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Israel Horovitz: Coming To Terms With The Playwright And 'The Dream Crusher'

Israel Horovitz at the 2014 premiere of "My Old Lady" in New York.  (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
Israel Horovitz at the 2014 premiere of "My Old Lady" in New York. (Andy Kropa/Invision/AP)

What is there to say about Israel Horovitz, the latest artist or celebrity to be outed as a sexual predator, after Thursday's devastating post by the New York Times? I’ve known Horovitz since 1995 when I became theater critic at the Boston Globe. Our relationship has bounced up and down, often depending on whether my latest review of his work, mostly at the Gloucester Stage Company, was positive or negative.

There was always an undercurrent, though. Two years before I started writing about theater in Boston, the Phoenix had run an expose — six unidentified actors or Gloucester Stage staff members alleged that Horovitz, who became a widely-heralded playwright in the 1960s, had sexually harassed or assaulted them.

For better or worse, that was the end of the story, until Thursday when the Times added names, faces and horrifying details to the story.

Horovitz, a Wakefield native who cofounded the theater in 1979, had denied the allegations in 1993 and by 1996 his reputation had seemingly been rehabilitated. The women had decided not to identify themselves publicly. The Globe, which did its own reporting on the scandal in 1993, continued to cover Gloucester Stage, including Horovitz’ plays — usually one a year. Except for mention of the allegations in a profile, accompanied by Horovitz’ denial, they weren’t really part of the discussion about the playwright.

By today’s standards, Horovitz would never have survived the Phoenix story.

In that Globe magazine interview, Horovitz said,  "At the time, it was profoundly painful for me and my family. But, thanks to my mother, I suppose, I have inherited an odd ability to forgive and to move on. And, as we say in Gloucester, yesterday's newspaper is excellent for wrapping fish."

Should there have been more scrutiny by everyone over the years? Certainly by today’s standards, Horovitz would never have survived the Phoenix story. One or more of the women in the piece might have gone on the record. Others might have come forward. The board chairman at the time, Barry Weiner, who dismissed their charges with the equivalent of a Monty Python wink, wink, nudge, nudge — they were “tightly wound, if you know what I mean” — would have neither winked nor nudged. The more enlightened Liz Neumeier heads the board now and her condemnation of how the theater handled the charges in 1993 was fast and furious.

But for the past 20 years or so, Horovitz was given a do-over. I certainly gave him one. I am a subscriber to the increasingly unpopular dictum of separating the art from the artist. Each play was, as far as I was concerned, tabula rasa. I thought the quality of his plays was all over the map — some an A, some a B, some a C, some a D. I tended to like the revivals of his old plays more — like “The Indian Wants the Bronx” and “North Shore Fish” — but I thought that in general he wrote about class and race better than just about any other white playwright in America. I thought his "Gloucester Blue" in 2015 was excellent, his "Man in Snow" in 2016 not so much.

Since 1996, his career kept reaching new heights — he won a European Oscar Award for his screenplay of “Sunshine” in 1999, he wrote the TV-movie “James Dean” in 2001; and new productions of his plays were blossoming in New York, Paris and elsewhere.

After I became ARTery editor five years ago, in addition to reviewing his plays, I reached out to him to write a piece about the Charlie Hebdo massacre since he was in France, where his reputation is even higher than it is here. It was a terrific piece.

Still, the suspicion of Horovitz as dirty old man never went away even though actresses I talked to Thursday said that recent stories were more along the lines of hugs that lasted a little too long or a kiss that seemed headed for the cheek winding up on the mouth.

Gloucester Stage has always benefitted from its attachment to the charismatic Horovitz as the founder of the theater.

Carolyn Clay reviewed his latest play at Gloucester Stage for The ARTery. Her lead was: “If you can get by its being an old man’s wet dream (and god knows I’m trying), then Israel Horovitz’s 'Out of the Mouths of Babes' is a droll, snappy comedy with an intoxicating whiff of ‘Blithe Spirit.’ ”

That Horovitz didn’t stop at dreaming is undeniable, with even his son, Adam of the Beastie Boys, saying he believes the heartbreaking Times story of the damage his father did to women. I certainly believe the stories I heard yesterday from women who didn’t want to go public (though their incidents also occurred in the ‘90s).

Mel Gibson poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Daddys Home 2", in November. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)
Mel Gibson poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Daddys Home 2", in November. (Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

And where to now? Separating the art from the artist is hard to do after reading the Times piece. But if one applies the Mel Gibson rule — his anti-Semitic and domestic violence incidents have seemingly been forgiven by Hollywood — then who knows what the future holds for Horovitz and others who’ve been accused of, or who’ve admitted to being sexual predators. Will Horovitz, like Wagner, end up being remembered for his art rather than his actions?

I certainly hope that none of this rubs off on Gloucester Stage, which is in the admirable hands of Robert Walsh and Jeff Zinn. I doubt that it will — the quality of the work speaks for itself, along with its beautiful location on Rocky Neck. On the other hand, Gloucester Stage has always benefited from its attachment to the charismatic Horovitz as the founder of the theater, not to mention his abilities as a fundraiser.

But the real takeaway is that we should never forget what his actions did to the lives and careers of the women in the Times piece. They deserve the last word.

As Elizabeth Dann said to the Times reporter, “I heard a word used recently about people like this — they’re dream crushers. He took this thing that was such a beautiful thing, this young hope, this sense of promise, and he just ruined it.”

Related:

Ed Siegel Twitter ARTery Editor, Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is the editor and critic at large of The ARTery.

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