Ari Roth

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Ari Roth (born January 10, 1961) is an American theatrical producer, playwright, director and educator. Since 1997, he has served as the Artistic Director of Theater J in Washington, D.C.

Early life[edit]

The son of German-born refugees of the Holocaust, Roth was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, where he graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory High School. He studied playwriting at the University of Michigan with Milan Stitt (author of The Runner Stumbles) and Kenneth Thorpe Rowe (author of the textbook, Write that Play). Based on his playwriting, he received two Avery Hopwood Awards for Drama, the first in 1981 given by Arthur Miller, a noted UM alum and playwright (and student of Thorpe Rowe).


Born Guilty[edit]

Roth was commissioned to write a play by Arena Stage in 1989, which he based on Peter Sichrovsky’s widely acclaimed book of interviews with children and grandchildren of Nazis (Schuldig Geboren, serialized in Der Speigel in 1987 and published in English in 1988 by Basic Books). Entitled Born Guilty, the play received a workshop production in The Scene Shop in June of 1990.[1]

The play received its world premiere in 1991 in the 683-seat Arena (since renamed the Fichandler Stage), directed by Arena's Founding Producing Director, Zelda Fichandler, during her 40th season.[2] The play was nominated for the 1992 Helen Hayes/Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play.[3] It was published by Theater Communications Group's "Plays in Process" imprint that same year.[4]

After further readings at Manhattan Theatre Club, Born Guilty had its Off-Broadway premiere in 1993 at the now-defunct American Jewish Theater. Jack Gelber directed a cast including Zach Grenier, Greg Germann, Lee Wilkof, Victor Slezak, Maggie Burke, Jennie Moreau, and Amy Wright. The New York Times called the play a “searing drama” [5] and the production enjoyed a sold out, extended run.

Born Guilty had its Midwest premiere at Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre in 1994. The production, directed by Shira Piven, later moved to the Famous Door Theatre Company at Jane Addams Hull House for an extended seven-month run, and received widespread critical praise.[6][7] Since then, Born Guilty has enjoyed more than 40 national productions (including in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, and San Francisco) and a radio broadcast by L.A. Theatre Works as part of its “Chicago Theatres on the Air” series.

Theater J’s 2002 DC revival of Born Guilty was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Resident Play;[8] the director of the play, John Vreeke, was nominated for Outstanding Director. Excerpts of Born Guilty were featured on WFMT Chicago’s “The Studs Terkel Program” and NPR's All Things Considered. It is featured in The Best Stage Scenes of 1993 (Smith and Kraus, Inc., 1994) and was published by Samuel French, Inc. in 1994.

The Wolf in Peter[edit]

The Wolf in Peter, a sequel to Born Guilty, is based on the political career of author Peter Schirovsky and his controversial partnership with Jorg Haider, leader of the Austrian Freedom Party. The sequel premiered in 2002, when it was produced in repertory with Born Guilty at Theater J.[9]

The play was developed further at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey and Jewish Theatre of Austria, and the sequel was produced in repertory in 2007 at Atlanta's Jewish Theatre of the South. In 2010 it was presented as a staged reading in New York at the Museum of Jewish Heritage by the Epic Theatre Ensemble and directed by Blanka Zizka, artistic director of the Wilma Theatre.[10] The two plays, together with Roth's family play, Giant Shadows, now comprise The Born Guilty Cycle: A Trilogy. In 2011 the Theatre Lab presented The Cycle' in a student/professional workshop at Washington’s National Theatre. Delia Taylor and Shirley Serotsky directed.[11]

Other plays by Roth include:

Life in Refusal[edit]

First written as a one-act entitled Proverbial Human Suffering, this won the 1988 Helen Eisner Award for Young Playwrights from the Streisand Center for Jewish Culture. The full-length version of Life in Refusal was commissioned by the Foundation for Jewish Culture and premiered in 1988 at Performance Network Theatre in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It had its mainstage debut at Theater J in 2000; Wendy C. Goldberg directed.[12] Life in Refusal was nominated for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play in 2001,[13] and published by Samuel French, Inc. in 2003. It was anthologized in Ellen Schiff and Michael Posnick’s 9 Contemporary Jewish Plays (University of Texas Press, 2005).

Oh, The Innocents[edit]

Oh, The Innocents was first produced as a one-act entitled Private Lessons at the Circle Repertory Company Lab; Michael Greif directed. Its eventual second act was presented as the one-act The New Veil in 1988 at The Ensemble Studio Theatre's OctoberFest.

