Sunday, November 25, 2007

A devastating critique of Mr. Isherwood over at the Huffington Post from Jon Robin Baitz can be found here; here's a taste of what it sets up.

And now to the slightly unpleasant part of this essay. Mr. Isherwood, as a critic, will never be noted for his generosity of spirit. He is not Harold Clurman. He tends to be waspish, dismissive, cool, and brittle - as a writer. He can be gratuitously insulting, and his reputation is marred by the general consensus that a good mind is not matched by a particularly big heart. There is a whiff of Grinch in his criticism. Mr. Brantley, more and more seems like a breathless writer of gossip and gush for fan mags, and his intelligence - which again is not in question - seems to fail when it comes down to the big picture. The Times critics present themselves as advocates for consumers, and not as advocates for the theater itself. Unlike Clurman, Ken Tynan, say, or even Frank Rich, who could be withering but always managed to let it be known that he was passionate for new voices, passionate for promise, and uncompromisingly rigorous, as he is as an op-ed writer on Sundays. Speaking of Sundays, the Times used to have a Sunday critic, but have dropped that, thereby handing a monopoly of opinion to Isherwood and Brantley.

You can read reactions from others here, and Michael Riedel, as usual, has the very best quote from another playwright:

Warren Leight, who wrote the Tony Award-winning play "Side Man" and is now head writer for one of those "Law & Order" spinoffs," has his own take on Isherwood's article. "Charles Isherwood asking playwrights to return to the stage is kind of like Ted Bundy wondering why no one hitchhikes anymore," he says.


I might be more generous and not link to this kind of character assassination, but Mr. Isherwood's most recent advice for Thanksgiving weekend is that since Broadway is for the most part closed, so obviously there's nothing else to see in the city, so people should go to Trader Joe's or watch TiVoed TV episodes or simply get drunk rather than see anything else that is playing.

Seriously. Read the article. It's rare to see someone's true colors on such full display.

Mr. Isherwood failed to show up at my run at Joe's Pub, which he had ample notice of; I find it hard to believe that Joe's Pub, even in Isherwood's eyes, counts as such a "downtown" space that it would be excluded from his beat. It's perfectly fine by me--the shows are selling out without the Times' magnanimity, and while we do have a marriage of convenience at other times it is actually quite wonderful to not care whether he'd be showing up or not.

Many others don't have this luxury--many artists struggle to find any audience, and that's good. They should struggle. Life is struggle—but the NYT is a cultural arbiter on a national level, and the idea that there's simply nothing new worth mentioning is contemptible.

What's worse, it's lazy and inaccurate. If he really cared about theater as an experience beyond the overpriced, almost-laughable-if-it-didn't-make-one-weep suggestions he makes in this article he'd be able to tell readers about a number of excellent shows running in New York right now. I know--I've seen them, and I can be a tough critic myself.

He rhetorically asks what a theater reviewer should be doing with this strike on. The answer is simple--he should be doing his job.

6:10 PM