Ten months after firing longtime artistic director Ari Roth, Theater J has named Adam Immerwahr to replace him. Currently the associate artistic director of McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., Immerwahr steps into the job Dec. 1.
The controversial dismissal of Roth means Immerwahr and Theater J — a 240-seat company operating within the D.C. Jewish Community Center — will be closely watched regarding its programming and response to pressure. Friction over Roth’s aggressive approach to plays and discussion panels involving Israel and the Middle East came to a head last spring when the DCJCC scaled back the theater’s planned full production of “The Admission,” a drama by Motti Lerner that suggests war atrocities were committed by Israeli forces in 1948.
“It’s very clear that the first season I program will be subject to a certain kind of scrutiny,” Immerwahr, 33, said Friday by phone from Princeton. “My goal is to program a diverse variety of plays on a great many themes and topics, and Israel is absolutely one of those. There are difficult questions to ask about Israel for all American Jews, and we won’t be shy about asking them if we feel there is art that asks them excellently.”
Last year at the McCarter, Immerwahr directed Theresa Rebeck’s “The Understudy.” He has worked as resident director for Passage Theatre in Trenton, N.J., and as artistic director of OnStage, a community-based documentary theater group focusing on senior citizens. OnStage has been absorbed by the McCarter, where Immerwahr began as an intern 10 years ago.
McCarter Artistic Director Emily Mann calls Immerwahr a “good navigator” and “great communicator.”
“Adam’s one of those scary-smart people, but a people person,” Mann says. “You have to have charisma, ease and humor, not only for staff, but for patrons and donors and boards.”
Rebecca Taichman, whose shows have been seen here at Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth and the Shakespeare Theatre Company, has directed shows produced by Immerwahr at the McCarter. “He will be a terrific and fierce producer, and he will bring directing talent to the role,” Taichman says. “I’ve actually been waiting for Adam to call me and say, ‘I’m becoming an artistic director.’ I see that as a very natural progression for him.”
At Theater J, Managing Director Rebecca Ende says the rest of the staff is staying put, including Associate Artistic Director Shirley Serotsky, the company’s acting artistic director since Roth was dismissed. Theater J just closed its season opener, “Queens Girl in the World,” after extending the show’s run by a week. Meanwhile, across town, Roth’s new troupe, Mosaic Theater Company of D.C., debuts its first production at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Oct. 29.
Immerwahr’s interest in community-based work and new plays was part of what appealed to Theater J, Ende says, along with his dual-track résumé as a producer and director. Immerwahr says he embraces Theater J’s “extraordinary reputation for doing bold, provocative work from a wide variety of voices” and also sees opportunities for a potential “deep dive” into “the canon of great Jewish writers of the 20th century, and writing happening now.”
The circumstances around Immerwahr’s hiring suggest he may need to bring some political skills to his Washington posting, as well. Mann believes he’s ready.
“It’s all about de-escalating,” Mann says of keeping organizations in harmony. “If anyone can do it, I think he can.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong auditorium for “The Understudy.”