When people or institutions, even former presidents, get censored or canceled, most retreat to a corner, lick their wounds and ponder options. The New York Post’s enterprise reporting on Hunter Biden’s laptop should have landed them a Pulitzer, but instead got them banned by Twitter. Eventually, New York Times journalists confirmed that the Post’s revelations were accurate, but did so many months after the 2020 election. Had voters known about the Biden family grifting from the New York Post, the elections might well have turned against the Democrat ticket.
All former presidents retain, in essence, a megaphone to communicate with the American people, but former President Donald Trump’s reach has been hindered by his removal from Twitter, where he had 89 million followers.
What about people without the clout or name identification of a president or the nation’s oldest daily newspaper?
Then imagine being canceled twice.
That is what happened to Phelim McAleer and his wife, Ann McElhinney. The Irish immigrant couple isn’t exactly anonymous. They are New York Times bestselling authors, film documentarians, and if provocateurs, they are charming ones. But they’re not household names, as are Mr. Trump and the New York Post.
In 2018, they produced the movie “Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer,” after raising $2.4 million for the film through crowd-sourcing. Though the film attracted bonafide Hollywood actors Dean Cain, Janine Turner, Earl Billings, Nick Searcy, Sarah Jane Morris, Michael Beach and other notables, the movie was all but ignored by reviewers and mainstream media. Still, for a film with a pro-life tilt, it was remarkably successful, running in 673 theaters, and earning $3.7 million in gross revenue. Columnist George Will attributed the media shutout of the Gosnell movie to the general antipathy of mainstream journalism to covering the abortion industry, most especially its negative manifestations.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is serving two life sentences for his role in the killings of three live babies and an abortion-seeking patient, who was given a lethal dose of sedatives. There were numerous other charges emanating from Gosnell’s dangerous operation of an abortion clinic in Philadelphia.
This year, Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney took the basic theme of the Gosnell movie, and converted it into a play, “Oh Gosnell: A Play About the Truth,” almost entirely consisting of readings and dramatizations of the killer’s actual trial transcripts. Even reflecting on their experience from the movie, they could not have visualized new and devious efforts to “cancel” their creative efforts.
They had a contract signed with an Off-Broadway theater and proceeded with selecting actors, planning for a late April opening and a 15-show run in Manhattan.
Then, if “Oh Gosnell” was a tricycle, four wheels began to fall off.
Firstly, the theater management wrote to Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney, informing them that the play would not be performed in their venue, citing “danger” to staff and neighbors. That was just six days prior to opening night.
Mr. McAleer regrouped, locating another Off-Broadway playhouse, on Manhattan’s West 36th Street. But then, secondly, two of the lead actors in the play pulled out, just a few days before the premiere! They must have been entirely aware of “Oh Gosnell’s” polarizing subject matter, so I presume that the departures were intended to harm Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney’s work.
Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney are nothing if not relentless, so even the last-minute departure of talent failed to shut them down. They soon signed replacement artists, though the play had a 12-night run versus the originally planned 15 performances. All of the play’s 12 nights were sold out.
After attending one of “Oh Gosnell’s” final performances, I can report that the play was gripping, and the actors were all convincing and compelling in their roles as prosecutors, staff defendants, witnesses and Dr. Gosnell himself. I can’t say that I “enjoyed” a presentation on such deadly serious nonfiction material, but I paid rapt attention through every minute of the performance.
There is a supposed comedy about abortion currently in production in Manhattan, and Mr. McAleer encouraged people to see that offering along with his own so that they can make up their own minds about abortion.
Sadly, those who did their best to shut down the Gosnell movie and play do not have any of the magnanimity that Mr. McAleer has proven to have in abundance, given his call for theater-goers to patronize a play presenting the opposite view to the one he holds so dearly.
Speaking only for myself, as someone who favors free and open debate on all issues, could I sit through a “comedy” about abortion, with seatmates chuckling all around me? I think not.
Let’s hope that Mr. McAleer and Ms. McElhinney will offer “Oh Gosnell” to many new audiences around the nation, as well as to more welcoming venues in New York City.
• Herbert W. Stupp is the editor of Gipperten.com. After serving in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, he was an NYC commissioner in the administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 1994-2002.