The first full-length version of Oh, The Innocents was produced by GeVa Theatre as part of its 1990 “Reflections: A New Plays Festival.” It won the Clifford Davie Award for New Plays.[14] Joe Mantello directed a cast that included Josh Brolin, Peter Birkenhead, and Cordelia Richards.

Roth made his Washington directorial debut with Theater J’s 2004 production of Oh, The Innocents,[15] which included ten new original songs penned by the playwright. Oh, The Innocents is featured in The Best Men’s Stage Monologues of 1990 (Smith and Kraus, Inc., 1991), and was published in 1996 by Samuel French, Inc.

Goodnight Irene[edit]

Commissioned by Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC) with a grant from the National Federation of Jewish Culture in 1994, Goodnight Irene was extensively workshopped at MTC; Victory Gardens Theater; Atlantic Theater Company; HB Playwrights Foundation; the University of Chicago; and University of Michigan. Gilbert McCauley directed its 1996 world premiere at Performance Network Theatre in which Peter Birkenhead and Tim Rhoze starred. Goodnight Irene was produced at Theater J in 1998 [16] and staged by the Hypothetical Theatre Company at the 14th Street Y in 2001.[17]

Giant Shadows[edit]

Giant Shadows was the recipient of the first Helen Eisner Award for Young Playwrights given by the Streisand Center for Jewish Culture (1986), and was presented as a reading at L.A. Theatre Works (featuring Bruce Norris); Victory Gardens Theater (directed by Michael Greif); and the American Jewish Theatre (directed again by Greif). In 1988 Evan Yionoulis directed readings of Giant Shadows for New York Stage and Film and New Arts Theater. A revised version of the play was presented in 2011 as part of The Born Guilty Cycle: A Trilogy for The Theatre Lab in Washington, DC and read at The National Theater.

Love and Yearning in the Not-for-Profits and Other Marital Distractions[edit]

Expanded from one-acts originally produced by HB Playwrights Foundation, Love and Yearning was workshopped at Ojai Playwrights Conference (directed by Susan Booth);[18][19] New Dramatists; and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company before its 2001 premiere at Theater J. Sarah Fox’s performance in Theater J’s production was nominated in 2002 for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play.[20]

Love and Yearning comprises four one-act plays: Prelude to a Crisis (featured in Ensemble Studio Theatre’s “Marathon ’98” festival of new one-act plays, it received critical praise from The New York Times and New York Daily News,[21][22] was named in "The Best Plays of 1997-1998" (Limelight Editions, 1998) and published by Dramatists Play Service in 1999); The Professor and the Whore; Terminal Connection (one of HB Playwrights Foundation’s 1999 “Airport Plays”, featuring Paula Gruskiewicz and Peter Birkenhead; produced by Play2C Theater Company in Berlin in 2011);[23] and Love and Yearning in the Not-for-Profits (published by Smith and Kraus as part of "The Museum Plays" anthology).[24]

The Seagull on 16th Street[edit]

An adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (from a translation by Carol Rocamora), The Seagull on 16th Street was produced by Theater J in 2009.[25] John Vreeke directed a cast featuring Naomi Jacobson, Alexander Strain and Jerry Whiddon.

Still Waiting[edit]

A reexamination of Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty written by Roth with Adam Mckay, Adam Phillips, and Shira Piven. Still Waiting was produced alongside Waiting for Lefty during Theater J’s 1997-98 Season, Roth’s first as Artistic Director.[16]

Recent one-acts for various festivals include Staff Meeting (Theatre Lab Dramathon, 2011) and The Great White Undulating Orb In The Bed Between Us (Source Theatre Festival, 2008).

Roth has been a member of the Dramatists Guild of America since 1987 and was a founding member of the HB Playwrights Foundation Writers Unit from 1993 to 2007.


Oh, The Innocents – Theater J, 2004.

Randolph of Roanoke by Roy Friedman – Tribute Productions staged reading at Warehouse Theater, 2003. Winner of the Sprenger Lang Foundation/Tribute Productions Nathan Miller History Play Contest.

South Side: Racial Transformation of an American Neighbor-Hood by Louis Rosen, based on his book, South Side: Racial Transformation of an American Neighborhood. Staged concert readings at Theater J, 1998 and 2007.

