Results tagged “Philadelphia Inquirer” from Drama Queen
Since it's making the rounds and I've received multiple queries asking what exactly went down, here's my take on the whole Media Theatre thing. And it was so calm around here for a while.
Yes, Media artistic director Jesse Cline attempted to keep me from reviewing his production of Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical. He then took time during his opening night curtain call to say, "There is a critic here who will probably trash this show." (He was right, but not for the reasons he elaborated. He thinks I hate melodrama; I don't. However, I did leave the production thinking Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is a load of thick and greasy schmaltz, minus the nutritional value.) He came out to my seat in the audience to continue the discussion, loudly, while jabbing an accusatory finger at my friend and colleague, Jim Rutter (who--poor guy--was also at my left hand when I reviewed Love Jerry). Finally, the company used quotes from my review, out of context, to promote the production in question. So it goes.
But that's not really why I feel compelled to comment on what happened in Mr. Cline's theater. Unless his board of directors feels otherwise, it's Mr. Cline's pulpit, and if he wants to use it for bullying purposes, fine. My editors felt it best to leave out any mention of the incident, and that's also fine. My record with this particular theater shows that despite similar previous antics on their part, I've always reviewed them without bias.
No, my complaint is with Broad Street Review editor Dan Rottenberg, who published a review of the show by Rutter, then insulted him for his conclusions, lack of credentials and professionalism. What Cline did was childish and unprofessional; what Rutter did was his job. If Rottenberg doesn't like the content of Rutter's review, it's his job as editor to return the review for a rewrite, and explain where Rutter's logic doesn't work; having written for Rottenberg once before, I can attest to his willingness to send a journalist back to the drawing board, and make a review better for it. But it's certainly not his job to use one of his writers' articles, an article he's supposedly vetted for its coherence and readiness for viewing, as a springboard for his own attack on that writer. An editor is supposed to have your back, not stab you in it.
Rutter is most certainly a professional, as is evidenced not only by Rottenberg's and others' willingness to pay him for his reviews, but by his own education, experience and acceptance into and participation in the National Endowment for the Arts' Fellowship in Theatre and Musical Theatre. Mr. Rottenberg, I return to the question posed by you and Mr. Cline: Considering Rutter's history of effort of behalf of your publication, why would you want to hurt him?
Here's how talented last night's Obie Award winner James Sugg is: he got me a job as the Philadelphia Inquirer's theater critic without even knowing it. In fact, we've never even spoken face-to-face, but I should probably have thanked him a few years ago anyway.
Sugg is a member of Philly's own polymorphous and occasionally perverse troupe Pig Iron Theatre Company. Pig Iron and its people have won much acclaim here and elsewhere, this, for Sugg's performance in Chekov Lizardbrain, being their second Obie (the first was for 2004's Hell Meets Henry Halfway), along with who knows how many other awards--Sugg already has 4 Barrymores of his own. The group's work is as eclectic as their multiple personalities. Dito Van Riegersberg often hosts cabarets as his much-beloved, hairy-Hedwigged, Bowie-channeling alter-ego, Martha Graham Cracker. Geoff Sobelle rocked both coasts with his critically hailed Buster Keaton homage All Wear Bowlers. As a collective, they've skewered Quinceaneras, turned Joan of Arc into a French clown, and revisited Measure for Measure in a morgue, with puppets. And if you're tempted to say, "Nice. Sounds pretentious," well, yeah, sometimes they are, but mostly they're not. Somehow they pull it off nearly every time and leave you basking in their awesomeness and ever-expanding potential. The company's dozen or so members come and go, and even when they're together don't always appear as expected. Sugg won his Obie as an actor, but he's just as comfortable behind an accordion, pen, or soundboard.
Sugg first showed up on the local stage in 1998 and astonished audiences as a sort of one-man-band in Gentlemen Volunteers, (At right: Dito Van Riegersberg and Gabriel Quinn Beauriedel) a musical-ish examination of World War I ambulance drivers, Ernest Hemingway included. But the reason I'm thanking him here is because at the 2006 Philadelphia Live Arts/Fringe Festival, he premiered an original musical work called The Sea. It's the story of a drowned sea captain and his lost daughter, and watching it was like sucking down a saltwater Waits and Weill cocktail from deep below decks.
I wasn't working at the time, which meant I actually had to pay for my tickets, and yet I was still disappointed he wasn't selling recordings of the show. As in, I would have gladly shelled out for that, too. Anyway, upon reading the next day's Philadelphia Inquirer review, I was shocked--Shocked!--to find the assigned reviewer considerably less impressed. That week, I called up the paper, asked if they were short a critic, e-mailed some clips, and got myself a new job. I hadn't realized how much I missed being moved by a piece of theater, and having the privilege of telling the city about it, until I found myself powerless in the face of unfair, unenlightened criticism (ok, it was neither unfair nor unenlightened, but I totally didn't agree with it). And yes, I get the irony here, but that's another discussion for another time.
