Today is the third anniversary of the murder of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist run over by an IDF bulldozer during an attempted Palestinian home demolition. So James Nicola of the Theater Workshop picked an odd date to make yet another feeble attempt in the NY Times to explain to the world why he reneged on his commitment to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie this month:
In an interview this week James C. Nicola, the workshop’s artistic director, and Lynn Moffat, its managing director, insisted that they wanted only to postpone, not cancel, the show — despite declarations by the authors and the Royal Court Theater, the London troupe that initially produced the award-winning play, that the workshop pulled the plug on a done deal.
I find several things distressing about Nicola’s behavior in this matter. First, he agreed to produce a play about a very controversial subject, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet he seemed utterly unprepared to deal with that subject matter in producing the play. When you’re talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of course you need background, discussion and research in order to carefully frame the discussion. But Nicola, in his protestations makes it seem like the process needed to be a slow, painstaking one before the New York theater community would be “ready” to see such a play. This is ridiculous. I’ve been studying and living this conflict since 1967. Sure it’s complicated. Sure it’s emotional. Sure it treads on difficult terrain. But what subject important to the human race doesn’t? There ARE ways to present such a play to a potentially polarized audience without having riots in the aisles or streets. The fact that Nicola couldn’t seem to envision a way to do this speaks volumes to his inadequacy as a producer of a play about this conflict.
The other disturbing element of his defense is that he won’t tell us who he consulted with about the play, nor will he tell us what they told him. He won’t tell us precisely why these consultations convinced him that he needed to delay the production. Until he is more candid and forthcoming he can have no credibility on this subject. This is what he IS willing to say about this:
Neither Mr. Nicola nor Ms. Moffat…would say exactly who they spoke to before they decided to delay the show. Mr. Nicola originally said that he had spoken to “religious leaders” in making his decision; this week he said that the workshop did a “wide reaching out into the complexity of the community of New York” that included reading Palestinian views on Web sites. Mr. Nicola did say he had had a conversation with one board member who said that his rabbi had concerns about the play. An old friend, who is Jewish, also questioned the play’s message.
Ms. Moffat said that she and Mr. Nicola — who are not Jewish — took advice from members of their in-house artistic staff, as well as “colleagues and colleagues of colleagues.”
He based on his decision on a board member’s rabbi who didn’t like it?? And an “old friend” who “questioned the play’s message?” Wow, that’s a really scientific and compelling survey of opinion on which to base such a decision, now isn’t it? If I consulted someone’s rabbi and an old friend about every post I write here about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I’d never write a damn thing. No wonder Nicola pulled the plug on the show.
How about some more cluelessness:
…how the workshop, an artistically bold and popular company, found itself in such an embarrassing public jam still baffles Mr. Nicola and Ms. Moffat…
If the response to what they did baffles them it only serves to prove their absolute inadequacy as producers of plays about politically-charged material.
I found this passage in the NY Times article especially ironic:
Mr. Nicola said that he read the play in December and was impressed.
“I read what I think the authors intended for me to read, which was that this life, in her own words, was an example to Americans, who are in some fog of avoidance right now,” Mr. Nicola said, adding, “I thought that this, in the voice of this young, pure, innocent woman, was a very powerful thing to say right now.“
Apparently not, if he decided to abandon the play as he did. Or was it just too powerful for his theater to handle??
Meanwhile in January, the political situation in the Middle East intensified after a stroke suffered by the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and electoral victories by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. At the same time, Mr. Nicola said his company’s dramaturge raised some red flags about the symbolism of Ms. Corrie’s tale.
Said Ms. Moffat, “As we went deeper and deeper into it, we discovered what we didn’t know was getting to be too great a burden.”
I’d rephrase this: when they got deeper into it they discovered they were ignorant and clueless. As I’ve already written here before, it is absolutely pathetic to say that Ariel Sharon’s stroke or even the Hamas electoral victory prevents you from mounting this play. When is there not an incendiary incident happening in the Mideast? If you allow such events to immobilize you you will never take a position on anything.