Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Touch Me in the Brobdingnagian, Then Just Walk Away

Brobdingnagian -- well, it's not the usual word I might use, although this evening, while appearing on a panel sponsored by TRU (Theatre Resources Unlimited), the word kept popping into my head. Perhaps it should have been part of a phrase in my head: Brobdingnagian out of a molehill. Or maybe, better yet: Brobdingnagian bitterness. You'll see why all this nattering adjective-as-noun nonsense in just a wee moment.

It was an interesting panel that featured my critic colleagues Andy Propst and Adam Feldman, my PR colleagues Susan Schulman and Judd Hollander, and playwright Jeffrey Sweet. Jeff was, of course, a very welcome addition to the gabfest: he is a prolific playwright, has taught playwriting (and written about it from a craft perspective for Back Stage), has worked as a critic, and for the Best Plays series now headed up by my friend Jeffrey Jenkins, has been a contributor, editor and commentator. Bob Ost, one of the TRU co-founders, led the discussion, and I must say all of us bucked up under the airless heat of the room quite well. And props to Propst for making sure I knew when it was time for me turn over so as to get my other side roasted. (All right, he didn't really...but I did ask him to.)

We talked about how theatre artists ought to get press and how (and when, and why) they ought not to get press -- all the usual stuff, and certainly valuable information for anyone in the room who didn't know various aspects of this already or who wanted to get into it with more specificity. I ended up mentioning some of the please-please-please-review-me swag I've gotten in the mail of late, including a press packet from the Andhow! Theater Company that included a fake press badge using my IT Awards photo as a negative (foreshadowing?). Some people in the audience, I think, mistakenly got the impression that stunt packaging and bribing me with swag either gets me to the show more quickly (or at all), but what I was doing was just making a point about how (and when, and why) a theatre artists ought to get a critic's attention. Later, in reply to a question that suggesting taking critics to lunch or dinner, I hurriedly backtracked to make sure everyone understood that I am not at all advocating bribery. Could you imagine ABSCAM for critics? CRITSCAM? The tempo of this story now suggests that a joke or a pun would follow, but I'll just continue, as I still have to finish my paper tonight for Glenn Young's class on tragedy at Hunter College, as the push continues for me to finish my master's before I'm older than Eric Bentley.

Anyway, I think Jeff was there so that Bob could raise ethics as an issue. Fair enough, fair game. Really, though, it seems as if Jeff is still carrying around, like a crown of bitter thorns around his intellect, this seething, toxic anger about what Hedy Weiss did in Chicago, what the Dramatists Guild far too rashly and self-righteously did about it, and how things ultimately reached some sort of unpleasant and unresolved stalemate. I would be remiss if I did not add that Jeff also blogged about the incident over at Back Stage's blog, and wrote some things that my executive editor, David Sheward, eventually made him retract. Personal agendas and the truth sometimes oppose each other, basically.

Anyway, there was just so much huffing and puffing about this that I was sure Jeff was going to blow the house down. Jeff's such a smart guy, but there's also just so much anger and bitterness there. And, you know, critics are a cheap target: sometimes attacking them strikes me as a way for people who can't come to grips with the fact that their work sometimes sucks to attempt to deflect the issue -- to create some Brobdingnagian smokescreen -- as if that will somehow serve to change reality. Thirty years from now, will Jeff still be fire-breathing "Hedy Weiss! Hedy Weiss! Hedy Weiss!"? Will it be like Gus Hall furiously banging his communist foot on a lectern somewhere for 14 people in the audience? Aren't there so many more fights in the world to be fought?

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1 comment:

paulpierog(notyourpresident) said...

It was disappointing to hear that conflict carrying such energy at the TRU event.

I like Jeffrey Sweet. I enjoy his books, plays and ongoing writing about theater. His Yahoo group is amicable and Jeffrey regularly put in there some swell theater essays.