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Friday, March 05, 2010


Stage Addiction: The Brantley Problem

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 01: (L-R)  Actors Anthony ...

Look, we're smart theatre people here. And as such, we know there are a few truths about Broadway that are pretty much unassailable. We know that Hugh Jackman can sell out any show, any time, anywhere. We know that Bernadette Peters is a star...but only on the island of Manhattan. And we all know that Ben Brantley has, for most of his career as the first-string critic of the New York Times, been an unmitigated disaster. Walter Kerr, Brooks Atkinson, Frank Rich...the great legacy of Times criticism lies in rubble these days, in my opinion.

But Brantley's rarely been as far off the mark as he is today about A Behanding in Spokane...as someone who attended the same performance Brantley did, I'm at a loss as to how he came to his muddled and misguided perceptions. It's not that I loved the play, or that he trashed it -- as you can see, he loved Walken, who is phenomenal -- but that Brantley, so often and so distressingly, simply writes bullshit. Here, he calls the characters "hapless, bored and obsessive." Two might be hapless at a stretch, but none, NONE of them are bored. Then he slams the playwright with a withering critique...that he liked his other plays better. It's like Brantley is fundamentally incapable of providing a mature view of art, much less one containing context or insight. (The play, by the way, is a farce...which means that it's purposefully, not accidentally, zany.)

Agh. I know we live in a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, instant-gratification culture. But is that an excuse for a critical powerhouse to phone it in all the time? Here we are, suffering through one of Broadway's weakest seasons in years, and a decent play comes along...only to have Brantley miss the point yet again. If he keeps this up, all theatre lovers will ever have are dull revivals, Brit imports, and Mamma Mia.

(P.S. -- Go see it, and judge for yourself. It's not a perfect play, but it is a very good time.)
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