Jon Robin Baitz,

Jon Robin Baitz,

A weeklong electronic journal.
May 28 1998 3:30 AM

Jon Robin Baitz,

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       Relief. As of this morning, Manhattan Theatre Club, it seems, has unofficially reversed its decision not to produce Terrence's play because of the bomb and death threats. Within hours they intend to make a public statement. So by the time this is posted, the whole business should be headed for a clean, clear resolution.
       There was a lot of pressure on the theater. The Times picked up the story and examined it closely, from the first scent of something being rotten. (MTC released a statement announcing the cancellation at the beginning of a long holiday weekend through a press rep, in the hopes that story would get lost in the Memorial Day torpor.) Today's editorial on the subject reminded the players involved (in particular MTC artistic director Lynne Meadow) that this is a land where "freedom is always contested" and that "without bravery, freedom itself withers."
       The statement from the writers was signed by Edward Albee, Arthur Laurents, Wendy Wasserstein, Steve Sondheim, Paula Vogel, David Henry Hwang, and Craig Lucas, to name just a few. Craig and Tony Kushner and I called around town most of the day yesterday. Endless phone action. (Craig, who has a new play opening off-Broadway in a few days, had a very funny, slightly panicked outgoing message on his answering machine about his parents visiting from out of town and how it might take a while to get back to people.) Virtually all the people I know working in the New York theater signed. (A few strange and startling exceptions. One author quipped something about "if McNally were a Brit they'd do his play, just have him change nationalities." A bewildering non sequitur of a reference, I guess, to a preponderance of English and Irish plays in New York? Another writer, when asked, said he "did not believe in heroes.") However, if there is a hero in this story (some stories need heroes), it is Tony Kushner. He was the very first to respond to the silencing of a fellow author. It was Tony who drafted the statement and called on Craig and the rest of us to join in so quickly. Now Tony and I are not close friends. Joe, when he was still acting, was in Angels in America, and as another writer, I sometimes found it hard to be in such close ambit to an author whose outline and presence were so very enormous, so formidable. Particularly since I was blocked most of the time. So, as much as I admire him, I have also been chary. But his is an example of a living, hair-trigger conscience and a model for how rapidly we should leap to the defense of others. I sometimes am behind the curve, slow to figure it out. I tend to get embarrassed, and it takes me a while to act. Tony and Craig leapt in and made us heard. We are now getting the signatures of the same authors for a statement applauding Manhattan Theatre Club for doing the right thing and insisting that Giuliani and Pataki fulfill their civic responsibilities. Last night, when I spoke to Terrence, he seemed completely dazed, exhausted, and depleted, but he also told me that he had never, ever in his life felt so much a part of a community. It was almost more than he could speak about. But in the silence on the other end of the line, I heard just how moved he was.
       I have to go see a reading of a new play by a Juilliard student now. Marsha Norman, who also teaches there, is directing it. Last night I thought about those young playwrights and the example that was being set for them. What does this unfolding story tell them about the state of the theater they are entering into?

Playwright Jon Robin Baitz is the author of The Substance of Fire, Three Hotels, A Fair Country, The End of the Day, The Film Society and, most recently, Mizlansky/Zilinsky: or "schmucks."