Almost a year after longtime Artistic Director Ari Roth was fired, Theater J has finally announced a replacement. Adam Immerwahr, currently the associate artistic director at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J., will soon lead Theater J’s programming, beginning Dec. 1.
Theater J, which was founded in 1990 as part of the D.C. Jewish Community Center, has since become one of D.C.’s premier theaters, racking up 61 Helen Hayes nominations and awards in its 25 years. “It has a long history of doing bold, provocative production from a wide variety of voices,” Immerwahr tells Arts Desk. “I look forward to [continuing] that tradition.”
But while Theater J has a solid reputation within the District’s theater scene, it found itself at the center of a censorship controversy last December over Roth’s decision to program certain productions that were seen by some to be critical of Israel. Most notably, Roth—who had held the position for 18 years—clashed with the DCJCC’s administration, which Carole R. Zawatsky has led since 2011, over Theater J’s production of The Admission, a play about a Jewish and Arab family in Haifa during the first Palestinian uprising against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. The show was eventually demoted from a full show to a workshop after the local right-wing Jewish community protested.
The relationship between Roth and the DCJCC grew even more tense over the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, which featured some works that were critical of Israel. Shortly after, Roth talked with media about the controversy over the festival, which Zawatsky and the DCJCC saw as insubordination and fired him.
Immerwahr isn’t too concerned about all the drama between his future employer and his predecessor. “I wasn’t there, I can’t speak to what happened in that situation,” he says.
At the McCarter Theatre Center, Immerwahr produced a variety of works by notable playwrights like Christopher Durang, Ken Lidwig, Danai Gurira, Emily Mann, and Mary Zimmerman. He was also part of the producing team at McCarter that commissioned and premiered Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which starred Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce, and soon after went to Broadway and won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2014.
As for what he plans to bring to Theater J? Immerwahr wants to “celebrate the Jewish voice,” of course, but also “open up the doors to other cultures and communities that don’t often get the opportunity to be explored.” He says he wants to tell stories from Asian, African-American, or LGBTQ experiences, or those of people with disabilities “through a Jewish lens.”
Concern of a conflict similar to the one that brewed between his predecessor and the DCJCC doesn’t trouble Immerwahr. “I believe that they and I all want Theater J to continue to do envelope-pushing work about all the political and social conflicts of our time,” he says. “When there are terrific plays that explore the difficult questions about Israel, we’re going to do those plays. I have enormous faith in all the parties at Theater J and the DCJCC.”
Photo by Shannon Cameron.