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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Charles Isherwood kicks the Humana Festival in the Nuts

I know that the title of this post isn't very subtle. Neither is Isherwood, who lays the smack down on this year's Humana Festival like a drunken professional wrestler who just lost his job.

I can't, honestly, take issue with Isherwood's assessment because I haven't seen these shows and know no one involved. I do think he could have been...nicer? Is that terribly naive?

It's not like people are producing these plays to personally piss him off.


Anonymous said...

To quote George C. Scott on "The Simpsons": "Ow! My groin!"

This is tough - I haven't seen the plays either, so let's for the sake of argument assume that they were, by and large, really really bad. I have myself seen shows that have left me so angry at the near-total incompetence of all involved and the consequent waste of my time/money that I will rant at length to anyone who will listen (at least five blocks away from the theatre) about just how bad the experience was until my boiling sense of rage and injustice abates. I'm happy to say that that truly doesn't happen very often, but I daresay we all know the feeling. Fortunately, my tirades don't wind up in the Times the next morning. But what if they did? What if you had to write about something you saw that was so bad that it left you, frankly, pissed off? Do you vent your spleen in a damn-the-torpedoes rant, or do you restrain yourself, in order to - do what exactly? Be nice? Sympathize? Take the high road? I really don't know; I don't write reviews and so I've never been confronted with these questions except theoretically. I often feel bad for people when I read terrible reviews of their work (not always, I do admit sometimes I read a bad review and think "Finally, someone else agrees that this [wildly successful show] is utter tripe!" And no, I'm not always proud of that.) but it makes me wonder: Is it possible to do work so bad, so irredeemably flawed, that for the good of theatre art everywhere, you need to be dressed down in a very public forum? When (if ever) is it OK to throw caution to the wind and let loose with a big, in-print "THIS SUCKS!" for all the world to see? Thorny.

I was disappointed that Whit came in for his share of the smackdown. Ah well. Tomorrow is another day, and all that.

Anonymous said...

sorry I have to be anonymous, but i must. for me, the problem here is not specific pieces of criticism, but the tone and core values of the critic. As in, he adopts a snotty, bored, jaded, condescending tone. And second, what exact KIND of theater does he want to see? That's what really scares me. Isherwood gets very bitchily defensive about political theater, for example. He gets bored if there's too much info; he gets snotty if he perceives the playwright is naive or reductive. In short, he doesn't like political theater because it requires him to lay his ideological cards on the table and i suspect he's just a moderate-to-conservative aesthete who likes toothless satires such as THE SCENE or glib, professional trifles such as PRELUDE TO A KISS. His rave over THOM PAIN notwithstanding, I find his taste shockingly conservative, morally cowardly, sentimental and uninformed by much knowledge of of the industry. Perfect for the Times supreme cultural arbitration.

Anonymous said...

OK, Mr. Brantley. We respect your right to remain anonymous.

Freeman said...

Seriously, Ian. Who did he think he was fooling?

working group said...

I saw the plays and wrote about it on the working group blog recently. The smackdown- was too much and aimed at the wrong shows. Strike Slip was mainly just like watching a slower version of Crash onstage. New Paradise's show was dope. And Dark Play was very fun, greatly directed and just a little long.

I can understand being in a festival atmosphere when you're not enjoying the shows and you have to see them back to back in a day or two might make you cranky. But in the end- you're just watching some plays and there's a bar downstairs in Louisville- loosen up a little. Smile Charlie- you don't have to like everything, but you do have to smile.


Lawrence Goodman said...

It seems to me that playwrights are in a real bind: on the one hand, the critics are always asking why writers aren't more engaged with the social issues of the day, and on the other hand, they then slam playwrights when their work becomes overtly political. What do they want?

That said, I will say in my experience that many of the plays now being written with political these are too earnest and heavy-handed about delivering their message. What Isherwood complains abut--reductionist thinking about politics--is endemic right now in the drama world. I am a solid Mother Jones-reading lefty, but I am sick and tired of going to plays that bombard me with liberal (and often politically correct messages).

Finally, I read Isherwood's review and frankly didn't think it was so harsh. He seemed like he was trying to find the best in a series of shows he thought were dreadful.

Jamespeak said...

Although I haven't seen the plays in question, I agree with a lot of what lawrence is saying, having the same problem with (let's just call a spade a spade) leftist agitprop.

I didn't think Isherwood was too harsh, but that's maybe because I read a lot (a LOT) of film reviews, many of the negative ones are REALLY kicking the film and filmmakers in the proverbial nutsack. (Have you read any of Roger Ebert's zero- or one-star reviews? He damn near explicitly states that everyone involved in those movie is retarded, as is anybody who likes it. Now THAT'S harsh.)