Two people say Israel Horovitz harassed them at Olympia’s Harlequin Productions, which has staged six of his plays. An artistic director says, “It never seemed to me that it was any big deal,” and didn’t explain why Horovitz was invited back repeatedly.
When Israel Horovitz attended a 2011 rehearsal for his play at Harlequin Productions’ theater in Olympia, he insisted on seeing an actress’ hotel room.
Seattle actress Kate Parker said she felt uneasy, but let the award-winning playwright inside. Then he lunged at her, she said, grabbed her waist and tried to kiss her.
Parker said she was shocked. Horovitz, the founding artistic director of Gloucester Stage Company in Massachusetts, has written more than 70 plays, including “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,” performed on Broadway in 1991. His screenplays include “My Old Lady,” a 2014 movie he directed that starred Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith.
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“He’s a famous playwright investing in our local theater,” recalled Kate Arvin, the stage manager for the Olympia play. “It’s like having a celebrity.”
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But Arvin’s image of Horovitz crumbled when she received a call from Parker that night, describing the hotel encounter.
“She was crying and upset,” Arvin said about Parker. “She was not just shaken, but shaking.”
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Unlike the case of Harvey Weinstein, in which women remained silent about the Hollywood mogul’s alleged history of sexual assault and harassment until news reports last year, women came forward publicly as early as 1993 alleging Horovitz harassed them. However, theaters brushed aside women’s complaints about Horovitz until the #MeToo movement caught fire on social media and brought myriad complaints about prominent figures to light.
Horovitz, 78, has recently come under fire for his alleged behavior with actors and others associated with the Gloucester theater. He resigned from the company after The New York Times reported in November that nine women on the East Coast said they were sexually harassed or abused by the playwright over the past three decades.
Two people, including Parker, say Horovitz exhibited similar behavior in Olympia. They and other employees of the theater company claim Harlequin’s directors failed to investigate or take any action because they were star-struck by Horovitz.
In fact, Harlequin kept producing Horovitz’s plays and bringing him to its Olympia playhouse to help with productions or for opening night, even after the alleged incident with Parker. From 2009 to 2014, six of Horovitz’s plays were performed by Harlequin Productions.
Scot Whitney and his wife, Linda, started the not-for-profit Harlequin Productions in 1991, renovated the downtown State Theater and continue as artistic directors. Horovitz came to three dress rehearsals and at least five opening nights, Scot Whitney said.
Some playwrights visit theaters depending on the relationship they have with the theater and its directors. Horovitz, whose daughter lived in Olympia, developed a close friendship with the Whitneys.
Scot Whitney said he was aware of the alleged incident between Horovitz and Parker, saying, “She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself.”
Whitney said he never confronted Horovitz.
Horovitz didn’t return several calls for comment.
“I love the guy,” said Whitney, who credits the playwright with his decision to switch careers from film to theater. “ … He loves women and he’s famous. I don’t know the inside of his head. It never seemed to me that it was any big deal.”
Despite Horovitz’s reputation, producers and others ignored allegations because of his fame and productivity.
In 1993, The (Boston) Phoenix reported that 10 women said they had been sexually abused or harassed by Horovitz, seven of them at the Gloucester Stage Company.
But the Gloucester Stage board president at the time said the women were “tightly wound” and the board took no action against the playwright.
In The New York Times story, a woman said that in 1989, when she was 19, Horovitz raped her during a fellowship at Gloucester Stage. Last year, another woman said he forcibly kissed her. Several other women said he cornered them and forcibly kissed and fondled them, sometimes shoving their hands down his pants or putting his hand in their pants.
In response to the allegations, Horovitz told The New York Times that he had “a different memory of some of these events.”
However, he went on to say, “I apologize with all my heart to any woman who has ever felt compromised by my actions, and to my family and friends who have put their trust in me. To hear that I have caused pain is profoundly upsetting, as is the idea that I might have crossed a line with anyone who considered me a mentor.”
Horovitz’s son, Adam Horovitz, a member of the influential hip-hop group Beastie Boys, issued a statement to The New York Times in which he said: “I believe the allegations against my father are true, and I stand behind the women that made them.”
There are no records of the senior Horovitz facing criminal charges and most of the allegations fall outside the statute of limitations, said Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
“I just dodged him”
Even before Seattle actress Caitlin Frances met Horovitz, she had been warned to stay away from him by a friend with the Seattle Actors’ Equity Association who had worked with Horovitz in Massachusetts.
In 2010, Horovitz attended Harlequin Productions’ dress rehearsals and a performance of his play “6 Hotels,” in which Frances performed.
“I just dodged him,” she said. “I never made myself be alone with him.”
When he asked her to discuss her role or grab a drink after rehearsal, she refused, saying she had to go home to her son.
Frances, an actress since 1974 and founding managing director of SecondStory Repertory Theatre in Redmond, said after the performance he grabbed her hand, pulled her toward him and kissed her on the lips in front of the audience and Scot Whitney.
“What am I going to do?” she said. “Slap his face in front of 150 people?”
She regrets not complaining to Whitney, but said he was “enamored” with Horovitz.
Helen Harvester, another actress who performed in “6 Hotels,” said in an email that she never felt unsafe with Horovitz.
The following year, during rehearsals of his play “Unexpected Tenderness,” Horovitz returned to Olympia to help with the production. Harlequin Productions paid for his hotel room and used airline miles to fly him to Olympia, Whitney said.
That’s when Parker said Horovitz tried to kiss her in her hotel room.
She twisted away and said he needed to leave, she said. He suggested they take a nap together and he walked to the bed, Parker said. Again, Parker said, she told him to leave.
“I just felt sick to my stomach,” Parker said.
After he left she locked the door, skipped a crew party dinner and spent the rest of the night in her room.
After hearing about the incident, Arvin, the stage manager, contacted her supervisor, Harlequin production manager Jill Carter.
“We instituted the policy that no one was left alone with him and people were escorted in groups and we tried to hide (where) the actresses’ hotel rooms were located,” Carter said.
Scot Whitney denied there was any such policy and said there were no other complaints brought to him.
“I didn’t really think that it was a situation where protection was really necessary,” he added.
Carter said she left Harlequin Productions after working there for 18 years, partly because the Whitneys failed to protect actresses like Parker.
“He should have been told to pack up and go home,” Carter said.
Whitney said the behavior was inappropriate and he intended to talk to Horovitz, but didn’t because “it was awkward and weird.”
Whitney said Horovitz kissed everybody.
“He planted one on my wife and OK, whatever. He spends a lot of time in France. She thought it was weird, too.”
Linda Whitney didn’t return phone calls for comment.
Scot Whitney said he never alerted actresses about Horovitz and doesn’t recall notifying the entire Harlequin Productions’ board of directors about the incident with Parker, but may have talked to a few board members individually.
But one actor said Whitney told the staff involved in the 2013 production of “Gloucester Blue” to stay away from Horovitz.
“He warned he (Horovitz) was kind of a dirty old man and the young women in the cast and crew shouldn’t talk about work in his hotel room,” said Tom Dewey, a Seattle actor. “He said Israel had done something in the past several times at Harlequin.”
When asked about Dewey’s recollection, Whitney declined to comment.
He also didn’t explain why he invited Horovitz back repeatedly. The playwright paid Whitney, who also owns Whitney Design, to create his professional website.
One of the reasons Arvin said she quit Harlequin Productions in 2012 was because Whitney ignored concerns about Horovitz’s behavior. At the same time, Arvin acknowledges she and others should have done more.
“It’s easy to hush up about it but it left a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach,” Arvin said. “I recognize I also had a hand in it.”