Thursday, July 20, 2006

Censor! Censor!

It's just been announced that the next chief administrator of the Comédie-Française will be a woman—the first since the troupe's creation in 1680. Muriel Mayette will replace Marcel Bozonnet in August. Officially, Bozonnet's contract wasn't renewed because the Ministry of Culture, which oversees the C-F, wanted to both inject new blood and signal a willingness to place more women at the head of public theaters. Unofficially, it's of course hard not to wonder if the Peter Handke flap had anything to do with the decision. Back in the spring, Bozonnet withdrew from the C-F's upcoming season Handke's play Voyage to the Sonorous Land, or the Art of Asking on the grounds that he had given a eulogy that seemed to exculpate Slobodan Milosevic at the Serb leader's funeral. (Interesting roundup of German reactions here.)

I have mixed feelings about this affair. In his quality of administrator, Bozonnet is entitled to add or withdraw productions. Cries of censorship feel overdramatic and almost exploitative—since after all anybody is still free to mount the play—not to mention that they allow Handke to wrap himself in a convenient mantle of self-important martyrdom. At the same time, Handke has never hidden his sympathies, something Bozonnet clearly should have thought about before programming the Austrian writer.

This hits close to what happened to My Name Is Rachel Corrie and New York Theater Workshop a few months ago. I do believe NYTW artistic director Jim Nicola wasn't wrong to withdraw the play from his schedule, just as I believe he could have handled the matter better. In the end, another theater, like for instance the Culture Project at 45 Bleecker, could conceivably put on the play. And would people have been as upset if Nicola had said something along the lines of, "My bad: I finally read the play and it's a didactic piece of crap so we won't produce it after all"? Like his initial move, it would have displayed bad judgment (think before you program something!) and even worse diplomatic skills, but I doubt it would have created the same uproar.

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