University teaching[edit]

From 1988 to 1997, Roth was a lecturer for the University of Michigan’s English and Theater departments, teaching playwriting and dramatic literature. He later taught in the Department of Theater Arts and the Genesis Institute at Brandeis University, and was an adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Roth has been a visiting professor in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama graduate program in Dramatic Writing, and a visiting writer at George Washington University.

Since 2006, Roth has taught a course in political theater in Washington, DC for University of Michigan’s “Michigan in Washington Program” and University of California Berkeley’s “Berkeley Washington Program”.

Artistic Director of Theater J[edit]

As Artistic Director of Theater J, Roth has produced over 100 mainstage productions, including 35 world premieres and 150 staged workshops and readings. He has been credited since taking over in 1997 with leading Theater J to “national prominence as a home for edgy, politically charged plays – and for nurturing risky new works.” [26] The theater is a program of the Washington DCJCC with an Actors' Equity Small Professional Theatre Tier 7 Contract and membership in the League of Washington Theatres, TCG, Cultural Alliance, and the Association for Jewish Theatre.

He has been described has creating a “rare mix of professional polish, thoughtful dramaturgy and nervy experimentation - all in a spot just far enough off the New York radar for a playwright to relax” [27] has helped to make Theater J the “premier theater for premieres.” [27] It has produced new plays ranging from Joyce Carol Oates’s The Tattooed Girl[28] and Wendy Wasserstein’s Welcome to My Rash and Third,[29] to Robert Brustein’s Spring Forward, Fall Back,[30] Neena Beber’s Jump/Cut,[31] and Richard Greenberg's Bal Masque.[32]

In addition to creating a hospitable environment for playwrights and embracing provocative subjects in its season offerings, Roth has led Theater J to become known for its discussion programming, Beyond the Stage. Peter Marks has described the Theater J post-show discussion format as “a chance to digest and puzzle out en masse, in an entirely exhilarating way.”[33]


In his 2012 article, “Heated Dialogue,” in American Theatre Magazine, Lonnie Firestone wrote that Roth had led Theater J to become “one of the most prolific producers of Israeli-oriented drama in North America.”[34] He noted that Roth had sometimes generated controversy by his choices.

Roth began a new play reading series in 2000, called “Voices from a Changing Israel.” The staged readings were a way to test plays, as is common in many theaters. But, his choices provided occasions for discussion of Israeli culture and politics. Plays read included David Hare’s Via Dolorosa, based on his experiences with Arabs and Jews on a visit to Israel.[34] Israeli Motti Lerner’s play, The Murder of Isaac, "grappled with the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin."[34] In 2007, he expanded the embrace of the series, renaming it as “Voices from a Changing Middle East.”

He also founded the Peace Café with Mimi Conway, a Theater J council member, and friend Andy Shallal. This was to "get people talking about Middle East issues and to find common ground between Jews and Arabs."[34] Shallal joined Theater J’s council and is its first and only Arab member.[34]

In 2011, Theater J produced the United States premiere of Return to Haifa, adapted by Israeli playwright Boaz Gaon from a novella by Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani. It was considered too sensitive a topic by some American theaters, dealing with the expulsion of Palestinians at the time of Israel's War of Independence.[34] For this production, Roth commissioned an Arabic translation for the conversations between the Palestinian couple. The show was presented in Arabic and Hebrew with English surtitles... The talkback sessions were held with different panels of scholars, artists, and activists, a total of 44.[34]

This play attracted protests from a group identified as COPMA (Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art), which criticized the play as anti-Israel and appealed to a major donor to cut off funding. It also objected to the Peace Cafe. The JCC decided to move the Peace Cafe off-site, and it is hosted by Andy Shallal’s Busboys and Poets.[34]

In 2012, members of COPMA attended readings intending to debate. Roth believes that theater addressing issues in the Middle East is important to broadening discussions. He has said he is attracted to the topic of “bridge crossing” between Jews and non-Jews from his own background. “It stems from my work as a playwright and as the child of Holocaust survivors.”[34] Roth says, “The black-Jewish dialogue, because of my own upbringing on the South Side of Chicago, is extraordinarily personal to me, too. The encountering of Palestinians and the dialogue between the Jew and the Arab has grown out of those same impulses—the commonality of experience.”[34]


  • 2009, he was identified as one of the "Forward 50" (Jewish-Americans ‘who have made a significant impact on the Jewish story in the past year") by The Forward.[35]
  • 2008, Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in an Artistic Discipline
  • 2006, Hadassah Myrtle Wreath Award
  • 1998, 2003, National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Grants
  • 1998, Helen Eisner Award for Young Playwrights (for Proverbial Human Suffering)
  • 1990, Davie Award for New Plays(for Oh, The Innocents)
  • 1981, Avery Hopwood Award for Drama (for Necessities); 1982 (for The Red Guitar and A Spiral Weld)