So I'm declaring my love openly, for all to read: thanks Mr. Sugg, for being the kind of artist whose performances inspire action, and thanks Pig Iron, for keeping your work in Philly and giving us first dibs on everything you do.
For more on James Sugg, read this article by my colleague Howard Shapiro, from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Still wallowing through a really damn depressing news cycle here in Philly (and I guess everywhere else, too), when lo and behold, what should appear in my inbox but an e-mail from my unflaggingly positive colleague, Howard Shapiro, outlining all the theaters we cover.
The bad news first: unfortunately, some of our coverage--basically anything over an hour's drive from the city--has been reduced. It appears we'll no longer cover regular Broadway openings, which is a shame (read: downright remiss) since as far as theater goes around these parts, Broadway's basically another one of our suburbs. However, we'll still be looking at New York productions when there's a local connection, which, considering the output of Pig Iron folks alone, ought to result in plenty of Amtrak mileage.
So that's that, and make of it what you will. (And, um, you know, if you really find yourself missing your Inquirer Broadway coverage, who am I to discourage you from letting people know?)
Ah, but you wanted the good news. Well, the good news is that despite everything--and I do mean everything short of an outright apocalypse--we've just added two new theaters to our regular coverage, and might yet add a third. Which brings the grand total of theaters covered by the Philadelphia Inquirer right now to 44. Of those, 34 have some sort of Actors' Equity agreement, and the rest are either Barrymore-eligible or mounted a noteworthy production in the past few years. Further, those 44 are at least a dozen or so more than what existed when I started this gig back when the biggest performance you could find on South Broad Street happened on New Year's Day and involved longshoremen in drag, glockenspiels and the public evacuation of numerous bodily fluids.
And get this: that's not even the end of it. Not included on the list are the often top-rate university productions we'll occasionally peek in on, the odd company that pops up mid-season to mount something ambitious, or--HELLO!--the two weeks of manic nonstop Live Arts Festival/Fringe action kicking off every season.
Somehow our theaters are holding steady, and improbably, in this decimated and dessicated economic climate, like Wall-E's stray sprig of green, they're even growing. The newspaper, well, that's another story, but as long as we're still getting a paycheck, as Shapiro says, "the explosion of professional theater in this city will keep us busy as all get-out." Amen, brother.
I've been clamoring to get hyperlinks incorporated into my Inquirer reviews for a while, but I know everyone's short on time and long on work over there right now, so no hard feelings. Still, with today's announcement of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News' bankruptcy filing, I decided I'd take things into my own hands with today's review of Delaware Theatre Company's production of Copenhagen by being my own intern/dramaturg and making a few hyperlinks for you.
And if any play cries out for some helpful linkage, it's this one. Here's the review as it appears on Philly.com (please click the link; every visitor counts, you know). Keep this screen open, and when you get to the appropriate phrase over there, come back over here and click. Even better, set yourself up at the computer, newspaper in hand, and... Well, you get the idea. It's like those old children's books on tape that beeped when you were supposed to turn the page. Fun, right? No? Too bad. For us both.
(Below: Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr knocking back a few liquid particles in 1934.)
Very, very full. Feeling sluggish. Here's an extra light post-Thanksgiving Mack Attack.
This week I'm macking on: The sheer variety of holiday shows that aren't A Christmas Carol. There's so much to choose from I don't think the Inquirer is even reviewing any of the local Dickens efforts, though they have an whole separate calendar listing section for them. (Don't quote me on that--they might sneak in one or two reviews that I don't know about. The important thing, really, is that I'm not reviewing any of them.) You might feel differently, but then, you're probably not a theater critic if you do.
This week I'm hating on: The economy. And not just because my portfolio is really starting to sag from all the deflated Ford, GM and Tribune stock that used to keep it filled to a perky, respectable, blue-chip-studded C-cup. Although it is. No, I'm hating on the economy today because people are killing each other at Wal-Mart for discounts on crappy Chinese and Bangladeshi crap, instead of treating their families to all those awesome holiday shows. Just when theaters are feeling comfortable enough to start taking chances, they're rewarded by stagnation the likes of which we haven't seen since Annie was adopted. I wonder how many companies will survive into the next season, and I'm desperately afraid that most of the young ones will be knocked out, let alone those with big, new houses that need to be filled in order to keep the lights on. All this, just as we--and by we, I mean Philadelphia, though you may certainly insert your own city's name here--were starting to make some headway on this "arts economy" thing. If you're of a certain political bent, you could probably see it as a natural culling of the herd, but then, you could also see it as the innocent suffering the sins of the wicked. In any case, given the choice between the "arts economy" and the "economy economy," I'll take what the arts economy has to offer to what's left of our civilization any day.
