Leaders of the Dramatists Guild of America spoke out on Monday against a campaign being waged by a local ad-hoc group against a forthcoming play at Washington’s Theater J that looks critically at Israelis’ behavior during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
In a Jan. 27 letter to the heads of the DC Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington–which respectively house Theater J and provide funds to its parent body–the Guild’s top officials urged the organizations not to cave in to pressure to curtail the production.
“On behalf of every playwright who has ever used the stage to inform and challenge an audience, we encourage you to stand strong,” wrote Stephen Schwartz, the Broadway composer (“Pippin,” “Godspell”) who serves as president of the Guild, and John Weidman, the Broadway librettist (“Assassins”) who heads its legal defense fund.
The letter was a response to the ongoing efforts by a small group called Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art to scuttle Theater J’s plans for “The Admission,” a play by Israeli dramatist Motti Lerner about the circumstances surrounding the killing by Israeli soldiers of Palestinian civilians in a small village in 1948. COPMA, calling the assertions in the play a “blood libel” against Israel, has been conducting an online campaign, asking donors to the Jewish Federation to withhold funds as long the drama is being done under the auspices of the DCJCC.
In the wake of the group’s protest, Theater J, in concert with the DCJCC, cut the run of “The Admission” by more than half and downgraded it from a full to a “workshop” production. A 17-day presentation was also added in April of “Golda’s Balcony,” a biographical drama about Golda Meir, starring Tovah Feldshuh.
“Yes, private citizens have a right to object to the plays you produce by not funding you,” Schwartz and Weidman wrote to DCJCC Chief Executive Carole R. Zawatsky and Federation President Liza Levy. “…But the bullying tactics of this group in order to impose their political worldview on the choice of plays you present must not succeed.”
“The Admission” is scheduled to begin performances at Theater J on March 20 and run through April 6 as part of the company’s continuing Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival.