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Producer Scott Rudin is taking the mantra “the show must go on” to a new extreme, offering to stage an early performance of his upcoming To Kill a Mockingbird play for a federal judge to end a dispute with Harper Lee’s estate.
The estate sued Rudin’s company Rudinplay in March, alleging that the Aaron Sorkin-penned script for the show deviates too far from Lee’s novel. According to Tonja Carter, a rep for the estate, the contract gives the author the right to review and approve the playwright and the script and dictates that the play shouldn’t depart from the “spirit of the Novel nor alter its characters.”
Lee died just a few months after signing the deal, and Rudin argues that Carter is exceptionally litigious.
“Following Ms. Lee’s death, defendant Tonja B. Carter, a lawyer in Ms. Lee’s late sister’s law firm, has purported to act as the Personal Representative of Ms. Lee’s estate,” states the filing. “Even before Ms. Lee’s death, Ms. Carter had proven to be a contentious figure, involving Ms. Lee in numerous legal disputes and playing a leading role in the controversial publication of Go Set a Watchman — a novel, written by Ms. Lee, that Ms. Carter claimed to discover shortly after Ms. Lee’s sister (who had previously handled Ms. Lee’s affairs) passed away.”
Rudin says he sent a draft of the play to Lee’s literary agent in London and received no objections from Carter for half a year — during which time he racked up significant expenses, including from casting the play and reserving a Broadway theater. He also argues that while Lee had absolute approval over the playwright, which she granted for Sorkin, she did not have the right to approve the script. Rudin claims Carter’s lawsuit will make it impossible for the play to premiere as planned in December and, unless the dispute is resolved quickly, it will be canceled entirely.
Rudin is co-producing To Kill a Mockingbird with Lincoln Center Theater and the full ensemble cast has been announced, led by Jeff Daniels as small-town lawyer Atticus Finch.
Because Rudinplay’s contract with Lee defines “play” as the “live stage” adaptation of the novel, he believes it’s necessary for the court to actually view the play instead of merely reading the script — and he’s asking for an expedited determination that the play doesn’t violate the agreement.
“In order to facilitate a speedy resolution, Rudinplay is willing to arrange for an immediate performance of the Play, by its full cast, for the Court’s benefit in this Courthouse,” states the filing, which is posted in full below. “Upon seeing the Play, it will be apparent that the Play does not impermissibly depart from the spirit of the Novel or alter its characters in any way, and that Ms. Carter’s claims to the contrary are wholly without merit.”
He’s suing for breach of contract and asking the court for a declaration that the play doesn’t depart from the spirit of the novel and that Carter doesn’t have the authority to object to the play on behalf of the estate.
Rudin also argues Carter’s suit shouldn’t have been filed in Alabama, and has filed a motion to dismiss the matter on jurisdictional grounds or transfer it to New York.
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