Wednesday, August 29, 2007

George Hunka Gives Ethics the Middle Finger, Then He Wags It

I have no opinion regarding the fact that George Hunka isn't exactly giving burnin' love to Kate Fodor's 100 Saints That You Should Know at Playwrights Horizons. But I do have an opinion about the fact that he published a formal review of the play on his blog, and the play doesn't open until September 18. Talk about breaking the embargo!

Yeah, I know, I know, he probably paid for his ticket, and thus, like all the other chuckleheads out there -- I'm talkin' about all those chatterers on All That Chat -- he can post whatever he likes. Hence the nature of blogging, one could suppose.

Yet I think his action raises some real ethical concerns -- and yes, Virginia, I do think there are ethics to blogging. Let me state that while I don't question George's formidable intellect and equally formidable prose, if you look at his review, it's clearly formatted so as to read just like, well, a formal review. Now, let's be clear: if a print and Web journalist like myself did that, oh my God, the walls of Jericho would come crashing down, Lucifer would be salivating to get his claws into me, Dick Cheney would be cackling monstrously and cranking up the burning fires of hell and everyone in the blogosphere would rake me over the coals and attack my ethics and call me names and wonder why my ancestors didn't burn in the Holocaust. But it's ok for a blogger to publish a formal review before the official opening? I mean, even when Newsday does it, it runs Linda Winer's reviews on the day of the opening, rather than the next morning.

I don't care how smart you are, how much you like or dislike something, or whether you paid for your ticket or not, to be perfectly frank. And I don't care if you think, well, it's a blog, and blah blah blah. Blah blah blah my ass. To write a formal review of a play in its third or fourth preview -- think about it, the play doesn't open for another three weeks -- strikes me as unfair. Perhaps Hunka -- and here I will carefully note I've had pleasant email exchanges with him, and when I say I respect what he writes and thinks, I mean it -- would argue that ca-ca is ca-ca, no matter whether the ca-ca in question is three weeks old or freshly dumped, pardon the pun, off the poo truck.

Surely it is unhelpful to artists (and I think, to Hunka) to expect one set of standards from one group (print/Web journalists) and a separate (but equal?) set of standards from another (the blogosphere). Blog-post opinion sharing in one thing, it seems to me, whereas the trappings of a formal review is another.

Hunka acknowledges leaving at intermission. He also lays blame for the play

"at the door of the playwright, Kate Fodor, a recipient of lots of prizes and commissions, but in a 'Playwright's Perspective' essay included in the program notes (which I wouldn't ordinarily cite as it's outside of the experience of the play itself, but its inclusion in the program -- also a part of the theatregoing experience -- makes it fair game), and to be fair, she denies responsibility for it. 'Plays often know things that playwrights don't know they know,' she concludes, urging that readers take the 250 interpretive words that come before 'with a grain of salt.' The essay itself is as tortured as the dialogue (not to mention a tedious pseudo-lyrical monologue delivered by the priest towards the end of the 75 minute first act); the play's self-conscious references to the definition of simile and metaphor, and the old Irishwoman's reference to 'allegory,' suggest that copies of Warriner's English Grammar and Composition, my old high-school grammar textbook, are as readily available as Gideon Bibles. Even in the Auld Sod, dontcha-know."
Fair game? It's fair game to attack Fodor's essay but ignore press nights? Fair is fair and fair is foul, hm? Please comment. I'm already wearing fireproof clothes.

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Art said...

Hi Leonard,

I didn't realize that the show was in previews till I read your post.

I agree with what you are saying...


Just as an experiment, (people can try this at home,) I went to the show on the Playwrights Horizon webpage, went to the 100 Saints page, went to the online ticketing service, chose tickets for tomorrow night's performance, did everything but purchase.

Nowhere along that way did it mention that the show was in previews, mention the official opening night, and I couldn't really deduce any type of discount either.

Now, I am not saying that George was protesting this, but, just so you know, I actually wouldn't have a problem with print and mainstream critics pushing back a little bit against this practice.

The critic for the Seattle Stranger wrote an early review of Young Frankenstein last week specifically because of this type of shell game.

Aaron Riccio said...

Just a note of clarification, as Hunka got his tickets the same way I did, through an offer from Playwrights Horizon's publicity department. They asked for comments to be posted, regardless of content, in return for tickets. That's what they got: George just writes like a critic possessed. Think of it as a very lucid blog. When I accepted tickets, I asked very carefully if they wanted a REVIEW or a BLOG: they chose the latter, which as far as I'm concerned, pretty much frees me of any obligation (as a print/online critic) to wait for an embargo. So on that, I think George is off the hook. For the theaters, however, I do think it's dangerous to actively SEEK comments for preview performances if they're not able to handle negative, Deuce-like hype, as well as positive, audience building comments along the theatrosphere.

Freeman said...

I have to second Aaron's note here. I received an invitation to this show and in it, I was specifically told that there wasn't some expectation of a good review. Quite the opposite. "Whatever you want to say as long as you write about it" basically sums it up.

So, it's not as if George was breaking an embargo. I don't particularly agree with his leaving at intermission and then reviewing it anyhow, but posting his review when he did... that was encouraged by the institution itself.

Essentially, I think Playwrights Horizons views this as all good business. How many people are talking about 100 Saints You Should Know right now? Tons. And it's still in "previews."

Anonymous said...

I saw "100 Saints You Should Know" and left feeling that I was touched by a thoughtful angel. I think George Hunka is a very jealous playwrite with his own issues that this play unearthed.