About 15 minutes ago, Samuel French, the publisher of Joshua Harmon's play Bad Jews, sent a cease and desist order to Gay City Arts Executive Director Fred Swanson, demanding that the show That'swhatshesaid, which opened Thursday night in the tiny theater at the back of Gay City, not be allowed to go on tonight as planned.
The one-person play, created and performed by Erin Pike and written by Courtney Meaker consists entirely of dialogue from the female characters that appear in the 10 most-frequently-produced Amercian plays during the 2014—2015 season (according to American Theater magazine). Bad Jews is one of them. (So are The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez and 4,000 Miles by Amy Herzog, also published by Samuel French.)
The cease and desist letter claims that the show's use of copyrighted material from Bad Jews is actionable. The letter reads, in part:
Any such program, publicity, production and/or presentation by you and/or permitted by you constitute and shall constitute the intentional infringement of the copyrights, trademarks and or other rights of our author and subject you and any and all other persons and/or firms involved with the publicity, presentation and/or production to the civil and criminal penalties specified under applicable law.
Should you or any of you permit these unlicensed programs and/or performances to take place and/or be performed, whether at a venue leased, owned or operated by you or otherwise, you and all involved personal shall be held fully liable and accountable as infringers and/or contributory infringers as specified under applicable law.
Accordingly, formal demand is hereby made that you immediately cease and desist from any and all such action by the end of business today, Friday, February 5, 2016, and you confirm that you will not conduct, publicize and/or present and/or permit to be conducted, publicized and/or presented any such program and/or performances.
Failure to do so will expose Gay City Arts, and all individuals acting in concert with these parties, to actions for willful copyright and trademark infringement and other legal claims.
The show is scheduled to start in less than an hour. I just got off the phone with Pike. She told me she has a plan.
As the minutes tick down to the curtain, Pike's forced to decide between two things. Does she perform the play, which seeks to dismantle the patriarchy by deconstructing its language and making good art from it, even in the face of legal action? Or does she submit to the patriarchy, say "yes sir," and close up shop?
It's a killer decision, especially so close to curtain. But again, Pike says she has a plan.
What kills me: A work of feminist drama gets some attention on this little blog at noon, and five hours later there's a bunch of suits trying to shut it down. As I noted in my review, the slapsticky-yet-nuanced play is brilliant in both conception and execution.
AND the lines and stage directions in Harmon's play were a font of casual misogyny, and stuck out to me during the performance—WHICH IS THE WHOLE POINT OF THE PERFORMANCE.
One stage direction from Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews goes like this: "She watches the bathroom door, like a cat roused from an afternoon nap, pretending to still be asleep while she formulates a plan of attack, with one eye open." Not only is this simile confusing and therefore unhelpful (I can imagine a director stroking his beard and saying, "NO! You are watching the bathroom door like a cat roused from an evening nap—try to think more afternoon nap") but it also reinforces the ol' feminine/feline cliché. Though I can see how an actor would just translate all that bullshit into "look sneaky," it takes work to look past the subtle misogyny—not to mention the bad writing—on display in that direction.
Now shit's hitting the fan. Or maybe not. I don't know how Pike will respond to the demand, but I know I have no intention of missing it.