Monday, June 24, 2013

Two Artist Retorts to Theater Criticism

I encourage you to criticize your critic. A good critic is never mean. Dawn Menken

In the past couple of months, two artists made press by responding to their critics. Last month, actor Alec Balwin blasted New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley. Recently, playwright Neil LaBute responded to negative comments made by Time Out New York's David Cote. Now, I can't help but begin to wonder. First, are critics becoming too callous in their reviews? Second, is it appropriate for artists to respond to criticism and will this become a new trend? 

In Huffington Post article - How Broadway Has Changed - Alec Baldwin strikes back after Brantley's review of the now short-lived Orphans on Broadway:
Brantley doesn't offer criticism, per se, as much as he seeks to signal to some that they are actually unwelcome on Broadway. 
 A critic's job is to evaluate two things: what you are attempting to do and how close do you come to pulling it off. But never say "why bother?' 

In the case of Orphans, Brantley wrote "Why bother?" And that is to spit in the face of the playwright, the producers and all of their investors, the cast and director, the designers and the Schuberts, all of whom have had some success in the theatre. Brantley says we were wrong-headed to have even tried.
Where would the theatre be if that was the prevalent thinking?
Now, Neil LaBute strikes back rather rapidly (i.e., within 15 minutes) to Cote's review of Reasons to Be Happy. LaBute posted the following comment online:
david: actually i have taught writing courses at various universities and workshops and my lesson plan invariably begins by having students read the collected works of George Steiner, who was clever enough to remind us that “a critic casts a eunuch’s shadow.” some shadows, of course, are more portly than others but their effect on mankind is basically the same. brief and passing. keep enjoying the free tickets while they last. nl
Baldwin and LaBute are not the only famous theater artists to lash out at critics. Theater god Stephen Sondheim pretty much dismissed them in his book - Look I Made a Hat - saying that critics make artists waste time. But the truth is, the NYC stage is a symbiotic triangle between the creative team, critic, and theatergoer. Theatergoers with limited disposable income need critics to help identify value, and as Michael Billington of the guardian notes: 

Artists often hate critics; [but] they also need the stimulus of public comment.

No comments:

Post a Comment