Long Wharf’s Gordon Edelstein put on leave after sex-harassment reports
NEW HAVEN — A New York Times article about women coming forward to accuse Long Wharf Theatre Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein of sexual harassment sent shock waves through the theater community Monday.
The latest #MeToo allegations led the theater’s Board of Trustees Chairwoman Laura Pappano to put Edelstein on administrative leave, effective immediately, pending further action by the full board, which is meeting tonight. Pappano said the theater reacted properly to past complaints against Edelstein but also said the reported behavior is “unacceptable” and the situation “untenable.”
“We cannot have this at the theater,” Pappano said.
“We don’t just want to look good; we want to be good. I’ve cared deeply about these issues for my entire career — that we have an open, just and supportive workplace. Theater is hard to put on; it’s hard work, and we can’t have it any other way.”
The Times report presented four women who alleged unwanted sexual contact by Edelstein since his arrival in 2002, six other former employees who described sexually explicit remarks by Edelstein in the workplace and even the former arts editor of the New Haven Register, Laura Collins-Hughes, who described a surprising, wet and unprovoked kiss on the lips by Edelstein while she was standing at a Long Wharf gala.
The article quotes Kim Rubinstein, who started as education director and became associate artistic director at Long Wharf, as saying Edelstein groped her in 2003 (years after the two had a one-night stand) and made other unwanted advances and actions in the workplace, including masturbating in front of her. She complained to theater management in 2006 and the theater brought in a counselor and scheduled harassment training for staffers, the article reported.
The Times report also quoted Meghan Kane, an ex-assistant director of production at Long Wharf who was horrified when Edelstein commented rudely on her breast-reduction surgery in front of other staffers; Halley Feiffer, a playwright/actress who said she was groped by Edelstein in 2008 (at an off-Broadway theater); and Annie DiMartino, a former official in the education department who said Edelstein grabbed her hand and placed it on his crotch in 2010.
The article also noted that a props supervisor, Jackie Farrelly, “filed a discrimination complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, objecting after Mr. Edelstein had used the word ‘skanky’ to refer to an actress who irritated him.”
Pappano, a Yale grad, freelance journalist for the Times and writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College who lives in New Haven, said hearing about the Times allegations led her to check out documentation from the incidents, which mostly took place before she came to the board in 2010 and well before she became chairwoman last summer.
“What was clear to me,” said Pappano in a phone interview Monday, “was that the allegations I was reading in the New York Times were salacious and detailed and differed in tone and substance than the sexual harassment complaint in 2006. That does not mean she (Rubinstein) is not in pain, that she isn’t hurting, that Gordon acted right. But ... the board acted on the information that it had.”
Pappano said there were mandatory counseling sessions for Edelstein, a relocation of her workspace and ground rules set for communication between the two. And Rubenstein directed two productions in 2007, Pappano said.
She said the theater actions were proper then but “the information now is different ... than what was given to the theater in 2006.”
The other incident cited where the theater took action was in 2017, however, after local Albertus Magnus College announced that it was giving a 2017 honorary degree to Edelstein and he twice joked to a couple of staffers that it’s because he had sex with the nuns, the Times reported.
“That’s rude language, and I don’t think that the quote is right in the Times ... but I can tell you he was reprimanded for saying that,” Pappano. “It’s rude, it’s unacceptable, it’s not OK. End of discussion.”
As for the 2005 “skanky” remark, said Pappano, “there was a whole explication, an agreement, an apology. So those are the three instances that were reported ... (and) dealt with.”
Kane was quoted as saying the theater is “complicit in this behavior,” but Pappano disagreed. Her action Monday means Edelstein can’t enter the building. The current play “Office Hour” already was being directed by someone else and he is not scheduled to direct other shows this year.
Pappano said the board meeting already was scheduled “and our next steps will be the subject of that board meeting.” Managing Director Joshua Borenstein will lead the theater for now, Pappano said.
Collins-Hughes, who is a freelance theater reviewer for the Times now, said in a phone conversation Monday that theater is a “huggy kind of industry. People are used to physical contact and blurry lines about the personal and the professional. And that makes it really easy for people who want to cross that line.”
Collins-Hughes did not report the uninvited kiss to anyone at the theater although she mentioned it to a few colleagues; she said it happened “right in front of a board member. Also, it was 2003 and nobody cared. And if a woman spoke about it, she was just tattling or something.”
She said with theater casts often referred to as family, “telling on somebody is like telling on your dad or your uncle or somebody.”
Collins-Hughes said Edelstein “has a big personality; he doesn’t seem terribly cognizant of personal boundaries.” She also agreed with others who said in the Times article that he used crude and crass language but said, “He’s also very charming, though ... and he’s smart and he’s funny. And guys like him.”