Nicola has shrugged off his explanation by saying that he was "naive" in dealing with the media. But that's a dodge.

Either the play was pulled for the reasons stated or it wasn't. If it was, and NYTW allowed its artistic judgment to be trumped by the desire to avoid offense, it made a mistake.

But if Nicola's explanation was in fact an invention (which I don't believe for a second) designed to cover for visa/lighting issues, it's almost worse. Because in that case, Nicola is shifting blame for logistical failures, unfairly, onto an unnamed group of powerful Jews--a move he should know conjures up all sorts of sordid stereotypes.

So it's really one or the other: All the talk about contextualization, etc. shouldn't distract from that basic fact.

2) NYTW is still standing by the idea that their job in presenting a play is to allow the author's voice to "rise above" competing voices. Here's a passage from Nicola's March 14 statement, still up on the NYTW website:

In researching My Name is Rachel Corrie, we found many distorted accounts of the actual circumstances of Rachel’s death that had resulted in a highly charged, vituperative, and passionate controversy. While our commitment to the play did not waver, our responsibility was not just to produce it, but to produce it in such a way as to prevent false and tangential back-and-forth arguments from interfering with Rachel’s voice.

The upshot of this view is that if they're loud enough and persistent enough, critics--even misinformed critics--can have veto power over programming decisions.

Can a theatre whose mission is presenting "provocative" and "challenging" works fulfill that mission while allowing outsiders this kind of power?

Would Nicola perhaps like an opportunity to amend his remarks?

Anonymous said...

To answer Alison, maybe Playgoer meant "cookie." A term of endearment. Which is how many of us think of George now. (Or maybe he did mean "kooky.")