Ari’el Stachel, the actor who won a Tony Award for his performance in Broadway’s The Band’s Visit, has departed the Public Theater’s much-anticipated Off Broadway world premiere production of The Visitor just weeks after the cast, creative team and the Public’s leadership delayed previews to address the new musical’s depictions of race and Arab-American representation.
In a short statement, the theater company said, “The Public Theater and Ari’el Stachel have made a mutual decision that he will step away from The Visitor and his role in the production. We are grateful for his artistry and participation over the past six years. We wish Ari well in his future endeavors.”
The new musical, written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal team of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, with a book by Kwame Kwei-Armah and direction by Tony-winning Daniel Sullivan, is based on the 2007 film of the same name in which a white college professor visits New York for a conference and befriends immigrant couple Tarek and Zainab (from Syria and Senegal, respectively). The stage production stars David Hyde Pierce in the role of the college professor and Alysha Deslorieux as Zainab.
Stachel, whose TV credits include Law & Order: SVU and Billions, was to have played Tarek, who in the film speaks with a noticeable accent. Though he performed the stage role with an accent during the production’s development, Stachel more recently questioned the approach, explaining in an interview with Playbill that the character was written as having spent his formative years in the U.S. and so, in Stachel’s opinion, would not have a Syrian accent.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t separate the experiences I was having in the world with what I was doing on stage,” said Stachel, who was born and raised in California and whose father is the son of Yemenite Jewish immigrants. “It is not enough to just play a role and have fun, it really needs to exist and align politically, spiritually, artistically, for me…I thought to myself, ‘my brown body needs to be not seen as an “other” anymore,’ so I’m actually trying to morph this opportunity.”
According to the Playbill article, the creative team agreed that Stachel’s character needn’t speak with the accent. “Tarek’s accent had to do with the timeline of his coming to the U.S. with his mother,” Sullivan told Playbill. “It was assumed he came in his teen years and that much of his education had happened in Syria. It took Ari’s request to abandon his character’s accent for us to examine this timeline and to realize that less perceived ‘otherness’ would add to the dramatic impact of the piece.”
But late last month, just a week before the production’s scheduled start of Oct. 7, the Public announced that the musical’s first preview would be delayed until Oct. 14 to allow the creative team time to address areas of concern raised by company members over depictions of race and representation. “We’ve taken the time as a company to listen to each other and discuss, to respond to these issues, and to continue to develop The Visitor with changes that reflect how our broader culture has grown,” a statement said. At least one concern among the cast reportedly was the musical’s focus on the white professor in a story about the immigrant experience.
A spokesperson for the Public declined to elaborate today on the reasons for Stachel’s departure; it is unclear whether the “mutual decision that he will step away” was connected to his earlier concerns. Deadline was not able to reach Stachel for comment.
Tonight’s performance of The Visitor remained on schedule as planned. It was not announced who would play the role of Tarek.
The Public Theater and Ari’el Stachel have made a mutual decision that he will step away from THE VISITOR and his role in the production. We are grateful for his artistry and participation over the past six years. We wish Ari well in his future endeavors.
— The Public Theater (@PublicTheaterNY) October 20, 2021