“Bullets Over Broadway,” now in previews at the St. James Theater, is based on Woody Allen’s movie of the same name. Its incarnation onstage is directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman and features a script by Allen. Tickets cost between $52 and $147. I cannot tell you what the play is about because I don’t know. But I can tell you that I will not be going to see “Bullets Over Broadway.”
As every American consumer of mass media is aware by this point, Dylan Farrow accused her stepfather Woody Allen of sexually abusing her in 1993. She was then eight years old. National attention turned to Farrow’s allegations once again this year when her first public written comments on the topic were published in the New York Times blog in the wake of the massive success of Allen’s most recent cinematic offering, “Blue Jasmine.” In the letter, Farrow describes instances of her stepfather’s sexual assault as well as the ensuing legal battle that never resulted in Allen’s conviction. In Allen’s column for the New York Times, he responded, “Twenty-one years ago, when I first heard Mia Farrow had accused me of child molestation, I found the idea so ludicrous I didn’t give it a second thought.”
There is no neutral ground in the Woody Allen controversy. It is unlikely that there will ever be definitive proof of what happened between Allen and Farrow. There is only enough truth in their differing accounts to make for one honest person. If you have ever seen a Woody Allen movie, read a Woody Allen essay, attended a Woody Allen play, or even considered doing so, you are now forced to make a decision. By choosing to support Allen’s work, you make the statement that you believe that it is he, and not Farrow, who is telling the truth. In a court of law, Allen would be considered innocent until proven guilty, but in the economics of pop culture, the decision audience members face is not whether to punish him with imprisonment but whether to reward him with money. While many take the argument that boycotting Allen’s work could serve to demonize an innocent man, that argument ignores the fact that supporting his work may mean denying the claims of a victimized woman.
We will never know whether or not Woody Allen sexually abused Dylan Farrow. But I would rather take the opportunity to support a potential victim of sexual violence than spend my money giving the benefit of the doubt to a potential abuser. There is no third option. Fair or not, Dylan Farrow’s experiences represent to victims of domestic and sexual violence everywhere that going public with their stories will result in being ignored, not believed, and largely rejected by a society that accepts alleged abusers.
The huge disparity in cost between Broadway and movie theater tickets forces Broadway audiences to allocate their financial resources more carefully. And because Broadway shows are, as a general rule, more of a financial risk than movies, Broadway shows exist much more at the mercy of audience whims than movies do. While a poorly received movie can run for weeks, Broadway shows that fail to capture audiences can close within 24 hours (see the 1965 Broadway flop “Kelly,” which ran for a single performance before closing at a $650,000 loss). Broadway audiences have a power that moviegoers cannot come close to. My refusal to see “Blue Jasmine” had little effect on Woody Allen, but if even a small number of people decide not to see “Bullets Over Broadway,” the length of the show’s run will be impacted. We, as audience members, have the choice to make “Bullets Over Broadway” a long-running success or a box office failure. Our relationship to artists is more symbiotic than it seems: We choose whether or not to accept what is put on stage.
Broadway theater has long been a medium for social change, whether commemorating and criticizing past social movements (“The Scottsboro Boys,” “South Pacific,” “The Mountaintop”) or engaging with political and social issues as they unfold (“Next to Normal,” “Hair,” “The Children’s Hour”). It is not a place where the work of accused child abusers should be able to find success without at least opening a dialogue. Few opportunities exist for audiences to directly inform the way art and culture are presented. This is one of them.
Jenny Singer is a Barnard College junior majoring in English. Singer on Broadway runs alternate Fridays.