Opening image: David Cote, David Henry Hwang, Joan Bertin, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally, Adam Rapp, Jane Friedman

The Free Speech Leadership Council gathered on June 23, 2010 for “Playwrights on Censorship: A Conversation with Edward Albee, David Henry Hwang, Terrence McNally, and Adam Rapp.” Time Out New York’s Theater Editor David Cote moderated the lively discussion and Jane Friedman, Chair of the Council and CEO of Open Road Integrated Media, hosted the event in her lovely Manhattan home.

The playwrights agreed that the censorship of their work can be both overt and insidious. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly have been challenged and criticized for their “taboo” subject matter, be it sexuality, religion, or race. Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi remains his most challenged work since it was condemned by the Catholic League when it first premiered in 1998, and a recent performance of the play was cancelled at Tarleton State University near Fort Worth, Texas. “I still have a fatwa on my life,” McNally remarked during the discussion.

Adam Rapp was so affected by censorship that he wrote The Metal Children, which premiered off-Broadway this spring. The play was inspired by the removal of Rapp’s book, The Buffalo Tree, from a high school’s curriculum in Pennsylvania. When detailing his own account with The Buffalo Tree Rapp said, “I actually believe that it’s condescending to deprive kids of tough stories, especially if they’re artfully told.”

The playwrights also wrestled—and disagreed—with the notion that commercialization obstructs free speech since it causes many playwrights to self-censor in the hopes of appealing to mainstream markets. “Do you want to shock audiences with your work? Is outrage a success?” asked Cote. Albee responded, “All art is an act of aggression against the status quo.”

“Playwrights on Censorship” followed last year’s inaugural event, “A Conversation with Toni Morrison,” in a series of salon-style gatherings of prominent free-speech advocates for NCAC’s Free Speech Leadership Council. The Free Speech Leadership Council is a group of intellectual, cultural, legal, and business leaders committed to the defense of free expression. For more information, or to join the Council, please visit this page or contact Larry Horne at 212-807-6222, ext.17 or [email protected]

Read other reports of the event here:


About the Playwrights & Moderator

EDWARD ALBEE has been an ardent critic of censorship and self-censorship in literature. Many of his plays, including The Zoo Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf have been censored. He is a recipient of the Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the National Medal of Arts for his contributions to the theater. His plays include A Delicate Balance (Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award), Seascape (Pulitzer Prize), Three Tall Women (Pulitzer Prize), The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? (Tony Award), and many others.

DAVID HENRY HWANG is a playwright, screenwriter, and librettist best known as the author of M. Butterfly. Despite its popularity on Broadway, the Tony Award winning play has met with censorship in the United States and China. His other plays include FOB, Family Devotions; The Sound of Voice, Golden Child, and Yellow Face (Pulitzer Prize Finalist.) His Broadway musicals include his book for Flower Drum Song, Disney’s AIDA (music and lyrics by Elton John and Tim Rice) and Tarzan (music by Phil Collins).

TERRENCE McNALLY has won Tony Awards for his plays Master Class and Love! Valour! Compassion! His play Corpus Christi was condemned by the Catholic League; its performance canceled this year at Tarleton State University near Fort Worth, Texas. His other plays include The Lisbon Traviata; Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune; Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams; The Stendhal Syndrome, and most recently, Golden Age at the Kennedy Center.

ADAM RAPP is an Obie-award-winning playwright, director, and author of numerous plays including Nocturne, Blackbird, and Red Light Winter (Pulitzer Prize finalist). He is also the author of graphic novels and young adult fiction, including The Buffalo Tree.

DAVID COTE is theater editor and chief drama critic for Time Out New York. He is also an early-career playwright and librettist. In 2008, he was commissioned by the Gingold Theatrical Group to write a full-length play as part of its Press Cuttings program. He has written opera libretti for composers Stefan Weisman and Robert Paterson. David teaches arts criticism at Brooklyn College. Fellowships: The MacDowell Colony.