Theater J Announces New Season Opener: Willy Holtzman’s Political Drama SOMETHING YOU DID

[note, this first paragraph has been been revised, in consultation with playwright Deb Margolin; 5/20/10].

As you can read in Wednesday’s Washington Post in a relatively accurate report from Jane Horwitz with an otherwise misleading headline, Theater J will not be producing IMAGINING MADOFF by Deb Margolin. The playwright pulled the play from Theater J after she determined she was not willing to let Elie Wiesel nor his attorney “approve” or “disapprove” of any revisions that she might have been making at the request of Theater J which included changing the name and any likeness of the sage Jewish character in the play from “Elie Wiesel” to a wholly new, fictional character. Theater J did not “cancel the production;” rather, the play was withdrawn by the author. We’ll miss the play. And we’re saddened by the events.

As I’ve shared with friends on Facebook, “There are people to feel badly for here, much more so than for Theater J: Deb Margolin, for instance, who’s written her heart out in this play; and yet it’s a completely fictional rumination on a deeply proud–and, in the context of the Madoff scandal, shamed–public figure who was privately defrauded. The play has much pathos for him, but it’s painful to revisit; and the Wiesel of the play is unrecognizable to Wiesel the man himself. That’s both the best and worst thing you can say about the play.”  Of course, we’re saddened to have lost a powerful piece of theater.  

We now move from one contemporary work about a convicted felon meeting one of his victims, to another same such encounter involving a female criminal in SOMETHING YOU DID by Willy Holtzman. In so doing, we move from a 3 character play in MADOFF to a 5 character play. That’s the only financial blow. As I told my Facebook friends, “SOMETHING YOU DID plays a lot more ecumenically — meaning there’s 1,000% less Hebrew. Plus, now we get to think about Bill Ayers and Glen Beck, and not Bernie Madoff and those he bilked. So it’s kind of an even trade-off.”

Here’s our first launch of a description of Willy Holtzman’s SOMETHING YOU DID.

A stellar student from a good family, Alison Moulton is serving her third decade behind bars for an anti-war action she participated in as member of a ‘60s radical group that resulted in the death of an African American police officer. Now petitioning for parole, she’s visited by the daughter of the slain officer. But her fiercest detractor comes in a former comrade turned neo-conservative pundit, media star and best-selling author. Gene Biddle (Rick Foucheux) argues against his former partner while implicating another group member, now a current public official residing in the White House, for a past association with the radical terrorist group. Smear politics, 60s revisionism, the realities of a wasted life in prison, and the desire to rejoin society form the driving, conflicting forces in this “fluid and eloquent play about the divisions in American culture and politics” (The New York Times) “Willy Holtzman has done the nearly impossible: In SOMETHING YOU DID, he finds a fresh way to discuss modern terrorism.” (Time Out ) A highly engrossing work, newly updated.

Performance dates will remain the same: August 28-October 3, 2010. Rick Foucheux will continue to star as our Associate Artist in Residence for the season. A director to be named this week.

2 thoughts on “Theater J Announces New Season Opener: Willy Holtzman’s Political Drama SOMETHING YOU DID

  1. Playwrights often use fictional encounters. Oscar Wilde and A.E Housman never met in real life. Yet their encounter in Stoppard’s ‘Invention of Love’ is at the heart of that wonderful play. I think the difference here is that both the characters in the play are living. From what I read of the play, Wiesel is used more as a foil. And although they may have never met, it’s well known Wiesel and his foundation lost quite a bit of money on their investment with Madoff.

    The WP piece says that Wiesel threatened legal action. If it was to be a court case, would the playwright necessarily have a weak case ? After all there is the First Amendment, isn’t there ? (And living people have been characters in plays – not always in a flattering light – and not object. I remember seeing a puppet as Joyce Carol Oates in a TheaterJ play years ago).

  2. all valid observations and a good question too; Deb’s play will, indeed, live to see another day, in some form or another, and its generosity of spirit will become known to anyone who encounters it.

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