"We applied for the rights through Samuel French, then our dates changed and we reapplied," explained the show's co-author and director Tom Dunn about the failed attempt at production. "The third time [we applied] — when our dates became finalized and we hired the cast and booked the theatre—that's when the word came back from Woody's camp that the rights had been denied."
In response, Dunn and his long-time "writing buddies" Dan Callahan, Brendan Connor decided to collaborate on their own Allen-inspired work. (Dunn told Playbill On-Line "we liken ourselves to Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Except we're not handsome and there's three of us.")
When the producers sent Allen an invite to the show's previous run, in November of 2002, thinking the director would get a kick out of the homage from his fans, they received a letter declining the invite followed by a legal postscript from Allen's lawyer, Irwin Tenenbaum. Dunn revealed, "Nothing was out of line on their part. Basically, he responded to my invitation. His attorney sent a response back that said 'He appreciates your invitation, he's going to decline,' then went on to say what was in the [New York] Post."
The Post cited the following message: "Since I have not read the play," Tenenbaum wrote, "I trust that you have adhered to and stayed within the parameters of applicable law with regard to the use of my client's name and character. I reserve all of my client's rights with regard to this project, should events prove otherwise."
Tenenbaum told Playbill On-Line he had no comment on the Post article but confirmed that his office sent a letter. Who Killed Woody Allen? actually has nothing to do with the New York-based director. The one-act, set in a upper-East-side funeral home at his memorial service, focuses on the mystery behind Allen's death — which is revealed at the onset of the play to not be "natural causes." Allen's contemporaries Diane Keaton, Dianne Wiest, Alan Alda and Christopher Walken and other New York celebrities, such as Conan O'Brien, Spike Lee and Ed Burns all become suspect.
"In essence, the whole piece is a satire of celebrity culture, but, at the same time lampooning awards shows. It's a memorial service that runs like an awards show; people are promoting their projects, they're reading off a teleprompter," Dunn stated.
The filmmaker, comic and occasional playwright Allen will return to the theatre himself in April as he directs two of his own one-acts at Off-Broadway's Atlantic Theatre Company. The two plays, Riverside Drive and New Milford, will debut on April 23 under the evening's overall title, Writer's Block. It will mark the first time Allen has been involved in a stage production since Death Defying Acts in 1995.
Who Killed Woody Allen? runs Feb. 13-March 6 at New York City's Triad Theatre, 158 West 72nd Street. Tickets are available by calling (212) 352-3101. For more information, visit www.whokilledwoodyallen.com.