Theatre Workshop In The Headlights

Some call it censorship, other’s don’t. It’s a familiar tale, and this time the subject is My Name is Rachel Corrie, a one-woman play the New York Theatre Workshop may or may not be putting on about an activist for Palestinian causes who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer during a protest three years ago.

Reactions abound as the story builds: theatre blog Playgoer finds it unbelievable that a serious drama (which is also playing in London) can be squelched for being too controversial. Another blogger finds the canonization of Rachel Corrie hypocritical and has no sympathy for her sad death.

Me? I think the play should be staged, and I’m very disappointed by the New York Theatre Workshop’s failure to take a principled stance here. If they are worried that the play presents an unbalanced message (and it probably does, since propaganda abounds on both sides of the Arab-Israeli debate) they can balance it by putting on other works that present opposing viewpoints. It’s obvious that the New York Theatre Workshop doesn’t like controversy, but controversy is at their front door and they need to snap out of the deer-in-the-headlights position. At a time when Israeli-Palestinian dialogue is most needed, a theater on West 4th Street is turning out the lights and running for cover.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue itself, I wish I could hear any dialogue at all. Where is the center? W. B. Yeats already broke the news that the center cannot hold, but when Jews and Arabs talk about Israel and Palestine the center isn’t even there to fall apart. I see big walls, stacked weapons and blind denials on one side, and an orgy of vengeful, militant rhetoric on the other. Let’s light up the theaters, let’s jump up on podiums and stages, let’s figure out what’s what and who’s doing what to who, and let’s find a way to bring the cycle to a stop.

Politics is theatre and always has been, and every successful politican knows this. How can a donor-dependent theatre workshop be so concerned with its own safety and survival that it backs away from a chance to spark a political debate? If the New York Theatre Workshop can’t rise to the occasion and develop this situation into an opportunity to further the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in New York City and in the world — and this is the opportunity that faces them now — then they are in the wrong business.

18 Responses

  1. Censorship StinksAt this
    Censorship Stinks

    At this year’s Oscars, most of the award-winners weren’t blockbusters but at least they got promoted on the merits of their art. Possibly the playwright should make Rachel Corrie more sympathetic to New York audiences and make her a ditched, suicidal, transgendered woman who took out an insurance policy on herself to buy her lover out of a failed marriage that is full of domestic violence with a commanding husband who makes her wear a chador and keep a cellphone with her 24/7. The censorship would still stink.

  2. Let truth and falsehood
    Let truth and falsehood grapple

    in the marketplace of ideas
    knew truth
    to be the loser

    beauty is truth
    truth beauty

    “But what is truth?
    Is truth a changing law?
    We both have truths.
    Are mine the same as yours?”

    –Pontius Pilate


    I see no reason. I find no evil.
    This man is harmless, so why does he upset you?

    He’s just misguided, thinks he’s important.

    But to keep you vultures happy I shall flog him.


    Crucify him! Crucify him!

    (Thirty-nine lashes, Pilate counts)


    Where are you from Jesus?
    What do you want Jesus?
    Tell me.
    You’ve got to be careful.
    You could be dead soon,
    Could well be.
    Why do you not speak when
    I hold your life in my hands?
    How can you stay quiet?
    I don’t believe you understand.


    You have nothing in your hands.
    Any power you have, comes to you from far beyond.
    Everything is fixed, and you can’t change it.


    You’re a fool Jesus Christ.

  3. Movie! in a crowded
    Movie! in a crowded firehouse

    watch what happens if you reverse

  4. What’s that Smell?There is no
    What’s that Smell?

    There is no geopolitical subject that has more apathy or ignorance attached to it than what has occurred in the space between Jordan and the sea since the Balfour declaration of 1917. People hear one news story or see an image on the internet or get the brief order for confession and synopsis from an aunt or a neighbor and suddenly they’re an expert picking sides.

    At this point, it’s way beyond sides and right v. wrong.

    The truth is, the conflict is about much more than most people care to know. Who has that kind of time to trip on other peoples’ problems these days? As Americans, our plates are pretty full with our own struggles. It’s just one more thing in a universe of injustices and slights and apartheids and annihilations to get pissed off about.

    But the thing is, both sides attract crazy, dangerous people. If I were part of a theatre company, I would not have any part of anything to do with the arab-isreali conflict. Partly because I’m sick to death of it, but mostly because I would justifiably fear for my life.

  5. I hear you, pelerine. Where
    I hear you, pelerine.

    Where is a good place to read about everything that’s happened over there since 1917?

  6. Where to check? The library,
    Where to check? The library, Bill. The library.

    I’ll email you a reading list.

  7. Xian, thanks for reposting
    Xian, thanks for reposting this. Your point is a powerful one that I’m going to have to think about. If I understand your meaning, you’re suggesting the geo-political equivalent of the solution parents of warring siblings have long used: “if you can’t share it, neither of you can have it”.

    Maybe this is similar to what I was thinking when I created a fictional organization called “The Committee to Give Jerusalem To Tibet”. I put that name on a poster for a peace-themed poetry reading I arranged around the same time you wrote this article. I was pleased when Bob Holman picked up on this and started using the name of the hypothetical organization in some of his Bowery Poetry Club communications. I still say it’s a damn good idea.

    My only qualm, Xian, and I’m sure you are concerned about this too, is that you’re proposing a major military action, which isn’t the kind of thing nice pacifist guys like us usually propose.

    I really have to think about this one.

