So, fun fact. I was actually planning to write about puppetry’s resurgence in New York theatre for this week’s article, but on Friday morning, the world was treated to Ben Brantley and Jesse Green’s joint “review” of the new King Kong musical. I put review in quotations because the term review implies fair criticism and journalistic integrity. The last time I read a joint review from the two of them, it was a fair and thoughtful lauding for the St. Ann’s Warehouse production of Oklahoma. It was balanced and critical when it needed to be. That was not the case with what Brantley and Green did for Kong.
Brantley and Green’s “review” for King Kong consisted entirely of cattily going back and forth, complaining and party-pooping about every single aspect of the production – cast, performances, score, set design, choreography – they even complained about the parts of the production other reviewers at least admired. (Yep, they didn’t even like the Kong puppetry. I haven’t even seen the show yet, but as a puppeteer, I take that kind of attack personally for the entire puppetry community.) Rightfully so, the Broadway community has had a backlash against the New York Times for their lack of tact from their critic department. It isn’t even the first time this year this happened – lest we forget Brantley’s purposeful and hurtful misgendering of Peppermint’s character in Head Over Heels, or Laura Collins-Hughes’ body-shaming of Alysha Umphress in Smokey Joe’s Cafe. This is strike three for the Gray Lady of New York, yet none of these critics have suffered any consequences for what they’ve said. Those other incidents were followed up by wimpy apologies, but neither Green nor Brantley have apologized yet for this latest fiasco.
What Brantley and Green did wasn’t a review. It was tag-team bullying.
I get it. Sometimes we as critics see shows we aren’t too fond of. But never once in my life have I thought to myself while watching a show, “wow, I can’t wait throw these artists’ feelings under the bus because I have the power to as a critic.” I’m a performer and a playwright in addition to this theatre critic gig, and I always try to put myself in the shoes of the people on stage and behind the scenes. Even if a show doesn’t live up to your expectations, being a bully about it never solves anything. In fact, it makes everything kind of worse.
I consider myself a kind and thoughtful critic, but I can get picky when I need to be. I always say I would kill to have Brantley or Green’s NYT critic job. I used to say that because I thought I was a pretty good writer with compelling arguments and a theatrical polymath’s points of view. Now I know for sure I’d be better at their jobs than them, because I know I would never abuse my position of power to crap on fellow artists.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)