Gordon Edelstein, artistic director of Long Wharf Theatre in Connecticut, has been placed on leave after allegations of sexual misconduct at Long Wharf. A Seattle actor now is also accusing Edelstein of sexual misconduct while at ACT.
Update Jan. 23, 6:15 p.m:
The New York Times reports that the board of Long Wharf Theatre on Tuesday evening fired Gordon Edelstein over sexual misconduct allegations.
Board chairwoman Laura Pappano told The New York Times that the firing was effective immediately, that Edelstein was barred from the theater, and that the board would hire an independent agency to review how the theater handles reports of misconduct.
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When Seattle actor and director Liz McCarthy French heard the news Monday — that Gordon Edelstein, artistic director at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, and former artistic director of Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) had been accused of sexual misconduct, including groping, kissing and using sexually explicit language at work — she “started laughing and shouting,” she said. “I felt so relieved.”
“Back in 2002,” she said, while she was acting in a show directed by Edelstein at ACT, “he assaulted me, too.”
The allegations against Edelstein at Long Wharf Theatre were detailed in a New York Times report Monday that said four women spoke on the record, describing unwanted sexual contact by Edelstein since he arrived there in 2002. Six other former employees described frequent sexually explicit remarks in the workplace by Edelstein, according to The New York Times, which also reported that several former employees said some administrators and board members have been aware of concerns about Edelstein’s behavior for years — a claim that officials at the theater called “misleading.”
When The New York Times asked Long Wharf about the allegations on Monday, the theater said Edelstein had been “put on administrative leave, effective immediately.”
Edelstein did not respond to The New York Times’ request for comment.
He also could not be reached by The Seattle Times for comment Monday evening.
Edelstein, a longtime figure in the American theater scene who has also directed on Broadway, served as artistic director of Seattle’s ACT from 1997 to 2002.
It was during Edelstein’s transition period between ACT and Long Wharf when the alleged incident against Liz McCarthy French (who is known in the theater community as Liz McCarthy) occurred.
At the time, she was playing Hazel in “Mourning Becomes Electra,” a coproduction between ACT and Long Wharf. He was directing the show and, she said, as a newly single mother of a 7-year-old son, she was grateful for the work.
During a photo shoot in a green room at ACT, McCarthy said, he “put his hand on my ass and grabbed it — like a whole handful … it was horrible.”
She jumped and said Edelstein just cackled. “He had this bizarre personality where he was always doing that lecherous laugh and making weird comments, and I remember thinking, ‘Did anybody else see that?’ ”
After that, McCarthy said, she tried to avoid him, but he’d take public occasions of hugging — like during a closing-night moment — as an excuse to kiss her on the mouth. “And he always made comments about my breasts,” she said. During that moment in the green room, McCarthy was wearing a V-neck sweater: “What’s maddening is that my first thought was ‘I shouldn’t have worn this.’ ”
She’d carried the secret around ever since, telling only a few friends and, after the #MeToo movement took off, her husband. A friend of McCarthy’s confirmed Monday night that McCarthy had told her of the alleged incident years ago.
McCarthy didn’t speak out until now for a host of reasons: She needed the work. Plus, “there’s this thing in our society where we have just been, as women, taught that if something like this happens to us, there’s something we’ve done to make this happen,” she said. “As women, we are taught to be polite and kind and not rock the boat. To be peacemakers.”
In an email to The Seattle Times, when asked about McCarthy’s allegations and the accusations against Edelstein at Long Wharf, ACT said: “In recent conversations about the [#MeToo] movement, Gordon Edelstein was mentioned in connection to his behavior at ACT 16 years ago.” Amy Gentry, communications director at ACT, did not provide more specifics about those conversations.
The theater said in a statement that, “In cooperation with The New York Times, we searched for any records in the archives. There is no documentation of misconduct, action, or settlements during his time at ACT, but this movement and this article has clearly given women the courage to come out and share that he created a hostile and intimidating environment. ACT’s culture today does not tolerate abusive or inappropriate behavior of any kind.”
McCarthy said she decided to step forward now, in part, because she’s more financially secure, married and living in a two-income household — and not relying on a bicoastal coproduction of “Mourning Becomes Electra” directed by Edelstein. “That was literally health insurance for me and my child,” she said. “I never told anybody who had power because I was afraid that if I said anything, it would get around town … We struggle to make a living as actors! We’re just barely getting by — if we’re lucky!”
But, she added, “I figure it’s time for me to be brave. I’m 56 years old. What do I have to lose?”
And she hopes that young women making their way in the theater business won’t have to negotiate the same code of silence.
“When someone is in a position of power in the theater like Gordon was, they can essentially end your career by telling others in the community with hiring power that you are ‘difficult’ or ‘a troublemaker,’ ” she said.
“Honestly, I was waiting for when Gordon’s time was going to come up. I couldn’t imagine I was the only one.”