PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 20-26: Outrage at Theater J, and a Magic Trick for The Illusionists

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Dec. 20-26: Outrage at Theater J, and a Magic Trick for The Illusionists
If the Theater J brass thought the kerfuffle over their firing of longtime artistic director Ari Roth would die down over the Christmas holiday, they were wrong.

Ari Roth
Ari Roth

Artistic directors from across the U.S. have attached their names to an open letter condemning the firing of Roth from the Washington, D.C. nonprofit. In addition, a second document addressed to the DC Jewish Community Center has been released, which characterizes his termination as "a form of creeping McCarthyism.”

Outcry from artists and theatre leaders across the U.S. followed Roth's Dec. 18 revelation that Carole R. Zawatsky, chief executive officer of the DC Jewish Community Center, of which Theater J is an arm, delivered notice of his dismissal and that the given cause was insubordination. He had served in his role there for 18 years.

The Washington Post reported that Roth and Zawatsky frequently disagreed on Roth's programming choices, some of which criticized Israeli policies.

On Dec. 23, an additional group of 30 artistic directors lent their names to the open letter supporting Roth, including Sundance artistic director Philip Himberg, Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer, the Huntington Theatre Company's Peter DuBois and Mabou Mines' Sharon Fogarty. They joined such big names as Barry Edelstein at The Old Globe, Christopher Ashley of La Jolla Playhouse, Emily Mann of the McCarter Theatre, Jim Nicola at New York Theatre Workshop, Martha Lavey of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre and many, many more—basically every important artistic director in the United States.

Playwright Tony Kushner, whose play The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism, with a Key to the Scriptures was in production at Theater J at the time of Roth's firing, also chastised the DCJCC in a strongly worded statement, which cast members read to an enthusiastic audience Dec. 18. In addition, documentary filmmakers Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow took to Facebook with a separate open letter to the DCJCC, which was signed by Theodore Bikel and Eve Ensler, among others. It read, in part, “The continuing political crisis in Israel demands an informed and engaged American Jewish community. Censoring provocative and intellectually stimulating work - much of it being produced in Israel itself - can only be seen as an act of capitulation to bullying. It is time to stand up and reject the opportunist excuses that ‘donors demanded it’ or that ‘protocols were violated.’ The continued imposition of protocols limiting artistic expression is a form of creeping McCarthyism. It is a shameful denial of American Jewish traditions of civil liberties and free speech.”


In other D.C. news, Signature Theatre, the Tony Award-winning regional theatre in Arlington, VA, was given a $5 million loan by the Arlington County Board.

The theatre, which was $411,000 behind on its rent and utility bills, was approved for the loan Dec. 17. That same day it was decided that the board would stop funding the Artisphere theatre and close it at the end of June.

The Washington Post reported that the company was loaned $5 million at one percent interest, allowing the theatre company to operate rent free until the 19-year loan is paid back. Approximately $411,000 in overdue taxes and utility bills was forgiven.

A publicist for Signature told that an additional $2.7 million was given as a gift from the original lender. Though the company had debts, Signature was never in danger of closing its doors. Rather, the money was given to build a "new financial structure.”

The play The 39 Steps will return Off-Broadway in spring 2015.

Producer Douglas Denoff is behind the revival, which will feature direction by Maria Aitken. Performances are slated to begin April 1, 2015, prior to an official opening April 9, at the Union Square Theatre.

The 39 Steps received its American premiere at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston prior to opening on Broadway in 2008 at the American Airlines Theatre. It transferred to the Cort Theatre and then to the Helen Hayes Theatre before closing in January 2010. After closing on Broadway, the work moved to New World Stages, where it played through January 2011.


The Illusionists, which visited Broadway for the holidays, pulled off a nice magic trick. It recouped its $1.75 million Broadway investment in just over three weeks of performances.

Producers announced they plan to bring the production, which continues through Jan. 4, 2015, back to Broadway next season.

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