Is there life after covering Hollywood for a veteran New York Times reporter? In retiree Bernie Weinraub’s case, the answer is yes. First, he was one of 200 anonymous entries submitting a play which won the NYC Stellar Network’s 2006 competition, an opportunity for emerging playwrights to gain exposure among top theater industry professionals. The play had a NYC reading and then the artistic director of The New Group, Scott Elliott, asked to meet with Weinraub. Now, that play, The Accomplices, is being produced off-Broadway by Elliott’s prestigious theatrical organization. Previews start March 19th, and the play opens the first week in April. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this would happen,” Weinraub, my pal, told me. “At best, I had hoped the play would be produced at a small, regional theater. After all, I’m a first-time playwright.” He says comparing journalism to playwriting is like comparing baseball to football: “Can’t be done. The most obvious difference is that the playwright seems to be treated like a king — or at least a prince — in the theater. When someone wants to change a line, everyone stops and looks at you and waits for the answer. Can you imagine that happening in a newsroom?” Directed by Ian Morgan, one-time NYT political reporter Weinraub’s play is based on real events and set in the 1940s in New York and Washington about one man’s struggle to alert the U.S. to the unfolding horror of the slaughter of Jews taking place in Nazi-controlled Europe. But he is shocked to find his efforts to open America’s doors to the Jews blocked by the Roosevelt administration, Congress and the Jewish establishment. “Bernard Weinraub writes a blistering account of the fight to save millions, and the code of silence and inaction that continues to haunt us to this day,” New Group describes.
Weinraub told me he’d been thinking about this play and its subject matter “for a long, long time” — since the early 1980s, when he saw a PBS documentary by Laurence Jarvik called Who Shall Live And Who Shall Die about how the U.S. responded, or failed to respond, to the Holocaust. Back then, working in the NYT‘s Washington bureau, he was assigned to look into the controversy surround the film, which came under criticism from some FDR historians and others. “I became fascinated with the subject, and began interviewing a group of elderly men in New York who took part in the early efforts to pressure Roosevelt, Congress and even the established Jewish community to wake up and take action,” he told me. Then, about three years ago, he began taking playwrighting classes at UCLA with Simon Levy, who runs The Fountain Theater in Hollywood. What emerged was The Accomplices, based on research, documents, books, interviews and, of course, Bernie’s own imagination. Only his closest friends and family knew what he was doing, and dreaming, once retired, and he swore them to secrecy. But he stuck to his playwrighting, day after day, week after week, month after month. So now Bernie has a CAA agent, and I’m thinking: HBO or Showtime? Spielberg or Clooney? For tickets, call (212)244-3380 or email [email protected].