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.