PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 17-23: Things Get Nasty

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Nov. 17-23: Things Get Nasty Things took a nasty turn during the second week of Broadway stagehands strike. There had been a glimmer of hope at the start of the weekend, when the League of American Theatres of Producers met with Local One again for the first time since the walkout began on Nov. 10, with Disney's hotshot team of lawyers, headed by Robert Johnson, Disney's vice president of labor relations, there to help out. Confident-sounding newspaper reporters murmured that an agreement before Thanksgiving was likely.

And then it all went south. The two sides talked for two straight days, only to walk away Sunday night with no agreement and a new week of cancelled performances, including all those over the Thanksgiving weekend, one of the most lucrative on the Broadway calendar.

According to reports, the League walked away when Local One turned down an offer the producers were confidant would sail through. "We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union's concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business," said League head Charlotte St. Martin. "The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need.

Local One, in its statement, said "Just before the talks broke off, the producers informed Local One that what Local One had offered was simply not enough. The producers then walked out."

As the dust settled, many fingers started pointing to James Claffey, the scion of a family of stagehands, and the head of Local One, as the probable roadblock. According to the New York Post and other papers, a rift has arisen between Claffey and Tom Short, head of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and it was Claffey who vetoed the deal.

The picket lines resumed, but with a difference: Local One ceased marching in front of the St. James, the home of Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Grinch producer James Sanna, who is not a member of the League, successfully argued that it has a pre-existing agreement with the union and was therefore not part of its dispute with the League. (Local One, which had never won any points with the public by picketing in front of the kiddie show and under a marquis that shouted "Grinch," was probably eager to see Sanna's point.)

Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns the St. James and is very much a part of the League, was having none of it, however. In a statement released Nov. 19, Jujamcyn asserted that The Grinch would not reopen until the 27 other theatres darkened by the strike also resume business. Sanna, with visions dancing in his head of his limited-run holiday hit going down the drain, announced he would take Jujamcyn to court to get an injunction against the theatre owner. On Nov. 21, The Grinch stole Christmas back. Supreme Court Judge Helen E. Freedman granted the injunction and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas was set to reopen Nov. 23. In doing so, Judge Freedman uttered the best line of the strike drama thus far, saying, "I'm going to grant the injunction. I think one Grinch in town is enough."

That wasn't the own legal sally of the week. The Nederlander Organization, which owns nine of the Broadway theatres that are currently dark — and which had only been an observer, not a participant, in the League-Local One talks — filed a lawsuit against Local One. Producers of the seven shows in those darkened theatres have also joined in the suit, which claims the union has been striking the Nederlander houses only to pressure the League of American Theatres and Producers to make a settlement with the union, which makes the strike "an unlawful secondary boycott." The Nederlander Organization is suing the union for $35 million in damages.

Shows waiting for their opening nights made adjustments. Disney's The Little Mermaid postponed its previously announced opening on Dec. 6, saying previews would resume when the dispute is resolved and a revised plan for opening night would be announced at that time. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, meanwhile, announced on Nov. 20 plans to extend its Broadway production of August: Osage County by three weeks "to help recover lost dates from the strike by Local One stagehands."

And when will the two warring parties meet again? There were rumors of a weekend rendezvous, but nothing definite.