Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In Public and The New York Times

For those of you who don't know, Rob Kendt recently wrote a glowing review for theatre minima's production of In Public for The New York Times. After much foot-dragging from the Times, they decided quite arbitrarily that, since George Hunka (the author of In Public) had written some reviews for the newspaper and since Mr. Kendt was also a blogger, posting the review would be a conflict of interest.

Although both Mr. Hunka and Mr. Kendt maintain theatre blogs, neither one had met each other before Mr. Kendt attended the show, so the review wasn't a case of one friend washing the other's back (or some such nonsense).

Isaac Butler (the director of the show) has posted an open letter to the Times over at Parabasis.

In his letter, Isaac writes:

"This decision also flies in the face of the history of the art forms of both theater and criticism. The great periods of English Language Theater have also been golden ages of theater criticism, and during these times artists often doubled as critics. Great artists such as George Bernard Shaw, Harold Clurman and Harley Granville-Barker were also incisive, intelligent, difficult-to-please critics. Your own Book Review section underscores this point. Well known writers like Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace and Margaret Atwood review the work of authors such as Alice Munro and Orhan Pamuk. The result has been a better and more readable New York Times Book Review.

By changing the standards, you are putting artist/critics like George in a next-to-impossible position. George is both a talented critic and a gifted playwright. He must now choose between writing for The New York Times and his playwriting career. In other words, he must choose between depriving your readers of his considerable expertise and wide swath of knowledge on theater, or he must deprive his audience of his playwriting. This serves no one's best interest."

The excuse that printing Mr. Kendt's review of In Public in the paper being a conflict of interest is, of course, a bunch of horse manure.

A review in the Newspaper of Record, in particular a good review, is a great boon to an Off-off-Broadway production, so it's more than a little unfair and irresponsible for the Times to offer such a production the dangling carrot of acknowledgment only to capriciously yank it away at the 11th hour.


James "Surly" Comtois


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