No Love Lost
There's been some controversy over a show I reviewed this week, Megan Gogerty's Love Jerry. But before that, there was a censorship controversy over an ad for the show, which Philly.com, the Philadelphia Inquirer's online umbrella, refused to run. Controversy is also built into the show's DNA. Love Jerry is about a pedophile. It's a musical about a pedophile. It asks whether we can forgive and love a pedophile despite what he's done.
So I answered no, and a crapstorm erupted the likes of which I haven't seen since I trashed Respect: A Musical Journey of Women. Seriously. One might think Nice People Theatre Company (NPTC), producers of this piece (it first appeared at the New York Musical Theatre Festival), would have been prepared for some dissenting opinion. I mean, The Little Mermaid, this ain't. NPTC asked their supporters to comment on my review, which they did with an outpouring of vim and vitriol, then asked the Inquirer to remove the review from Philly.com's website--ironic because, well, you know. The show's admirers (and there appear to be many) accuse me of dismissing the production on principle. I'd argue they're doing the same with my review, and here's why.
I believe this script is fundamentally flawed, that the questions it raises are the wrong questions (and yes, I believe that on this topic there is a clear right and wrong approach) and the answers it suggests are the wrong answers. After all, love, therapy and forgiveness is the same cocktail the Catholic church claims it served up while managing its pedophile priests, and look how successful that's been for the church and its young victims.
Of course Gogerty didn't set out to be an apologist for child abusers, but I do think she mishandles the topic. The film The Woodsman is marginally more successful because by the time it begins, Kevin Bacon's pedophile Walter has already been judged and condemned, has been held personally responsible for his actions (despite whatever his backstory may be), and now must rebuild his life from its ashes. Gogerty presents Jerry as a sympathetic victim, a character who made a forgivable mistake, and that's a huge problem. Were the production elements solid? Sure. Was the script well-crafted? For the most part. Is it useful that NPTC has talkbacks after the show and partnered with CAPE? Amen. Can theater ask tough questions and further the cultural conversation? Hell, yeah. But can I endorse a concept and a musical that I find irresponsible and even dangerous? No way.
The part of this crapstorm that really fouls my airspace is that NPTC and Gogerty claim they wanted this show to be a catalyst for discussion, for "honest open dialogue" on the issue. As it turns out, all they wanted was agreement, and that hurts their cause and their credibility more than any negative review ever could.
Update: Please visit The Clyde Fitch Report for even more on this issue.