Sunday, April 20, 2008

Someone Give John Heilpern a Passport?

Reading John Heilpern is a guilty pleasure of mine -- or, I should say, it's reading The New York Observer, which publishes Heilpern's exquisitely crafted reviews. The reason why I think he's one of the finest critics at work today -- and I disagree with him often -- is that the craft of the writing never shows. You can create prose that's easy, breezy and queasy, but it takes a lot of skill.

Check out his review of the Off-Broadway musical version of The Adding Machine. I mean, yes, he's a little late on this, given that the show opened 37 light years ago in NYC theatre time, but it's nevertheless a very good read.

Just one thing, though (you knew there was a "but," right?). I do wish he'd be more adventurous in his theatregoing -- or at least in the theatregoing he writes about. His Adding Machine review is prefaced with rather a long harangue against revival culture -- that is, our current culture of commercial production that tends to favor revivals -- and then, in the fourth graph of his piece, he writes,

It’s safe to say that revivals are safe—a much safer bet, anyway, than the shock of the new. Who takes real risks any more? Who courts danger? There are a handful of idealists and independent producers who still believe in creating theater for its own glorious, uncompromised sake. They thrive on new work. They even believe in the innate intelligence of audiences. They must be mad.
This is the one thing that makes me wildly uncomfortable. Plenty of people take real risks and plenty of people court danger. I didn't exactly see John, for example, at Thomas Bradshaw's Purity a year and change ago, which received all kinds of attention, good and bad (my mixed-to-negative review in New York Press can be read here), but so far as I know, it didn't receive his. Perhaps part of the issue is the New York Observer readership -- people who make in a week what I hope to make by 70. But you can't -- or at least you shouldn't -- publish graphs like the one above when there's so much work that arguably fits the definition of "risk" and "danger" here in town, in the Indie Theatre world. Could Heilpern be referring strictly to the commercial theatre (The Adding Machine is a commercial run)? Oh, gosh, let's hope not. Could it be that he regards himself as above having to be adventurous? Oh, gosh, let's hope not, too.

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