It came to my attention a week or so ago via Art Hennessey's Mirror Up to Nature blog that playwright Sinan Ünel, author of The Cry of the Reed, had begun his own blog to respond to what he saw as the "vicious and personal" reviews the show received.
I was pretty intrigued by this idea - it seemed at the very least like one more small step toward getting a genuine public dialogue going in this town about its theatre. But I'm a bit disappointed in Ünel's blog itself; it seems to be almost entirely praise of the show, emailed or called in by enthusiastic audience members. Not that there's anything wrong with that - and I expected to find a good deal of it on the blog - still, there's precious little analysis to be found in its posts; it operates more as wounded defense than actual response. So I posted the following comment on the blog:
Hi Sinan -
I understand your reaction to the negative reviews you received, and I'm intrigued by your use of a blog to respond. But I'd be even more intrigued if you responded to the points made in the reviews, or described how the reviews have affected your view of the work. Now that the play has closed, will you be pondering any revisions? I'd be very interested to hear about that.
The Hub Review
Sinan replied with the following:
Hey Tom - thanks for the question. As in all feedback, if the suggestion is intelligent, insightful, and will potentially improve the play, I will welcome it and use it. If it is hostile, insulting, arrogant, condescending or not particularly smart, it's more of a challenge. It's not terribly useful that much of criticism seems to have lowered itself to the level of the latter.
From you review I was able to extract one possibly legitimate point: Ayla's line "it's in everyone's heart."
Although your tone while addressing this - and other aspects of the play - is mocking, condescending and mystifyingly juvenile, I take your point. I might consider changing it.
Part of the purpose of this blog is to try to comprehend who these reviews serve. Do they serve the audience? Judging from the responses to your review - and the audience response to the play, this is not exactly the case. Does it serve the playwright? Judging from the tone of your review, this is not your intention. What is the purpose then? Simply to serve the critic and his ego?
I then replied:
Well, I suppose I can gather from this that I'm hostile, insulting, arrogant, condescending, and not particularly smart. No doubt all that is true, but surely you can see that you've subtly turned my question on its head - as if I were aspiring somehow to enlighten you, instead of the other way around. In other words, if you're going to value some audience members' responses more than others, you should have a stronger reason than the complaint that the people who didn't like your play are "mocking, condescending and mystifying juvenile." (Just btw, that makes your full characterization of your unflattering reviewers run to a full seven adjectives' worth of invective: "hostile, insulting, arrogant, condescending, not particularly smart, mocking, and mystifyingly juvenile.")
It's true I wrote one mocking line about some of your dialogue ("Wow, that's like so deep"), but the point was that Rumi's philosophical musings can sound like "deep thoughts" unless handled very carefully onstage. And the gist of my review was that the two "tracks" of your play didn't seem to connect - one was a conventional thriller with philosophical overtones, the other a debate that to me never seemed to get beyond the opening round. Did you feel that these two sides of your drama were eventually integrated? And if so, how? None of the praise you've posted has brought up this issue, which to me seems central - I mean, isn't that what the reed is crying about?
You wrap up by writing, "Part of the purpose of this blog is to try to comprehend who these reviews serve. Do they serve the audience? Judging from the responses to your review - and the audience response to the play, this is not exactly the case. Does it serve the playwright? Judging from the tone of your review, this is not your intention. What is the purpose then? Simply to serve the critic and his ego?"
I hate to break this to you, but I've heard several negative comments about Cry of the Reed - not everybody loved it. So maybe I was writing for those people. You also ask if critics write "simply to serve their own ego." Well, we certainly don't write to serve your ego, that's for sure. Honest criticism that could help the play is always hard to hear, I know that. But you seem to think that you can pick and choose just the flattering comments to blog about.
So far, no answer back to that last post, but you can see where this is going. I'm struck (yet again) by the slightly hysterical ad hominem attacks that always seem to be lobbed in the direction of cool (okay, cold) criticism around here. Yes, I know, before you say it: "Tom, you hypocrite, you've got the thinnest skin of all! Look what you said about Terry Byrne!" Yes, well - my point about Byrne was that I felt she delivered a particularly nasty review as payback for my criticisms of her reviewing skills. I still feel that way - although don't get me wrong, I don't think my production was "awesome!" I just never read an accurate description of it in the press (yes, I'd kind of like to write my own review, but that would be rude to my cast, and get entirely too meta even for me!). Byrne's review was nutty, and if you want to argue that it was her incompetence rather than her vengefulness speaking (a case several people have made), that's fine by me.
Ünel is in a somewhat different position, anyway - as was Ronan Noone, who tangled with me over Brendan here. Both make essentially the same response to their critics - there are people who like the play; it's selling out, etc., and the people who point out its faults are mean, vicious and bad - or rather "hostile, insulting, arrogant, etc." But do I have to spell out how that doesn't count as an "argument"? Rather than debate his case - or even clarify his themes or method - Ünel simply smears his critics (and Noone wasn't much better).
Of course a skeptic might come to a certain conclusion about the situation - that Noone and Unel don't actually counter their critics because they know there's truth in the critiques; they simply can't argue "on the merits." Ergo, the other party must be a snob, "heaping scorn from on high," blah blah fucking blah. And all I can say in response is "Shut up and figure out how you're going to resolve your subplot, Ronan." "Develop the relationship between your mother and her daughter, Sinan." In a word, get to work. And maybe people will like your play even more.
On the other hand, if you want to argue the merits of my review, or put forth your own case, post your comments right here. But try to leave the poison pen in the drawer.