My most recent review, Delaware Theatre Company's Master Harold... And the Boys, got me thinking. It seems like there's a burst of African-American issues-related shows in Philly this season--Driving Miss Daisy, Gee's Bend (which, if anyone cares, I thought had a really clunky script but some excellent acting by Kala Moses Baxter and one of my new favorites on the scene, Kes Khemnu), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Resurrection, Day of the Picnic--just about every major theater has one show in its season with this theme.*
I suppose part of the reason for the change is that everyone's capitalizing on the election, but really, it started with a recent thrust of nontraditional casting before Obama became the clear presidential candidate and has just sort of snowballed. And while this mass shift in programming focus is certainly long overdue and welcome, well, it begs the real question: why can't Philadelphia, a city whose population is 45% African American, support a dedicated professional African American theater? Since Walter Dallas' departure and Freedom Repertory Theatre's demise (and that's a whole 'nother long story) no one has stepped in to fill the void, and I'm going to guess it's not because Philadelphians are okay with leaving the issue of inclusion to the whims of the city's various white artistic directors, or catching the random touring urban theater production.
Mind you, I'm not knocking the efforts at diversity being made by any of these other companies. I think it's great for the city and even better for expanding everyone's audience base. But honestly, what is going on here, and why?
*By the way Philly folks, I'm omitting InterAct from inclusion and discussion on this post, as their commitment to programming diversity has been part of their mission since the company's inception.
Here's another reason why a critic might be inclined to go easy on a theater: guilt. In the case of today's review, there's a company in the Philadelphia suburbs I feel like I've been hammering just about every time I visit. Sometimes it's their choice of play, others it's the level of performance or direction, but lately it seems that every time I go, this lovely little house situated inside an old grist mill ends up with a spanking that pains us both.
I don't believe in critical boosterism, nor do I think it's my job to keep theaters in business, but there comes a point when a critic has to ask herself if perhaps the problem is a difference in taste, rather than simply a dearth of quality. So no, this wasn't the best Sherlock Holmes I've ever seen, and though it was an uneven production, it was good enough to deliver at least part of the experience I wanted when I left the house that evening. This time, rather than chastising the company for my perception of its comfort with mediocrity, I sat back and accepted it for what it was: a suburban theater with pretty conventional tastes. And that night I had a pretty good time.
This doesn't mean I'll always cut them slack; after all, I'm worried about my credibility, not theirs. But still, it's a lesson in context, which is important for everyone to remember, whether reading or writing a review. When McCarter stumbles--as I believe they did in their latest production--it's one thing. But judging a small local house by the same standard is another. They don't get a pass, of course, because that would be irresponsible on my part, but they do get credit for knowing what their audience wants when they leave the house, even if it might not be exactly what I'm looking for.
P.S., the first line contains a typo. It should read, "our collective anxiety," not "collection anxiety." And no one deserves slack for letting that slide.
Here in Philly, in the past three months, two separate companies have produced Kenneth Lonergan's Bright Lights Big City-era drama This Is Our Youth. What I found most interesting about the productions was the difference in directorial perspective on the character Dennis Ziegler. Where the first director saw him as a threat (Revolution), the second saw him as a plain old loser (Simpatico), and I suspect the difference may lie in the fact that the first director is a man and the second a woman.
Maybe a young male director has more at stake in Dennis' self-mythologizing. If Dennis is completely full of crap and bluster, well then, what does that say about a director who identifies with him? Apply this question to Lonergan's constant reminders that the guy you are in 20 years will be a pale reflection of the guy you are today, and you've just provided the bellows that will fan Dennis' bonfire of the vanities into an inferno. A woman can see right through Dennis' bluff without any ill personal effects. However, I'm sure it's no coincidence that in the second production, the female character, Jessica, is far more sympathetic than in the first.
Here's today's review from the Philadelphia Inquirer coupled with my review of the earlier show.
Here's today's Inquirer review of Villanova Theatre's Long Day's Journey into Night. There are a lot of colleges in Philadelphia turning out a lot of top-shelf productions lately. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of them.
I'm sort of split on the idea of posting my reviews here, since they're local and you're probably not. But I'm going to do it anyway, because, well, they're online, and so are you. You can feel free to let me know if this exercise adds nothing (or something!) to your Drama Queen experience.
So for anyone interested, here's my review of Gas and Electric Arts' production of Lisa D'Amour's Anna Bella Eema from today's Philadelphia Inquirer.
Below: a video of G&EA's rehearsal process. Fairly pretentious and kind of ridiculous, but then again, rehearsals probably shouldn't be filmed anyway. The show was much better than this would lead you to believe.
My Inquirer reviews and features...