Can a pro-Israel drama make it in New York these days?
One would think so, given the size and Zionist passion of the community and its love of theater.
But the producers of “A Tiny Piece Of Land,” a sympathetic portrait of a Gush Katif Jewish family’s struggle during Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza, this week canceled the play’s scheduled upcoming engagement at the Beckett Theatre on 42nd Street due to lack of funding.
A disappointed Mel Weiser, who co-wrote and directed the play, which had brief, successful runs in Los Angeles and Ashland, Ore., said “there was great support but no money” for the production here.
He said he and his wife and co-author Joni Browne-Walders contacted “well over 200 people,” many of them wealthy, influential and supportive of Israel (including Evangelical Christians), who were encouraging about the production, but to no avail.
“Just about everyone offered support” in terms of attendance and promotion, he said, “but not one — not one — came up with money.”
The New York production had been in place for a full year, with a cast and production team ready to start rehearsals. But the authors, who spent about $85,000 of their own money on the West Coast presentations, were unable to come up with the $295,000 required to put the play on at the Beckett.
“What is particularly painful for us,” Browne-Walders said, “is that this is a play for Israel in the propaganda wars.”
Skeptics may wonder about the quality of the production. But the couple noted that audience reaction was enthusiastic, and a number of Jewish leaders in Los Angeles, including officials from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Israel advocacy groups like Stand With Us and Camera, saw and raved about the Los Angeles production. But funding was a different story.
The husband and wife, based in Phoenix, have their own theories about the lack of financial support, one being that organizations loathe sharing their contributors.
The play came about, they said, when in 2008 an Ashland theater company ran into controversy over its plans to produce “My Name Is Rachel Corrie,” about the young American woman who died in Gaza while attempting to protect Palestinian homes from an Israeli bulldozer.
The theater director was challenged to stage a play that offered the Israeli side of the conflict. Soon after, he met Weiser and Browne-Walders, who said they would write such a play, which they did after visiting Israel as part of their research.
They said the play presents both sides of the conflict fairly, but with the premise that Jews have a right to a homeland of their own.
As show business veterans with a long list of theatrical credentials, the couple said they are used to the ups and downs of the business, and they remain optimistic. According to Weiser, this play is “too important to give up on.”
“A Tiny Piece Of Land” is scheduled for a January 2012 run at the Teatron Theatre in Toronto. After that, a return to Los Angeles is possible.
“We’d hoped this show could play all over the world,” Weiser said. “We saw New York as the springboard, like a powerful weapon in a life-and-death battle that is not being used.”
In the meantime, potential theater “angels” are encouraged to contact the playwrights at firstname.lastname@example.org.