The tagline of L.A. theater website Bitter Lemons is "Bringing Los Angeles theater together. Whether it likes it or not." But on Friday, editor-in-chief Colin Mitchell authored a decidedly divisive screed regarding abuse in the theater community, and was subsequently removed from his position as a result.
Mitchell's rant, which is still up on the site, was written in response to a Chicago Reader story about Profiles Theatre ensemble member Darrell Cox's alleged physical, mental and sexual abuse of actresses and actors. In the lengthy, disturbing piece, numerous women who were victimized by Cox over the course of 20 years — among them an actress who was still in high school when she became involved with him — came forward to describe in detail his inappropriate behavior and his use of fear, intimidation and lies to keep everyone's mouths shut. Based on what they were told about a 2010 production of Tracy Letts' Killer Joe, authors Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt wrote, "The reason Killer Joe felt so vicious and so real was because it was. All of it: the choking, the bruises, the deep-throating of a chicken leg, the body slam into the refrigerator, Cox's groping of Wellin through her dress as Joe attempts to seduce Dottie, Cox's semi-erection at the beginning of Act II after Joe succeeds. 'It was real,' says Darcy McGill, the costume designer, 'because there was a psychopath onstage.'"
Mitchell, who according to his bio fancies himself a provocateur, emerged with the following assessment: The actresses were to blame for not exercising more personal responsibility and standing up to Cox. Here are three particularly egregious excerpts from the piece ...
What everyone seems to be either ignoring or intentionally skirting with this bizarre story coming out of Chicago is this:
These were all consenting adults.
Clearly this Darrell W. Cox dude is some kind of messianic, power-hungry, disturbed freak and it’s right that he’s been found out and called out, but these were not children in these shows, these were adults, and they all decided to just go along with all this crap?
Was everyone hypnotized and mesmerized like some kind of Manson Family Member? Were all these women and stage managers and directors bedazzled by all the attention and full houses to the point where they simply had to submit to the abuse? Were they drugged?
C’mon, people, where is the personal responsibility?
I’m sorry, but if you allow crap like this to happen, then YOU are to blame.
And don’t tell me I’m blaming the victim. A victim is a person who is abused or misused without their consent and beyond their control. That is not the case with a theater production where everyone is there of their own accord and acting from their own free will.
After two commenters called Mitchell on his flawed argument, he issued his only response, defending his position and reiterating that "most" of Cox's accusers were consenting adults and should have exercised personal responsibility.
Comments continued to roll in, several of which accuse Mitchell of "trolling" — i.e., publishing something inflammatory to drive traffic to a website he co-founded — and by Friday evening the Hollywood Fringe Festival (now in progress) announced that Bitter Lemons would no longer serve as its media partner.
Mitchell declined to answer several questions I sent him on Friday evening — "I'm not interested in answering any questions right now. Thanks." — but Bitter Lemons' publisher, Enci Box, responded with a post of her own, detailing a brush with abuse in theater and closing with the following:
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"I’m saddened by Colin’s words and I apologize for them even though they are not mine. I’m also encouraged that so many people have written in protest, indicating that victimization will not be tolerated in our community. When you see something, please say something, just like you did today!"
It's unclear whether Hollywood Fringe will resume its partnership with Bitter Lemons.
According to Box, Mitchell's removal has not changed Hollywood Fringe's decision to cut ties with the site for the moment. In an email she wrote, "
We will work together again next year, but this year the vote has been cast and we, at Bitter Lemons, are going to work hard to find the perfect Editor in Chief (people are welcome to send application to firstname.lastname@example.org). We are going to make some changes in the company's structure, probably rework the website, and restore trust in the theater community near and far."
UPDATE: Stacy Jones of the Hollywood Fringe Fest clarified that they've made no promises to partner with Bitter Lemons in the future.