After pulling The Good Samaritan from the Bolton Theater’s spring lineup, James Michael Playwright-in-Residence Wendy MacLeod ’81 workshopped her play with a new audience in California. A reading of the play premiered during the Road Theatre Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival in North Hollywood on July 31.
The Good Samaritan first garnered controversy after it was set to premiere on campus in April. When MacLeod released a version of the script to the campus via email on Jan. 6, students and faculty expressed concern over the depiction of Hèctor, a Guatemalan minor, as well as its handling of topics such as race, sexual orientation and class.
Though more than 150 people attended the Feb. 1 panel held to discuss the play, MacLeod was not in attendance. After the Road Theatre Company’s reading, audience members were invited to participate in a panel discussion. Though MacLeod declined to comment for this story, Festival Director Scott Alan Smith stated that the reading received a warm reception. MacLeod attended the reading and panel discussion along with director Michael John Garcés and artistic director Sam Anderson.
“The audience enjoyed the play and were very positive and supportive,” Smith wrote in an email. “Many wanted to see it fully produced.”
MacLeod made edits to her play before the reading and worked with Garcés during rehearsals, according to Smith. Garcés is a playwright and artistic director for Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles. His work includes Los Illegals, a play produced in 2007 that features themes of immigration and class.
When posts on Facebook advertising the reading began circulating, Kenyon students expressed their disdain for the play. Some discussed a potential protest of the play, but the comments came after the date of the reading had already passed.
“She can revise it all she wants, but the entire play is problematic,” Isa Bird-Muñoz ’18 said. “This is not a story that just anyone gets to tell.” Bird-Muñoz currently works as a teacher for detained immigrant youth.
Smith says he was aware of the controversy surrounding the play before it was submitted and that he actually encouraged MacLeod to submit to the festival.
“The theater is by design a forum for the people,” he wrote. “It is at its very essence a place for the exchange of ideas.”
The festival, founded in 2010, is designed to be a forum for playwrights to workshop their plays before completing them. Often, it is the first draft of a play that is submitted.
“The Summer Playwrights Festival was carefully named when we started it in 2010,” Smith wrote. “I wanted the focus to be on the playwrights, and we have endeavored to make the play the priority so the audiences can hear it clearly and interact with what they heard with the playwright and director after the reading in a discussion.”
Despite the fact that MacLeod participated in a discussion after the reading, Bird-Muñoz, who was unable to attend, expressed concern based on the way MacLeod handled the controversy at Kenyon.
“It could be the perfect play now,” they said, “but the fact that she resisted so many people of Latinx backgrounds saying, ‘this is bad, we can talk about this, but please listen,’ means that [she] shouldn’t be writing this.”
The festival took place over eight days and featured over 30 plays. According to Smith, 27 of the plays that have had readings at these festivals over the last eight years have later been produced by the company. At the time of writing, The Good Samaritan has not been chosen, but the full lineup has not yet been announced.