City Lit Defends Its Virtue | Letters | Chicago Reader

City Lit Defends Its Virtue 

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To the editor:

The tempest surrounding City Lit Theater's production of Douglas Post's Somebody Foreign that Michael Miner writes about in the January 27 Hot Type is about a draft of the play that is not being produced.

Out of his own sense of ethics, Doug approached Jeanne Bishop to let her know he had written a play that was partly based on historical events surrounding her and her family. He did this once the play was in preproduction but well before rehearsals started in order to make her aware of the contents of the play. When she made clear she was very bothered by the play, he said in essence, don't worry; I'll rewrite the script and remove any and all references to the historical events. Then he did so. The City Lit press release Miner quoted describes the new version of the play as fictional because it is entirely that. It is this new version that went into rehearsals at City Lit and begins previews February 10.

Bishop's impression, reported by Miner, that Doug left his meeting with her and her lawyer intending to try to get the production canceled is mistaken. He never asked me even to consider such a thing. He did ask me, for his own reference in his dealings with Bishop, to put down on paper the specifics of why a last-minute cancellation of a play would wreak havoc on a theater with a small budget, and I did so in the letter from which Miner quoted.

Miner characterizes Doug's letter to Bishop telling her about the play as one written by "someone in a tight spot hoping to wriggle out." But Doug was in no tight spot at all. He had stepped forward on his own, and there was nothing in his play that put him in any legal jeopardy. When his attorney pointed out to Bishop's attorney that there was nothing in the old draft that could be considered remotely actionable, her attorney acknowledged that they weren't "talking about legalities." As Bishop is willing to be free with other people's correspondence, she can surely make available to Miner the series of letters between the attorneys. In it he will see that there is never any kind of specific claim of legal injury, but references by both sides to Doug's voluntary decision to rewrite.

The handful of passages from the old draft that remained undigested from Doug's research are long since gone from the final draft. That Miner feels they should have been digested in a draft with a lower number is beside the point.

When Bishop's attorney asked City Lit for a copy of the new draft, the theatre did not "drag its feet," as Miner put it. We refused. The play is Doug's; only the production is City Lit's. Eventually Doug and Bishop worked out an agreement for her to be able to read it without acquiring a copy. City Lit would have had no right to undermine Doug's position in those negotiations by circulating his script without his permission.

Finally, we at City Lit chose not to discuss the matter with Miner because it was our understanding that Bishop was anxious to keep the history she finds painful out of the press, and we wished to honor her privacy. Little did we realize that her attorney was Miner's source, and the result is a one-sided article.

On the other hand, I thought Savage Love was great this week.

Terry McCabe

Artistic director

City Lit Theater

Michael Miner replies:

The version of the play Terry McCabe wishes I'd written about is the version he and Douglas Post wouldn't let me read when I asked for it. The version I did write about is the version City Lit had contracted to produce, had cast, and was publicizing at the time Post finally told Jeanne Bishop it existed. McCabe calls this stage "preproduction," as though a performance was a cloud on a distant horizon. It could just as easily be called postproduction, for by this time Post's play had already been workshopped in productions Bishop was told nothing about. The "tight spot" I referred to Post being in was not legal; it was ethical.

I have one regret: Post wouldn't talk to me, but after I received a copy of the letter he finally sent Bishop describing his play to her, I probably should have tried him again to let him know I'd seen it. I could have given him one more chance to say what he was thinking last November when he decided to inform Bishop that for the last 13 years he'd been writing a play based on her.

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