  8. Pelerine, I understand why
    Pelerine, I understand why you sympathize with the theatre company’s caution. But it’s an important point that you have not made a commitment to run a theatre company (with all the risks that commitment itself entails), and they have. One would naturally assume that they would be willing to handle a bit of controversy as part of the package. I don’t think every person in the world needs to grapple with controversial public issues — but I can’t respect a theater company that has a controversial public issue to deal with and just stands there looking helpless like an actor who’s forgeotten his lines.

  9. This may be the unspoken
    This may be the unspoken sentiment of many people. I don’t know; I’m still mulling it over. One is tempted to think, “Don’t agree with this too readily – it might be like the satire, A Modest Proposal, wherein Jonathan Swift suggests that the poor eat their children, just to make a point” – but then I think, why pigeonhole Crumlish one way or the other. He’s just expressing a thought.

    The word “isolationism” comes to mind – and I know that in my personal life, I have become more isolated from others as a kind of self-preservation mechanism. Translated into global terms, this would mean letting Isreal and Palestine fight and stay out of it. I’m not saying this is the right answer. One simply gets burned out from the terrible reports. One also has to wonder, would the U.S. care if the two countries obliterated each other if we didn’t have some economic interest?

    This leads me to a thought I had recently about Iran’s nuclear program. Remember when Russia, China, and The U.S. all had nuclear bombs but we all figured, they won’t attack us because they know we would attack them? So it was a standoff? I’m wondering if we shouldn’t just let Iran build bombs, and advise them that if they bomb someone, we will bomb them back.

    Now, don’t think that I really know what I believe half the time. I wish I did.

  10. I think our dilemma is that
    I think our dilemma is that we are all stuck in a pattern of thought and behaviour.
    It’s all so predictable. Agression breeds agression breeds agression. This is what we expect. This is what all our foreseeable actions and reactions are based upon. Not only in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but anywhere in this world.

    All finesse and creativity in our political endeavours and ambitions unfold within the limitations of this pattern only. Hit me and I hit you back while you plan and ponder your next hit already and I mine to follow yours.

    Boringly funny almost…. if it wasn’t so sad to find us caught in that pattern, and so real to see us struggle with the consequences of our limitedness.

    We’d need something unexpected to change the pattern. Maybe something big – a revolution, or global shift of consciousness. Maybe just something small – an unexpected behaviour, a different reaction, an omission, a skip out of rhythm, a smile out of place, a cheek for a cheek. Small things can potentialize and radiate.

    The unexpected could be a chance… and a change.

    Maybe peace is the wrong goal. Maybe doing the unexpected should be it.

  11. It could even start with
    It could even start with sticking broccoli stems into nostrils. Might prevent us from snorting with rage….

  12. i sense an idea, dim and
    i sense an idea, dim and slowly rotating in the back of my mind . . . something to do with media

    that song, “what if god was one of us” is playing, and probably has nothing to do with anything, but you know us burroughs cut-up connection people relate anything and everything

    i had a crazy idea but i don’t think it’s practical: all over the world, people just start getting on planes and flying to the middle east, right where all the fighting is, and a bunch of us would get killed, and people from isreal and palestine would join us, and some of our relatives would be politicians and some of their relatives would be politicians, and after enough of us were killed, all our relatives would say, “we can’t stand it anymore” – but it might not work, because, like, it didn’t work in romeo & juliet, so, it’s probably a dumb idea.

    but anyway, that isn’t the idea i had rotating in my mind. that was a different idea that i put out there while i was trying to figure out my vague idea

  13. i’d really like to know your
    i’d really like to know your still rotating idea once it comes to a standstill so you can have a close look at it, bill – cause i have my doubts about the plane thing, for even if all those people who had flewn in from around the world and who were killed had relatives who were politicians and who couldn’t stand it anymore, it wouldn’t make a difference, cause the question *what* to do in order to obtain an effective, lasting and wise solution would still remain…

  14. dialogue inside my head:when
    dialogue inside my head:

    when did the tide of popular opinion turn against the vietnam war?

    dan rather said it was when so many americans in so many towns saw their own kids coming back in body bags.

    but it’s different in the middle east because those american kids were fighting far away in a country that their parents didn’t care much about. the fighting in the middle east is much closer to home and it involves things the people do care about.

    so then it means enough to them to die for.

    so who wants it to stop, people who don’t even live there?

    no, there must be some people there who wish it would stop.

    what can those people do and how can i help them?

    all this talk. compared to judih, i’m a dumb-ass on the whole thing.

    then i stopped thinking about it for a while.

  15. the problem is still not that
    the problem is still not that there aren’t enough people who want it to stop – the problem is in how to stop it.

    there are always some who work with the logistics and economics of war and who want fights and conflicts to continue, and those fanatic or scared enough to approve of and support warfare, and some are blissfully sheltered and ignorant and don’t care. but there are still enough who want to either end it because they are directly involved and live right among it, or because they dislike the idea of war in general or particular for whatever theoretical, philosophical, spiritual, personal, altruistic or human reason.

    but the lack of a real and realistic idea *how* to obtain an effective, lasting and wise solution lets even those helplessly clutch at thin air who would’ve been courageous and strong and idealistic enough to try to begin to put a vision into action.

    though tries have been made. and continue to be made. but they all just seem to treat symptoms instead of causes, like applying make-up on a mask that really needed to be torn off completely, but is rooted thousands of years deep on the face and has already grown together with the skin. and even plastic surgery just plays around with the present situations and features….

    but that, of course, is just another nice metaphor and doesn’t help anything.

    all those words, indeed…

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