Theater & dance

Israel Horovitz and Gloucester Stage cut ties after allegations of sexual misconduct

Playwright Israel Horovitz behind the Gloucester Stage Company theater in 2015.
John Blanding/Globe staff/file
Playwright Israel Horovitz behind the Gloucester Stage Company theater in 2015.

Nine women have accused playwright Israel Horovitz of sexual misconduct, including rape, over a period extending from the 1980s to last year, according to The New York Times, leading to the severing of Horovitz’s longtime ties with Gloucester Stage Company.

The explosive allegations are a major blow to the small but respected theater company, which Horovitz cofounded in 1979 and where he served as artistic director until 2006. Few theater troupes are more closely identified with a single figure than Gloucester Stage is with the 78-year-old Horovitz, an Obie-winning dramatist whose plays have been a staple of the company’s summer seasons.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Gloucester Stage board president Elizabeth Neumeier said that earlier this month the board had “received information about an allegation of sexual assault by Israel Horovitz.’’

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“We cancelled plans to produce a Horovitz play in 2018 and agreed that under no circumstances would he continue to serve on the Board, ex officio, as artistic director emeritus,’’ Neumeier said in the statement. “Mr. Horovitz denied the allegation and requested a meeting, but then resigned.’’

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The Times story reports an array of alleged offenses by Horovitz against actresses, proteges, or staffers, mostly in their teens or 20s at the time. The allegations range from accounts of forceful kissing and groping, including an episode last year, to an allegation by one woman — the former girlfriend of Adam Horovitz, the playwright’s son and a former member of the Beastie Boys — that Israel Horovitz raped her in 1989, when she was 19.

The Times quotes Israel Horovitz as saying that while he has “a different memory of some of these events, 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 did not reply Thursday to an e-mail requesting his response to the allegations.

Adam Horovitz said in a statement that was quoted in the Times: “I believe the allegations against my father are true, and I stand behind the women that made them.’’

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Maia Ermansons, one of the women who said she was assaulted by Horovitz, told the Globe Thursday that she had appeared in a New York production of one of Horovitz’s plays when she was 11 years old, and the two had been around each other periodically over the next decade. In June 2016, when she was 21, Ermansons said she met with Horovitz to talk about a theater project.

During the get-together, which was at Ermansons’s mother’s New York apartment, Ermanson said the playwright began groping and kissing her. She was stunned and disgusted.

“Women kick into survival mode when something like that happens,” Ermansons said. “He wasn’t violent. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but I needed to kindly get him out of the apartment as fast as I could. I felt like I was 11 years old again, which is ridiculous.”

After Horovitz left, Ermansons said she became irate, feeling betrayed by a man she considered a mentor and an “honorary grandfather.”

“When the door closed, this fury overcame me and I punched the kitchen wall,” she said.

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Ermansons said she immediately told her family and friends about what happened, and three months later she posted a lengthy account of the incident on Facebook.

“He held my breasts and said he’s known me since I was so young and can’t believe how large and beautiful they had become,” Ermansons wrote. “He pulled me onto his lap and licked my lips and tried sticking his tongue in my mouth several times. I felt frozen. I said ‘I have a boyfriend,’ he said ‘So? I have a wife.’ . . . He felt my repeated attempts at pulling away from him and he told me there was nothing to be afraid of by kissing him because he was doing this for me. Because he loved me, and he wanted to know if I loved him too.”

A few months later, Ermansons said, Horovitz called her and left a voice mail in which he called the incident a “terrible, terrible misunderstanding.”

In the public statement and in an earlier email to Gloucester Stage subscribers, Neumeier alluded to allegations of sexual harassment against Horovitz in 1993, when the Boston Phoenix reported that the then-artistic director had French-kissed, hugged, and fondled actresses and female staff members against their will. Horovitz issued a statement claiming that he had never “and will never, knowingly sexually harass any woman’’ and called the Phoenix articles “character assassination.’’ Gloucester Stage issued a sexual harassment policy in the aftermath of the allegations, but Barry Y. Weiner, the board president at that time, had previously told the Globe that he viewed the accusations as “an effort by some people to stick it to [Horovitz].’’

In her statement Thursday afternoon, Neumeier said: “We deeply regret that past complaints were mishandled. On behalf of the Board I apologize to the brave women who came forward in 1992 and 1993 but were not heard. We are individually and collectively appalled by the allegations, both old and new. Such behavior cannot be tolerated and our thoughts are with the women who were victimized. We are committed to making sure that GSC is a place where people are safe, free to do their best work, and to speak out without fear of reprisal.’’

Horovitz has been a prominent playwright for half a century. In 1968, a young Al Pacino bolstered his nascent reputation in an off-Broadway production of Horovitz’s “The Indian Wants the Bronx’’ that costarred John Cazale, who a few years later would play Fredo to Pacino’s Michael in “The Godfather.’’

The city of Gloucester has furnished settings or characters in numerous Horovitz plays, including “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard,’’ “North Shore Fish,’’ “Sins of the Mother’’ (which he directed in 2009 at Gloucester Stage), and “Gloucester Blue’’ (which Horovitz directed at Gloucester Stage two years ago).

Don Aucoin can be reached at aucoin@globe.com. Mark Shanahan can be reached at Shanahan@Globe.com.