James Franco's lawyers shut down play that uses his name

James Franco at a fashion awards event in Manhattan, on June 5, 2017.
James Franco at a fashion awards event in Manhattan, on June 5, 2017.PHOTO: NYTIMES

(NYTimes) - When Kevin Broccoli wrote his two-man play James Franco And Me, he had vague hopes that the real James Franco might tweet about it or maybe, just maybe, come see a performance. Instead, Franco's lawyers have sent a cease-and-desist letter to a New York theatre that was going to stage the satire in August.

The letter, which was shared with The New York Times, asked the Peoples Improv Theatre to stop marketing James Franco And Me with his name. Peoples Improv Theatre decided to cancel the show rather than face possible legal consequences, Broccoli said. The theatre did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"I don't begrudge them that decision," he said on Wednesday in a telephone interview.

The letter, however, was an unwelcome surprise.

"I was a little disappointed," said Broccoli, a playwright and actor based in Providence, Rhode Island. "I'm not someone who's trying to get into legal entanglements by any means, but anyone who comes to see the show would see that it's totally satire and within fair use guidelines."

The play, which he described as a "fantasy comedy", features Broccoli playing himself in a hospital waiting room. One room over, his father is dying. Franco, a stranger to Broccoli, joins and comforts him, and the two end up ruminating about mortality. In an earlier Rhode Island production, Franco was played by a new actor each night, so there were a plethora of James Francos.

Broccoli selected Franco as a subject because of his admiration for the actor. "I've always been kind of fascinated with him because of how much product he puts out," Broccoli said, referring to Franco's short stories, poems and films. "The play is about mortality and making the most of what you have. I imagined that if anyone would be game for this it'd be him."

The play had its premiere in November at Epic Theatre Company in Cranston, Rhode Island, and was performed more than 30 times without stirring up trouble. It was only when Broccoli announced that the show would come to New York for a weekend of performances in August that Franco's lawyers became involved. The letter was signed by Thomas Collier, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The kerfuffle has spawned a new version of the show: ----- And Me. For one night only, on Aug 12, the play will be revived at Epic, scrubbed of mentions of Franco's name.

There will be another key difference, though. Broccoli will not perform as himself. He said that he will not appear in the show again until it comes to New York.

"I'm still really hoping it'll work out," he said. "We're not done by any means."