Friday, January 16, 2009

Playgoer writes about the review for Wickets in the NYT, which fails to mention the fact that the entire production is a riff/deconstruction of Fornes' Fefu and Her Friends.

Eisler is a critic, so he is gentle in pointing out that the NYT review has completely missed this point. He's generous and exceedingly fair in his assessment, and his piece today talks about the NYT making a choice to speak from a populist viewpoint.

I am not a critic, so let me give a more blunt, real-world take: Claudia La Rocco saw Wickets and wrote her review with no knowledge of Fornes, no sense of any connections between this work and any other work, and has no idea even now that she missed the thrust of the production. It's not a choice—it's ignorance.

Read the review again—it's blazingly clear. She's compelled by some of the mysterious language and moments of the play—a critic passingly familiar with Fornes would have known what was up. She didn't have any idea, and that's why it's not in the review.

Damningly, she simply needed to read the program—Eisler says it is listed prominently—or look at any of the promotional or press materials for the show, which are absolutely crystal clear about the connection with Fornes.


It's not Claudia's fault entirely—she's out of her depths. You can see from her Times profile page that she's a dance critic, and a quick perusal of her history writing for the paper reveals that she covers, unsurprisingly, dance. She writes very honestly about her origins as a dance critic:

One day, my editor asked me what I knew about dance, and did I think I could write about it. A little, I answered, and sure, if she gave me several months to prepare.

She smiled, pityingly. Shortly thereafter I was informed that Mikhail Baryshnikov would be performing soon, and that I would be reviewing him.

Voila! A dance critic was born. Thus began several months of humiliating myself in international print and online (not to mention my agita). The evidence of my gross initial ineptitude is still out there, lurking, all too Google-able. Who knew that some of the most terrifying experiences of my young adult life would take place in a theater?

The real story here is newspapers, which are constrained and squeezed more and more, put reporters in situations to be critics when they have no grounding in the field they are reviewing...and it flattens out their ability to respond with depth. I myself was reviewed a few years ago by a NYT reporter whose credentials rested entirely in the Style section—it's a disappointing experience for everyone involved.

Can Claudia La Rocco review plays? Yes, but perhaps she needs more time to prepare and more support from the paper.

Should the NYT have assigned Claudia to review Wickets? No, not at this time, but increasingly papers throw people into the water and let them sink or swim.

Does this "system" come with a price? Yes—it diminishes the respect we have in the critical establishment, and tarnishes the long-term viability of newspapers in an evolving world.

2:00 PM