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June 01, 2009


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Hey Isaac, I'm surprised that you would object to a theater using the democratic power of the web to try and off-set the power of a printed review. Maso writes" I only know that the destructive power of one person, when that person is given the imprimatur of the region's largest newspaper, needs to be balanced by the voices of the thousands who have already let us know about the joy they have found in the laughter, the music, the wit, and the sheer artistry displayed by those involved in this production."

Why should Kennedy be allowed to take her shot without any response from the people for whom she's writing? After all the Globe invites readers comments and facilitates posting them to the world, why shouldn't the show's fans (and detractors) take advantage of the fact? How is it any different than you inviting response to the opinions you express here? I'm confused and your explanation above doesn't clarify your objection, it only restates it.

Yes, critics are allowed to criticize, but the web insures that they no longer do it in a vacuum. Has Kennedy objected? Does she feel like she's owed an apology? I'll bet not--rather, I would think that both she and her employers are thrilled with the attention.

Travis Bedard

JB - have you read the responses?

The all powerful democratic power of the web can be used for good or for evil.

Maso could have chosen to ask the audience that he knows is enjoying the play to sing the praises of it on their site. i.e. "The destructive power of one voice blahblahblah, so give me your voice here and show everyone what a thousand voices say..." or whatever.

But instead he made it about the critic, and so the responses are about the critic. of the 71 that were there when I read them all most took the time to carefully explain that Kennedy was a prude, a snob, an elitist, had no taste, had no brain, had no sense, had no business writing for a paper, and needed to get the rod removed from the anal cavity.

It also demonstrated pretty clearly that almost none of the respondents had READ the review. Which call the production a bunch of names but mostly seemed disappointed that with that much talent on hand and such great source material something more than a sketch show didn't happen.

Abe Goldfarb

JB, I was going to write something fairly involved, but Travis did it better, so I bow to him.

But JESUS, it's not like Maso was striking a blow for the democratization of criticism here. He was taking cheap shots for publicity and utilizing mob mentality and cheap populism. I actually sincerely enjoy the movie Armageddon, so trust me when I say I draw a distinction between populism and its cheap variant.

And then, when he is challenged on his premise in his own comments section, he demurs and fails to own up to the ramifications of what he is doing. He is not encouraging people to read the review and respond to it thoughtfully, not really. He calls Kennedy's review "aberrant", as if personal taste was a disorder, something that ought to be stamped out when simply EVERYONE else is having fun.

Fuck that noise, Jack. Thank GOD for assholes like Armond White, or Manohla Dargis, or even, sorry, Anthony Lane. I hate hate hate Armond White's writing, but the fact that he is part of the conversation is important, even when he's being a bitch (95 percent of the time).


Sorry--I'm not sold. Maso is not fomenting personal attacks, he's simply using the page that the Globe created to fight for the life of a show that he believes in--I'll bet you'd like your producer to do the same for you. Of course he might have cooled down before he wrote his post and reacted with less emotion. But sometimes the coach has to let his players know that he's willing to fight, even if it means getting thrown out of the game. Unless the post I'm reading from him is different from what you're reading (Isaac, that link is broken) I think he's within bounds.

You guys all seem to be in favor of him sitting back and letting the Globe have the last word. Maso wrote: "If you agree with Louise, say so, though I admit that I think you will not. If you disagree, please let her — and everyone who may read her piece in the coming days — know that as well."

Why should she be the only one allowed to express her opinion? Those days are over--and you're the ones making that true. And why should she be allowed to attack the integrity of artists and institutions without hearing about it? There is a longstanding tradition of not answering your critics--but the reason for that has been because you'll always lose (they have a paper, you don't)--not because the critic is entitled to express their opinion but others are not. And today, the critic doesn't have to get the last word--courtesy of the functionality that the Globe has created on their own website.

Hope your reading goes great Isaac, sorry I can't be there.

malachy walsh

I'm with JB on this.

Abe Goldfarb

It's not as though Pirates! is a tough sell. It's a well-funded, lavish, big-ass show intended to evoke yaw-haws from an audience. It deliberately evokes a popular film franchise as a way of grabbing attention. If we were talking about some show that needed critical support, like one that was so difficult a piece that it NEEDED it to flourish, it would be a different story. A bad review of a blatantly commercial show is like throwing a lawn dart at a zeppelin. The show'll do what it'll do. Asses seem to be in seats, by all accounts.

The idea that somehow Maso's idiotic gesture was born from the need to fight for art's survival is disingenuous at best. There are EIGHT POSITIVE REVIEWS AND ONE NEGATIVE. It's not like Kennedy has a monopoly on criticism in the region. And people seem to like it, so good for everyone. Kennedy gets to write her opinion, which is her JOB, and people get to watch their silly Pirate musical.

Look, no one likes a bad review, but there are classier ways to take them. This just seems like rabble-rousing nonsense (his gesture at even-handedness is pretty tossed off), and it has achieved the intended effect; loads of people talk about how this one critic is irrelevent and past it and out of touch. Some have used language that seems to imply that she oughtn't hold her position. Why is THAT such a good thing?

