Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, Would the Jewish Theater of New York Please Stop It?

I've been resisting the urge for months and months to post about the Jewish Theatre of New York -- for any number of reasons. First, I happen to think artistic director Tuvia Tenenbom is a smart guy, has steel balls, and certainly anyone in the business who is interested in rabblerousing has my admiration, assuming the goal of all the rabblerousing is some kind of positive outcome, some kind of betterment. That said, the company has engaged in some activities and practices that just don't thrill me. One such is their contention that Rick Lyman, the arts editor of The New York Times, is an anti-Semite because, for one reason or another, he's unwilling to assign a critic to review the company's newest production, Last Jew in Europe.

Well, that was last spring, and now the company is bringing the play back and launching yet another frontal assault on Lyman. You know what? I don't buy it. Get a load of this PR and tell me what you think:

For Immediate Release
Abe Cohen, 212.494.0050

Get the Racist Lyman Out!

The Jewish Theater of New York deeply deplores the continuous belligerence and shameful racism exhibited by Mr. Rick Lyman, Theater Desk Editor of The New York Times, toward our theater.

In March of this year, only a day after Mr. Lyman assumed his position as theater editor, he barred Times’ critics from visiting our show LAST JEW IN EUROPE. For the first time in eleven years, a production mounted by The Jewish Theater of New York was not to be reviewed by the Times. Initially, Mr. Lyman claimed that no critic wanted to see this show. That proved to be a petty lie after our Artistic Director, Mr. Tuvia Tenenbom, personally called some of the critics and they told him that they would love to see the show but Mr. Lyman wouldn’t allow them to do so. When asked for comments by various news organizations, such as the New York Post and others, the culture department of the Times changed the story: it wasn’t the critics who didn’t want to see the show but rather the Times’ editors’ decision to “take a pass” at that one time. In an email sent to the media, and responding to the Jewish Theater’s accusation that such a decision amounted to a boycott by the Times, Mr. Sam Lifton, the culture editor, said: “The New York Times has by no means decided not to review shows put on by The Jewish Theater of New York.”

Well, that was in March. Now it’s October.

The Jewish of New York, due to repeated requests by members of the Jewish community to see the show, has mounted LAST JEW IN EUROPE again--and this time in a totally new production and under completely new direction. And again, the Times was invited. Once more, the Times’ theater department response was: “No critic wants to see the LAST JEW.” When confronted by Mr. Tenenbom that critics actually wanted to see the LAST JEW, Mr. Tenenbom was told by Ms. Oconor of the theater department: “This is the answer I was told to give you. It’s not in my hands.” For a moment there, Mr. Tenenbom thought that he wasn’t in the US of A but in Cuba or Burma.

The message by the theater department is obviously clear: LAST JEW IN EUROPE, a show that documents the alarming increase of anti-Semitism in Europe, will not be reviewed by the Times. Period. Since Mr. Rick Lyman doesn’t care about the Jews, nobody else should care as well.

If this is not shameful censorship, we don’t know what is. And for a paper that prides itself for having an open mind, this is a narrow mind of extremity and a total disgrace.

LAST JEW IN EUROPE, which uses advance forms of theater-making (most of the show takes place in the audience section, to cite one example), is deemed not worthy of Times readers to know about. It must be kept a secret. That’s a lesson in democracy, coming to you straight from the new school of Mr. Rick Lyman--a dictator in the making.

The fact that a big percentage of the Times’ readers are Jewish, people who care deeply about issues of rising anti-Semitism, seems to bother no Lymans of the world.

We urgently call on the powers that be at The New York Times to immediately distance themselves from the disgrace called Rick Lyman. Failure to stop this racist will mean that the Times stands behind his shameful deeds. And if it does, it’s time to boycott the Times itself. Preaching for anti-discrimination while practicing discrimination against the only English-speaking Jewish theater company in New York, sounds hypocritical to every person of sound mind. Targeting this show in this way is nothing short of dumb elitist racism.


The Jewish Theater of New York

I mean, really??

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Anonymous said...

Paying lip service to The New York Times? Looks like you want to be on their good side, Leonard. BTW, to remind you: A theater company that engages in social activity off stage as well is laudable. Theater is a social force, not just an entertainment group. Study the history of theater, my man!

Leonard Jacobs said...

No, not lip service. I just don't think Lyman's anti-Semitism has been demonstrated or proven -- I mean, just by not assigning a critic to the play does not make him anti-Semitic. What's worse, though, is how the company is dragging every journalist they can find -- forcibly -- into the drama, casting an almost "You're with us or against us" shadow on on the scene, and I just can't get behind it. So it isn't lip service, it's about artists having a temper tantrum and calling names. There are a lot of other ways for them, if they wish, to exact revenge.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you have "temper tantrum" as well. You spoke your mind, and we have heard it. You don't have to keep it on and up every time someone responds. Let others have their five cents as well. Some patience, man!
BTW: Telling the world what happens behind the scenes between theater companies and Times editors/critics is not called "dragging every journalist" they can find; it's called enriching us all about how culture is handled behind our eyes. It's something we all shoud be aware of.

Leonard Jacobs said...

Oy, look, it's my blog -- if I want to reply I'm going to reply. And no, my reply did not constitute a temper tantrum. Please, just stop it.