from The New York Times

Readings and Talks for Pro-Gaza Playlet

By PATRICK HEALY

The New York Theater Workshop and two theaters in Washington will hold staged readings this month of Caryl Churchill’s provocative new play, “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” along with talk-back sessions with audiences about the piece’s controversial portrayal of some Israelis, leaders of the theaters said Sunday.

The play, which runs just 8 to 10 minutes, features members of a Jewish family instructing children about how to view violence affecting them, from the Holocaust to the Palestinian uprisings and the Israeli military campaign in Gaza this winter. Ms. Churchill, who opposed the Gaza offensive, includes some incendiary comments about Palestinians in the script, with one character saying, “I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out.”

A production of the play that recently concluded at the Royal Court Theater in London proved to be contentious among British Jews and drew some unusually harsh reviews and commentary, including one by Melanie Phillips of The Spectator, who called the play “a 10-minute blood libel.” 

Leaders of the New York Theater Workshop and Theater J, which is presenting the readings with the Forum Theater in Washington, said in interviews that they were staging a few nights of readings because the provocative content merited examination, but that their schedules did not permit weeks-long productions.

“There will be emotion from the audience — you can’t separate emotion from the issue — but my hope is that we’ll do these productions in a way that fosters understanding as well,” said William Russo, managing director of the New York Theater Workshop. “We’re having experts from all sides of the spectrum attend, to help the discussion be informed and not a free-for-all.”

Writers and artists like Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) will moderate the discussions in New York.

The New York Theater Workshop faced criticism and accusations of censorship in 2006 when it canceled a production of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” a play sympathetic to Palestinians, after some Jewish religious leaders and others complained about the work. In the interview Mr. Russo rejected the idea that mounting the new play by Ms. Churchill, the British author of “Top Girls” and other works, was a response to the “Corrie” episode.

Workshop leaders had briefly discussed a joint production of “Seven Jewish Children” with the Public Theater, according to people familiar with those talks. Neither theater would officially confirm those conversations, and Mr. Russo said the Public was not involved.

Ms. Churchill has taken the unusual step of offering to license “Seven Jewish Children” without charge as long as theaters do not charge admission but instead ask audience members to contribute to Medical Aid for Palestinians, a British group. Mr. Russo said that the New York readings — March 25 to 27 — would be free, and that the program given to audience members would include a note saying that Ms. Churchill would like them to donate to the group.

“We are not actively collecting money,” Mr. Russo said. “We felt we could honor that condition in the way that did not us feel uncomfortable.”

Ari Roth, the artistic director of Theater J, which is housed in the Jewish Community Center in Washington, said an arrangement had been reached to pay royalties to Ms. Churchill because the theater does not raise money directly or indirectly for outside groups. The play will be performed at Theater J on March 26 and 28 and at the Forum Theater on March 27 and 29. (It was presented as a performance installation three days last week in Chicago by Roots Productions.) 

The three East Coast theaters are not coordinating their productions, Mr. Russo said; Theater J reached out to the New York Theater Workshop after learning of its interest in the play, and it proved possible to hold the staged readings at roughly the same time.

Tickets to the New York readings will be available first to the theater’s subscribers and then to the public. Mr. Russo said it was possible the theater would mount a longer-running production at a later date.

5 thoughts on “from The New York Times

  1. Contrary to Ari Roth’s promise to me that he would use both the title and subtitle of “Seven Jewish Children – A Play For Gaza” in promoting the play, it is not happening. The Theater J webpage promoting the play calls it simply “Seven Jewish Children.” There is ample blank space to include the subtitle.

    The subtitle is important. It shows that it is “a play for Gaza,” not a play for Israel. Ms. Churchill’s work has a stated point of view which she acknowledges forthrightly.

    Her POV is controversial within a certain segment of the DCJCC target audience. I know because I am part of that audience. So it would be understandable if DCJCC people conveniently “forgot” to include the subtitle when promoting the play.

    However, Ms. Churchill herself was emphatic that the subtitle MUST be included. Her script states: “No changes of any kind can be made to the title or text of the play.” You can read this notice here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/feb/26/caryl-churchill-seven-jewish-children-play-gaza

    Mr. Roth, I was able to communicate via email with your friend Mr. Gringras. He does not share your view of the beneficial nature of what you are doing. But if you must do it do it openly. The play has a title (or, a title and a subtitle) which Ms. Churchill did not want removed.

    So for the love of God, please let your audience know what kind of play this is by including Ms. Churchill’s subtitle in the online and other announcement. Ms. Churchill was not ashamed that this was “Seven Jewish Children – A Play For Gaza” and you must be true to her wishes.

    I am a web programmer by trade. The online announcement of the play is unbalanced anyway because there is too much white space above and below “Seven Jewish Children.” I know how easy it must be to fix this, and improve your web design and accuracy to boot.

    So please do what you promised you would do, Mr. Roth, and add Ms. Churchill’s subtitle “A Play For Gaza” to your online announcement so that no one will be surprised about what type of play this is.

    Jonathan S. Mark
    7055 Chesley Search Way
    Alexandria, VA 22315

  2. THE EFFACEMENT OF THE NAME “A PLAY FOR GAZA”
    by Jonathan Mark

    Tell him that he said he would include the subtitle “A Play For Gaza” on the poster.

    Tell him that the Royal Court Theatre bills the play on its website as “Seven Jewish Children: A Play For Gaza”

    Tell him that URL of the Royal Court’s announcement of the play is http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whatson01.asp?play=548 and he can verify that the Royal Court includes the subtitle.

    Tell him that both versions of the script which we have discussed list the work as “SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN A Play For Gaza” or “Seven Jewish Children – A Play For Gaza.”

    Tell him that it is not surprising that the Royal Theater promotes the play to a heavily anti-Israel British audience using the subtitle “A Play For Gaza.”

    Tell him that the British audience does not object to the play’s stated political purpose.

    Tell him that the stated purpose of the play is “A Play For Gaza,” and not “A Play For Israel” or even “A Play For Gaza and Israel”.

    Tell him that unlike the UK audience, the DCJCC audience may in fact object to a play that is “for Gaza” but not “for Israel.”

    Tell him that explains the different marketing of the play in the two nations.

    Tell him that he is insistent on marketing this play in a matter different from the way the Royal Theater did.

    Tell him he insists on effacing the subtitle “A Play For Gaza” because that subtitle makes the play’s polemical purpose clear.

  3. Tell him, man you have a lot of time on your hands Mr. Mark!

    Tell him that theater is about discussion.

    Tell him that theater is not about censorship.

    Tell him that some people appreciate a willingness to air and discuss difficult issues like this one.

    Tell him, no one is forcing you to come.

  4. I don’t know why Ari and others do not include the subtitle in promo for the play
    (in some cases, perhaps, for space or time?), but it would seem to belong there,
    descriptively/appropriately — NOT because with it the play is thus revealed to be “for Gaza” and therefore “against Israel,” but because it is *about* “Gaza:”
    Gaza, a time (like Vietnam); Gaza, a political and military episode(on-going),
    like war in Iraq/Afghanistan; Gaza, a moral issue, like Guantanamo; Gaza a
    place in humanitarian/economic distress, Gaza a political disaster/conundrum, for Palestineans (and Egyptians) as well as Israelis and the West…. Gaza, a marking historical moment (like 9/11 and other Jewish references in the play), one of our moments…

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