I say again. Big commercial show. Good business. Bad review. Live with it. This isn't the frigging Fringe.

malachy walsh

You know, maybe Abe is right.

When we read an opinion in a newspaper that we don't like or that we disagree with (especially one about that most objective of subjects - art), we should just live with it.

Especially if it's in a major metropolitan daily. Afterall, who are we but small, unimportant people who know nothing. Yes, we should remain complacent. And let it ride. Those people at the Globe know much better than we do.

Yes, that makes sense. So on second thought JB, zip it. This is indeed NOT the Fringe - and only people in the Fringe are allowed to backtalk to the 4th Estate - dontchya know?

Besides, it's just the part of the livelihood of the show and the actors in the show and the theatre that uses reviews to help get grants and so forth.

And we all know that since it's a commercial show the artistic staff doesn't stand behind the production. How could they? It's a commercial show.

Yes, yes. Stay still and take your licks. Er, I mean, lawn darts.

Abe Goldfarb

Oh, please, Malachy. If you'd like to debate what I said in a way that isn't hopelessly snarky, I'd be willing to talk about it. I think I made my points, but the only point I can make out in your post is that I somehow think we're meant to be happy little automatons who just shut up and do as we're told. Which is silly, and an oddly personal way to take all of this.

If a guy wants to say, "We strongly disagree with that review" in a public forum, I think that's just peachy. If he sends audience members out like foot soldiers to flood the website with abuse (which in a lot of cases it is), I think it's dumb and thuggy. And it paints the institution not as powerful or great, but as intimidating.

But you weren't really looking at anything I wrote, just scoring facetious little points. So maybe I'm wasting my time.


Aw hell, I'll jump in on this since it's gettin' all hot in here.

I think there is a big difference between an audience posting their disagreements with a reviewer because of a genuine, self-motivated desire to do so and an audience being used as part of a fight between an artistic institution & a critic.

Maso had a right to invite a vibrant critical debate between theater, audience & critic. Instead he took that opportunity and reduced it to a dog & pony show.

And that, to me, is what is so irresponsible. Instead of engaging in an intelligent conversation he engaged in a pissing contest. That doesn't do the theater, the critic, or the audience any favors.

malachy walsh

Abe, I'm certainly guilty of being snarky here - but I'm also clear. And pointed. Which makes my response something more than the "fuck off" variety.

And I stand by it just like a good city editor.

But I've put my foot in it, so...

There is nothing wrong with asking your audience to stick up for you directly. Why should there be? And there is nothing wrong with asking them to respond in a public forum. That's why the paper provides one on their website.

Whether the audience comes to your defense or not is telling. And the audience here did not have to heed the MD's call. But, as a counter to Shaygo's point, enough did - voluntarily - so it's hard for me to see how they've been "used."

And if the journalist or the paper truly finds it intimidating to getting what amounts to letters of disagreement, then what kind of journalist or paper do you really have? (Ben Bradlee would've laughed his head off if it had happened at the Post in his day.)

The paper does not have to review shows there. And it doesn't have to grant positive reviews to shows there either. It can also choose to moderate comments on its site.

It's amazing that a Managing Director got the response he did. AMAZING. He congealed an audience. Energized them. Got them emotionally and intellectually involved. Those are things a reasonable person could say a theatre is SUPPOSED TO DO.

Whether this all will work for him and his organization in the long run is for time to tell.

So, ultimately, I don't understand what is being objected to here: That Maso didn't have the conversation other people think he should have had? That critics should be sacred and held immune from the effect of their opinions? That a critic got an earful from an audience energized by a theatre that called on them for help? That the show really is bad and deserved the review? That the Huntington has lost its way?

I feel there are a lot of unexamined assumptions here about how a theatre and a critic should behave toward each other - some of which seem to have come from an era when "social media" wasn't a phenomenon.


I don't think it's wrong to challenge a critic's take on a show. Of course, I tend to engage critics far more than most people I know.

Hell, I offered a money back refund (plus a charitable donation in the name of the critic to his favorite charity from my own pocket of 10% of any money that was refunded) to our last show for anyone who agreed with a negative review in TimeOut Chicago. All they had to do was write in and tell me why they agreed with it.

For me the problem isn't what Maso did, it's how he did it. He didn't even bother to mention what he disagreed with other than it wasn't glowing. Were there any factual errors in the review? That would be different.

I think if it were a different critic there would have been a different response. Me thinks Maso just took it as an opportunity to take some swipes at Kennedy.

From my screen, it seems less like debating the merits of a review and more like seventh grade-ish mudslinging.


Given that the Globe invites comments, and places them on the very same page as their own critics review, you have to suppose they are willing for Kennedy to be swiped at--which is why I can't understand all of this outrage being leveled at a producer who utilizes the tool that the Globe created.

Abe Goldfarb

Thanks, Malachy, for clearing it up.