Personal life[edit]

Roth is married to Kate Schecter, Senior Program Officer for Russia & Kosovo at the American International Health Alliance. They have two daughters.[citation needed]


  1. ^ 1989-1990 Season, Arena Stage, Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  2. ^ 1990-1991 Season Arena Stage. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  3. ^ Helen Hayes Award Nominations and Recipients: 1992, Theatre Washington. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  4. ^ Born Guilty (Plays in Process Volume 12, Issue 3). Theatre Communications Group, 1991.
  5. ^ Hampton, Wilborn (January 28, 1993) The Sins of the Nazi Fathers The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  6. ^ Williams, Albert (March 17, 1994) A Dysfunctional Culture Chicago Reader. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  7. ^ Bommer, Lawrence (March 15, 1994) "'Born Guilty' Bears Witness To Echoes Of The Holocaust", Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2011.
  8. ^ Helen Hayes Award Nominations and Recipients: 2003 theatreWashington. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  9. ^ Theater J Productions 1999-2003, Theater J, Washington DCJCC, Retrieved May 25, 2012
  10. ^ BWW News Desk (September 20, 2010) Ari Roth and Epic Theatre Ensemble Present Staged Reading of BORN GUILTY CYCLE Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  11. ^ Saturday Morning – The National Theatre of Washington DC, The National Theatre, Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  12. ^ Theater J Productions 1999-2003 Theater J. Retrieved May 25, 2012.
  13. ^ Helen Hayes Award Nominations and Recipients: 2001 theatreWashington. Retrieved March 18, 2012
  14. ^ Geva Theatre Past Season Archive 1989-1990, GeVa Theatre. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  15. ^ See, Rich (July, 2004) Oh, The Innocents, a CurtainUp DC review ‘’CurtainUp’’. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  16. ^ a b Theater J Productions 1995-1999 Theater J. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  17. ^ "Off-Broadway Productions (June 1, 2000-May 31, 2001)." Theatre World: 2000-2001 Season, Volume 57. Ed. John Willis. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation, 2004. p. 162.
  18. ^ OPC Past Playwrights Ojai Playwrights Conference. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  19. ^ Words and Images. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  20. ^ Helen Hayes Award Nominations and Recipients: 2002 theatreWashington. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  21. ^ Marks, Peter (June 10, 1998) Angst, Guilt, Lust and Loneliness The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  22. ^ Fintan, O’Toole (June 5, 1998) One-act Wonders At Ensemble Fest. New York Daily News. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  23. ^ Mueller-Kroll, Monika (April 21, 2011) ‘Terminal Connections:’ Kreuzberg’s Play2C Theater Premieres Six Short Plays NPR. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  24. ^ Carden, William, ed. HB Playwrights Short Play Festival 1998: The Museum Plays. Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus, 2002.
  25. ^ The Seagull on 16th Street Theater J. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  26. ^ Harris, Paul (October 22, 2006) Risk Brings Reward Variety. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  27. ^ a b Graham, Trey (May 15, 2005) roth&st=cse The Premier Theater for Premieres The New York Times. Retrieved April 20, 2012.
  28. ^ Legit Reviews. Harris, Paul // Variety; 02/08/05. The Tattooed Girl Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  29. ^ Jones, Kenneth (February 3, 2004) Wasserstein World Premieres, Welcome to My Rash and Third, Play DC Through Feb. 15 Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  30. ^ Legit Reviews. Harris, Paul // Variety; 10/30/06. Spring Forward, Fall Back Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  31. ^ Marks, Peter (March 6, 2003) 'Jump/Cut': Life Through a Long Lens Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  32. ^ Horwitz, Jane (April 11, 2006) Holding Firmly Onto His 'Bal Masque' The Washington Post. Retrieved May 28, 2012.
  33. ^ Marks, Peter (March 27, 2009) "Theater J’s ‘Seven Jewish Children’ Provokes Thought, Feedback", The Washington Post. Retrieved April 20, 2012
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Firestone, Lonnie. "Ari Roth: Heated Dialogue," American Theatre Magazine, Feb. 2012: 42-45
  35. ^ The Forward, Retrieved March 18, 2012.

External links[edit]