Playwright Willy Holtzman Responds to David Horowitz

“I recently returned from Ireland where a typical pub brawl prompts the question: “Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?” David Horowitz has taken his private fight with me public and I’m only too glad to join in. Primarily, he takes issue with my depiction of him in Something You Did. It’s unclear if he merely misread the play or whether he even read it at all. In any case, plays are meant to be seen not read. Had he seen my play he would know that he is not depicted in it at all. The character Gene Biddle might share certain attitudes with Horowitz (certainly Gene has read many of his books and blogs), but their resumes diverge in countless ways. Simply put, Gene Biddle is not David Horowitz; he is a character from an earlier play of mine entitled Bovver Boys.

Working from a false premise and a dubious grasp of dramatic writing, Horowitz predictably makes a number of incorrect assumptions. I’ll try to correct the most egregious ones. To start with, I never identified him as the “villain” of the story. I don’t write villains. I write complex characters who engage one another as antagonists. He then accuses me of drawing a “malicious…moral parallel” between Kathy Boudin’s role in a fatal armored car robbery and his role in the death of Betty Van Patter. Neither event is mentioned in the play, even though both are referenced in my program notes. Horowitz is welcome to critique those notes but frankly it’s a little like judging one of his books by the jacket copy without actually reading the book. In point of fact, I read his memoir Radical Son cover to cover, twice. In it, Horowitz admits that he recommended Van Patter as a bookkeeper for the Black Panther Party despite his well-founded fears and “images of danger” (p. 243) surrounding Elaine Brown, who had replaced Huey Newton as Chairperson.

Horowitz goes on to misrepresent Something You Did as an apologia for the violent excesses of the radical Left, citing the character Alison Moulton and her convoluted defense of her innocence. The play makes the opposite point – that she has continually denied her part in creating an anti-personnel explosive device and has even lied about it to the victim’s daughter. Horowitz adds, “In the play it is my character who persuades her to buy the nails…” This is patently false. The play says no such thing and only a shallow or dishonest reading would fail to see that the fictional fatal explosion is condemned in the harshest terms. Horowitz wants to equate the series of Weatherman bombings in the 1970s with the deadly fanatical Islamic terrorism of recent years. The play gives full voice to that position just as it gives equal voice to those who see a profound difference between the two. But for Horowitz anything short of sanctifying his worldview is deemed a “radical cliché.” His devious attempt to reduce my personal politics to nostalgic radical chic is nothing more than facile neo-Conservative cliché, especially when he knows nothing of my political views (many of which might surprise him).

Horowitz further complains that in Something You Did he is “…represented as a cynical narcissist…” I’ve already demonstrated that he’s not represented in the play, although a narcissist might assume otherwise. Horowitz asserts that Gene Biddle is singled out as an attempt to “smear conservatives as racists.” It’s hard to know whether to attribute this to paranoia or a guilty conscience since every character in the play – white and black – perpetrates some form of racial thinking. If Gene Biddle states his views bluntly, Alison Moulton is duly excoriated as the “poster girl for the failure of the Left” for the tragic way in which her misguided gesture at overcoming “white skin privilege” resulted in the death of a black man.

Finally, Horowitz lectures that the fictional bombing in the play couldn’t possibly have been “a protest against the Viet Nam war” since the war had ended years before Boudin’s actual crime. That’s precisely why I fictionalized and moved up the timing of the event; that and the fact that the Nyack armored car robbery was indefensible and incomprehensible from any sane moral or political orientation. I chose, instead, to create a realistic event that hypothetically asks: what if one of the nail bombs that destroyed the West 11th Street townhouse and three of its occupants had found its way to a public place with fatal consequences? If, as Horowitz glibly writes, Something You Did is “dishonest to its core,” why has he resorted to distortion, misrepresentation and outright lies to dishonestly disparage it?  It is absurd for Horowitz to condemn me for not writing the play he would have written were he a playwright. Then again, if he ever does write that play I promise to see it and not take cheap shots based on second-hand reports and a cursory reading.

So there, we’ve had our fight and we might even be the better for it. I believe that at it’s best theatre is a public fight and that everyone should join in – especially David Horowitz. Unfortunately, this written scuffle is not nearly as satisfying as it would have been in person. For one thing, I might have taken him out afterwards for pint of Guinness.”

Willy Holtzman
9/28/10

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3 responses to “Playwright Willy Holtzman Responds to David Horowitz

  1. I think Willy Holtzman’s disingenuous and deceptive commentary speaks for itself. He accuses me of dragging something private into public view and imagining (egotist that I am) that a fictional character had something to do with me. Yet I was completely unaware of this play until Holtzman made the connection between his character and me in the notes distributed to audiences of the play.

    Holtzman claims that his fiction had nothing to with Nyack robbery in which a back officer was killed by Boudin and her friends. In other words, it’s just a coincidence that the imaginary victim of the Townhouse bomb “taken public” is a black cop and not say, an innocent draftee, which was the actual target of Boudin’s malice.

    My critique of Holtzman was not that he changed details which a writer of fiction is licensed to do, but that he changed the very structure of the facts on which his fiction was based in order to exculpate Boudin. In response, he says Boudin is condemned in the play as “a poster girl for the failed left” — and so she is by a self-serving renegade, would-be informer and racist. Some condemnation. Maybe it’s Holtzman who doesn’t understand how a drama works.

    As for my allegedly cursory reading, my point was that Holzman exculpated the character he based on Boudin by making her a pawn of Biddle and innocent of the intent to kill a human being. I did err in saying Biddle conned her into buying the nails, but it was Biddle who volunteered her to plant the bomb, and in her mind the bomb was merely symbolic. The victim was not supposed to be there when the bomb detonated. It was to be put in a locker with a timer, and a warning was to be issued so no innocents would be hurt (so why the nails?). In other words, after all of Holtzman’s blather and insults, the point is the same .

    The bottom line is that Holtzman has carefully evaded the main charge I have made against his play which is that it is agit-prop, however, sophisticated. It is a caricature contrived to create undeserved sympathy for Boudin and the left in order to condemn America for its role in Vietnam, along with its “neo-conservative” defenders whom he portrays as mercenary cynics who willingly serve the imperial monster.

  2. Pingback: Round #2 – Horowitz Responds to Holtzman | The Theater J Blog

  3. “I recently returned from Ireland where a typical pub brawl prompts the question: ‘Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?’”

    Mr Holzman is very welcome to visit Ireland, as indeed are all his fellow Americans, but if the idiocy of the above comment is anything to go by it is no wonder that David Horowitz finds his play a radical (in every sense of the word) distortion of reality. And it is passing strange that a progressive artist so instinctively invokes the stereotype of the two-fisted Paddy awash in whiskey and whimsy. Top o’ the morning to ye, Willy, me oul’ segosha. Shure an’ isn’t it yourself that puts the jerk into knee-jerk.