We Interrupt This Program...
For an important news break.
Everyone's a Critic will continue its important work later today, but in the meantime, an interesting, blog-worthy dustup flared between Philadelphia's Wilma Theater, Sarah Ruhl's agent and the Broad Street Review (BSR), an online publication covering the city's arts and culture.
The Wilma hosted an open reading of a "surprise play," which turned out to be Ruhl's newest, In the Next Room. Several critics attended, and one, Jim Rutter, wrote what I thought was an insightful review, published by the BSR. And therein lies the rub. The Wilma claims the work is unfinished and thus shouldn't be subject to review, but the question is, if a theater promotes a reading as a newsworthy event--and certainly sending out a press release about a "surprise" by a major playwright would make it so--then isn't it a journalist's responsibility to report on that surprise? Perhaps a review is the wrong approach, but surely no one can be shocked by some aspect of the evening showing up in print or online, as Rutter and BSR publisher Dan Rottenberg note in their chain of correspondence. And considering that--Hello!--the play is all about the history of the vibrator, well, who didn't think it would generate a (cue music) throbbing, pulsing, writhing storm of controversy and attention?
It all brings me back to a discussion I had here with The Critical Condition's Mark Blankenship about my call for a review of Les Freres Corbusier's Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). (I know, I know, I promised I was done talking about it, but I can't stop myself!) Mark's position was similar to that of Wilma Artistic Director Blanka Zizka: if a work isn't ready for the public feeding frenzy that sometimes accompanies a review, it shouldn't be reviewed. In DDR's case, I believed (and still do) that if the public is being charged to attend the event, and it's receiving a full-fledged production--I'd say 50 dancers, a crazy Thunderdome set, and a soap-opera-starring leading man qualify it as such--then it's a journalist's duty to inform the theater-loving public about what transpired onstage. In the Wilma's case, I think it's a trickier call, since a staged reading makes no claims about being a fully-realized work. But again, if it's promoted as a newsworthy event, the argument could be made that it ought to covered as one. Additionally, since, as Rutter points out, "news" can be broken at any time by anyone with a Blackberry and an opinion, is it even reasonable for a playwright or theater to assume they can close the floodgates of public opinion when they're the ones who have opened them in the first place?