The Wooster Group runs into problems with Harold Pinter production

The highly anticipated new production of Harold Pinter's "The Room" by The Wooster Group has run into difficulties after the licensing company for the play said that critics may not review the show when it has its world premiere in Los Angeles next month.

In addition, future performances of "The Room" in New York and Paris appear to be in jeopardy after The Wooster Group failed to obtain the necessary permission from Samuel French, the licensing company.

"The Room" is still scheduled to be performed at REDCAT in downtown L.A. from Feb. 4 to 14. The production is staged by The Wooster Group's longtime director Elizabeth LeCompte, and features such company acting stalwarts as Kate Valk and Ari Fliakos. 

The Wooster Group held advance preview performances of its new production of "The Room" late last year in New York ahead of the L.A. world premiere. 

Officials at REDCAT said in a release this week that Samuel French instructed the New York-based Wooster Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden.

The Wooster Group subsequently appealed this decision, and Samuel French later lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but told the theater company that the blackout on reviews will remain in place.

The release quoted an email from Samuel French's licensing manager David Kimple: "We are elated and honored to have your company investing in a show like this but, unfortunately, outside circumstances require us to maintain this restriction."

Kimple didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

A London representative for the Pinter estate said via email that The Wooster Group's application came to Samuel French after the theater company had already announced its production plans. 

"The fact is that it was very late in the day last year when we heard they were planning to present the play in Los Angeles and unfortunately, the rights were not available when they applied for them," said Judy Daish, the representative for the writer's estate.

"We proceeded with allowing the production with limitations out of courtesy to them."

Both The Wooster Group and REDCAT disputed her assertion about the timing of the application. 

They said that The Wooster Group first applied and received approval for the license for the New York run in July 2014, when it was applying for funding.

The Wooster Group then contacted Kimple at Samuel French to request a license for the L.A. "extension" on Oct. 16, 2015 -- prior to the Oct. 28, 2015 start of performances in New York.

They said The Wooster Group followed up by email on Dec. 9 because it hadn't received a licensing agreement yet, and were told on Dec. 20 that final confirmation would be received soon.

Earlier this month, Samuel French informed the Wooster Group of its decision regarding reviews and promotional material.

In August last year, REDCAT announced its fall 2015 lineup, which included a mention of "The Room" for early 2016 in the announcement.

Speaking by phone from New York, LeCompte said that "I don't think this is good for theater. Theater is always an event... when you stop people from doing it, it might put the playwright up in literature, but it doesn't help theater."

She added that as a director, she is "totally loyal to the writing" of the play. "I don't cut it up, or 're-do' it. I don't change the words."

The Wooster Group is world-renowned for its experimental productions that put an avant-garde, sometimes multimedia spin on classic dramas. In the past, it has staged plays by Shakespeare, Jean Racine, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.

The company has presented a number of its productions at REDCAT over the years, including "Hamlet," "Vieux Carré" and "Early Shaker Spirituals."

Blackouts of critic reviews are highly unusual in the theater world. "Personally, it's very perplexing," said Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT, in an interview.

"It seems to me that even if a critic doesn't like it and writes a review that isn't positive, that seems like a very small matter compared to the press about this precedent-setting move that might be generated."

He said REDCAT had already invited some members of the press to "The Room" but has alerted them to the restrictions. 

LeCompte said The Wooster Group was in discussions to present "The Room" at the Festival d'Automne, the annual arts festival held in Paris. She said no dates for the official New York premiere had been set.

"The Room" was Pinter's first play and was produced in 1957. 

The British writer, who died in 2008, was a Nobel laureate and is widely considered one of the most important dramatists of the 20th century. His plays, including "Betrayal," "The Homecoming" and "The Birthday Party" are revived regularly in productions around the world.  

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Updated

12:01 p.m.: Updated with quotes from Elizabeth LeCompte and additional information from The Wooster Group and REDCAT.

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