Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hunka/Brantley Smackdown!

Zoe Kazan and Jeremy Shamos in 100 Saints You Should Know. Photo by Joan Marcus.

George Hunka, of the blog Superfluities (currently in hiatus), set off a major debate in the blogosphere some time ago when he accepted an invitation to a preview of 100 Saints You Should Know, a new play by Kate Fodor, at Playwrights Horizons, and then proceeded to pan it. In the ensuing mêlée, questions were raised about the responsibilities of bloggers to productions, the difference between blog reviews and print reviews, the tendency of producers to milk the "preview" paradigm for all it's worth (100 Saints spent most of its performance time "in previews")

Well, Ben Brantley of the Times has finally weighed in on the show, now that it has finally "opened" officially - and it's interesting to compare his and Hunka's responses. To wit:


"100 Saints You Should Know [is] a play which can only be described as earth-shatteringly mediocre . . ."


"100 Saints You Should Know, which opened last night at Playwrights Horizons, is a decent play, with all that the adjective implies . . ."


". . . like ill-disciplined meditation, [the play] meanders and hews left-to-right, its dialogue as naturalistically drab as any that has come out of an MFA playwriting program and new play development workshop . . ."


" . . . the story approaches these topical matters with a calm, open mind and a tidy, symmetrical structure that balances and parallels different points of view. It’s like the Platonic ideal of a Lifetime television movie."


". . . Poor 100 Saints, perhaps -- workshopped within an inch of its well-intentioned but pale, weak life. I left at intermission, I'm afraid, not compelled to return by the tree-injury ex machina that closes the first act . . ."


"[At times] Ms. Fodor’s play glows, as she obviously means it to, with the sense that the keenest evidence of the search for God is in the homiest details."

To be fair, Brantley gives the show a very mixed notice - still, his tone is generally supportive, in that distant, olympian Times cadence, while Hunka's is caustically - but personally - dismissive. A failure of nerve on Brantley's part, perhaps? Or evidence of the belief that on balance, balance is more persuasive than passion? Whatever your answer to those questions, the contrast between the two essays all but encapsulates the contrast in tone between print and web. Perhaps most telling, however, is what Brantley leaves out: he never deigns to mention the Hunka imbroglio (which has all but overshadowed, at least in the blogosphere, the play itself). The same tendency is evident in the local press (where in general even the print "blogs" only note those blogs attached to other print media figures), and the message is clear: there ain't gonna be no conversation.

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