My central problems have been far more lucidly articulated by shaygo and Tony. There's no spirit of debate and engagement in what Maso did. None of what he said really dealt with the content of the review. What he said was, essentially, "This reviewer thought this was a bad show. She is WRONG, and she is mocking you. Don't stand for it!" It's a riling tactic. That doesn't energize an audience, it turns them into mouthpieces for the people behind the show. Was there anything meaningful in those comments beyond, "You're an idiot, Kennedy! You're out of touch! Why do you hate fun?"

Was Maso examining the divide between popular sentiment and critical analysis? No, not really. Not if we're honest. It was a cheap move. I host burlesque, and thus I'm pretty acquainted with lowbrow art. When a bombing host or act says how awesome Obama is for an easy cheer, or puts a hand up to their ear to indicate "Where's the applause?", or just curses because it's funny and will automatically get a laugh, it's cheap.

Maso wasn't being populist. He was engaging in cheap populism. It's real easy.


Maso wasn't doing either of the above, Abe, he was trying to insure that people who read the Kennedy review on the Globe website also read positive comments from the audience. He's trying to keep his ship afloat in challenging times and using the tools that are now available. I'm sure he could care less about debate, he just knows that the Globe review is a powerful turn-off to potential ticket buyers and he's out there scrapping away, being a good producer. Actually, it's not so easy.

Abe Goldfarb

We shall have to agree to disagree, then.

I think it lacks class to take potshots at a reviewer just because they didn't like something. I'm reminded of the great Roger Ebert, who will frequently say, "Those who like this sort of thing will like this sort of thing." This is exactly what Kennedy did. She never misrepresented content (which would have been an egregious offense, and which Maso no doubt would have mentioned, being so scrupulous), she reported what the show was, that she didn't like it, and that it seemed to be a big hit with the audience. This seems to me to be the very definition of a critic performing responsibly. I mean, she accurately represented her position as being in the minority. What does sending commenters over there do but push that point into knee-jerk absurdity? And he had to know that the comments wouldn't be particularly nice or circumspect, which they are NOT. The commenters are using language a lot more harsh and unforgiving than Kennedy's.


It's interesting to see that the Globe itself is perpetuating the "bru-ha-ha" by running this letter from a trustee, along with comments:

(Sorry, I don't know how to make that a short, working link) The Globe is loving this. Kennedy's value to her employer is higher than it was a week ago. And here's the main thing we should all be celebrating: an effort is being made to dilute the power of a single voice in favor of many. Yes, it's messy and crass and flaming, like so much of the wild, wild web--and yes, this was started by an interested party, not by civilians-- but so what?

Paul Rekk

I'm sorry, but has anyone actually read comments sections of most major news publications? In most cases, they're about a step and a half above YouTube comments, which is to say two steps above primate.

Of course the Globe is enjoying this; a ton of new hearts and minds that think they're participating in The New Cultural Conversation that Kennedy and the Globe don't actually have to give a shit about. No one's going to get to comment #54 only to have the light bulb suddenly click on that they would like this show... and that's if they get to comment #54 at all.

Which I realize is a pretty nihilistic stance for a blogger to take; I'm willing to admit that most of the 'wild, wild web' is bullshit. But at least the bullshit that is put out there by as a self-motivated decision seems like something where I can discern a considered opinion. Knee-jerk counterattacks urged on by one talking head against another talking head isn't conversation, it's a parlor game. And it's not changing shit aside from the way we play parlor games in the technological age.

"...diluting the power of a single voice in favor of many." Ha! Thanks, Maso, now instead of having the option of ignoring one asshole, I get the option of ignoring the mob of assholes that diluted her as well. Love it.


I think a reviewer has a responsibility to try to comprehend what a play is trying to do and decide whether or not it accomplishes that end. They may offer an editorial opinion of whether or not that end was of merit, but their critique must always remember the context of what the play is trying to achieve.

Louise Kennedy went to review a play called pirates exclamation point. And she repeatedly complains that it's a silly low-brow comedy. Uh, yeah. It's called pirates exclamation point.

Throughout her critique, she repeatedly slams the play for engaging in forms of theatricality appropriate to its genre. I haven't seen the piece, but it sounds like it contains elements of sketch comedy, satire, maybe a dab of panto. So, slamming it for a "downright painful" "tormenting of a front-row patron in an extended bit of forced audience participation" seems wrong-headed. Like slamming a Jacobean play cause it's so bloody or an absurdist piece because the characters aren't talking sense.

Here's the thing: I would argue that the elements of the play she so scathingly dismisses are no more than what I would expect to encounter should I choose to spend my money on a play titled pirates exclamation point. Seems like she REALLY HATES that kind of thing. That's totally legit. Don't go review it.

And this is the problem with the model of theater criticism in today's newspapers. There's a paucity of voices reviewing a diversity of work. The idiosyncrasies of personal tastes become determinative. And this is why--clumsy as the Huntington's experiment was--enfranchising readers to offer alternative views is a good thing.

malachy walsh

What joy says.

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