The Broadway producer who threatened the Kavinoky Theatre and more than 20 others around the country with litigation if they went ahead with performances of "To Kill a Mockingbird" has partially backed down, but the change of heart comes too late for the Buffalo theater.
The Kavinoky, housed on the D'Youville College campus, canceled its production 11 days before opening night after Scott Rudin, the producer of a version of "Mockingbird" at the Shubert Theatre, using a new script by Aaron Sorkin, sent a cease-and-desist letter. That forced the Kavinoky to scuttle the show, dismantle its set and quickly substitute an adaptation of George Orwell's "1984" in its place.
Rudin, after receiving negative publicity across the country for issuing his threats, decided to allow theaters to put the play on, but only the version he's producing. It's not clear how many theaters will take up the offer, since most, including the Kavinoky, were planning to stage the classic version of the play written by playwright Christopher Sergel.
The dispute hinges on a restrictive clause in a 50-year-old contract between the estate of Harper Lee, the book's author, and Dramatic Publishing Company, which sells theaters the rights to stage plays.
The clause stipulates "Mockingbird" productions cannot be staged in cities with populations of 150,000 or within 25 miles of them based on 1960 U.S. Census figures when a "first-class dramatic play" based on the novel is playing in New York City or is on tour. It also forbids the use of professional actors.
A representative for the Dramatic Publishing Company told Loraine O'Donnell, Kavinoky's executive artistic director, to ignore the warning because the theater was legally in the right in staging the show, but wouldn't cover legal expenses if if the theater was sued.
A request for comment from the Dramatic Publishing Company was not returned.
Rudin called several theaters to tell them of the change he would now allow.
"As stewards of the performance rights of Aaron Sorkin's play, it is our responsibility to enforce the agreement we made with the Harper Lee estate and to make sure that we protect the extraordinary collaborators who made this production," Rudin said in a statement.
Rudin also blamed Dramatic Publishing Company for licensing the classic version of the play when he claimed it was not permitted to.
For Kavinoky, the show, as said in theater parlance, must go on.
"We have subscribers who are expecting a five-play season and we have a responsibility to put on a show," O'Donnell said Thursday.
With just three weeks to rehearse, rather than the usual four, the Kavinoky is rushing to be ready with "1984" for its March 15 opening.
"Are they scared? Oh yeah, they are," O'Donnell said at the time. "They have to learn their lines in three weeks. But I have never seen a more committed group of actors, and designers, too."