Deathtrap

This just in…

The headline in today’s L.A. Times Calendar Section: Too Nude? Too Gay? DEATHTRAP at L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center is canceled after the author’s estate balks at staging.

According to the article, DEATHTRAP ran last spring at the Gay and Lesbian Center with 30 seconds of nudity, but author Iran Levin’s estate has revoked permission for the September run.

Hmm… What happened between last spring and now? Did the estate (Ira’s sons) not know about the nudity earlier?

This time around, the estate said cease and desist, and then upon appeal, they said the production could continue but under the condition the staging would not include any behavior indicating a physical relationship between the two men in the play.

Producer Jon Imparato’s reaction: “No director could adhere to these restrictions. They were so limiting.”

Director Ken Sawyer said the staging featured some kissing and embracing between the male protagonists and described the nudity as “innocuous. They [the estate] are making a big deal out of relatively little.”

But then there is this from a professor of theatre: “It’s a gay relationship, but it’s a tacit one.” And a Backstage review last spring described the nudity as “gratuitous” and said that it does a “disservice to the play.”

The actor who took off his clothes for the part didn’t feel it was gratuitous and felt it was appropriate for the production.

My head’s spinning. Since I haven’t seen the production, though, I’ll weigh in generally as a playwright. I’m a little peeved by Imparato’s words. “These restrictions… so limiting.” Well, the play was written in 1978, did the author intend to have physical contact and nudity in the play? And if you don’t like those parameters, then don’t do the play.

Of course there are the productions of (Mr. Public Domain) Shakespeare’s plays where the concept is updated and re-imagined. But if something’s in the public domain, does that allow directors some ”give” in their interpretation? Or not? Where is the line? I suppose somehow staying true to the intent of the play would be key in deciding. Back to my earlier question: Did Ira Levin intend for this relationship to be tacit and not overtly physical? Did the director update the play to 2012? And is that okay? I’d be a little nervous if someone inserted nudity into my play written and set in 1978… unless I saw it and thought it was fabulous. But once a play is published, you can’t check every production. And if I were dead… hmmm, really hard to check up. The sons are trying to do right by their dad, I’m guessing.

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