Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Shawn & Kati Show

Okay, you've probably been able to tell that there has been a certain amount of turmoil going on here at the Hub Review.  And if you're in the theatre community, you're going to hear about all this anyway.  So I might as well tell you.

I have resigned as a member of the IRNE Awards, largely due to the scheming of the ART's Kati Mitchell (the addled old bat who has long defined the local nadir of the public relations profession) and Company One's "artistic" director, Shawn LaCount.  For many readers, I suppose an introduction is in order to both these unsavory characters.  First, batty Kati - she's been after me for years, I think because I could precisely explain why most ART productions were pretentious junk. She didn't like that, not one bit; not because she understood the productions herself (don't be ridiculous; she's crazy but not that crazy); no, it was just that my level of insight threw a serious wrench into the campaign of intimidation and threat by which the ART maintains its reputation against all artistic and moral odds. Kati not only used to send me crazy emails in all caps after a bad review, but, believe it or not, she even penned the IRNE folks an angry letter declaring that the ART's failure to win more awards every year only made the IRNEs look bad.  She's hilariously beyond the pale - easily the worst PR person I've ever encountered in my life.

Next: Kati's latest cohort in crime, Shawn LaCount, whom (yes) I called an "a**hole" in one of my tweets a few weeks ago. Shocking, I know; such language!  (And in my own Twitter feed!)  I tossed off this "personal attack" (in Kati's self-serving lingo) because Mr. LaCount was serving as her replacement for Jeff Poulos, late of StageSource, who was her previous pawn in a plot last year to get me off the IRNEs. (Yes, the poor IRNE critics have gone through all this before - Mitchell essentially wages wars of attrition.)

Now calling LaCount an a**hole may be crass, but is it inaccurate? Before you answer, consider that LaCount has spent the last few weeks relentlessly badgering and harassing various IRNE members (until finally I resigned just so he'd leave them alone). He whined and screamed and stamped his feet. He called the IRNE critics racist (of course); what's more, he actually called good old Beverly Creasey a racist, even though she was one of the founders of the non-traditional casting project, back in the days when local critics like Arthur Friedman (Bill Marx's mentor, of course) would publicly argue for all-white casting for classic plays - and many years before LaCount discovered (as so many of his generation have) the career-enhancing aspects of "fighting" something that nobody actually supports anymore.  To be fair, LaCount was also probably smarting from my labeling him a "race diva" after Company One refused me press tickets to their crude blackface extravaganza The Neighbors - which was dreadful, everyone says in private, so maybe I should be grateful I didn't have to suffer through it.  And to be honest, I was also pretty grateful for their hilarious explanation as to my exclusion - according to the logically-challenged Mason Sand, it was because of Company One's commitment to diversity!  That's right: "We are excluding you because of our commitment to diversity."  (Really, you can't make this stuff up.)

I should add, though, that LaCount went well beyond simply playing the liberal guilt card to get what he wanted.  He claimed he would boycott the IRNE ceremony unless I left the organization,  and would talk other companies into boycotting, too.  He threatened that he would not allow his actors to accept their awards should they win.  Which was pretty ironic, since one of those nominated actors - Becca A. Lewis - was on the ballot largely because I argued for her to be there.  So it's also amusing to ponder that if she wins, and I hadn't resigned, LaCount would have ripped the award right out of her hot little hand. That's how much he loves his "collaborators."

And Lewis well may win; like diversity specialist Mason Sand, she has some talent.  But Shawn LaCount, like his sidekick Summer L. Williams (who also specializes in browbeating critics), just doesn't - funny how that works, isn't it - and that's going to hurt more and more as the years go by and Shawn doesn't get the recognition that (like Kati!) he's sure he deserves. To pile irony on irony, however, I should also tell you that I actually argued for a directing nomination for Shawn only a few weeks ago, because I thought he'd done better than usual with his direction of The Aliens; isn't that just a hoot? I was shouted down, though; other IRNE members felt his sterling cast had made him look good, which is probably true.

Anyway - back to the Shawn & Kati show. Mitchell and LaCount were clearly in cahoots, but they weren't alone, I'm afraid; I don't have the full story from anyone on this, but I imagine the usual suspects (Steve Mahler, of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, I'd guess, and maybe the neurotic John Kuntz?, or the weird Mitchell crony Henry Lussier of the Lyric Stage?, perhaps the bitter Debra Wise of Underground Railway Theater?) got involved with drafting a Scary Letter of Outrage against me.  I know, I know - a scary letter!  EEEK!  The IRNE people really need more spine, but to be honest, the situation was more that their spines were just being worn down from the ongoing neurotic frenzy.   Still, I wish I'd been able to read this letter!  I can just imagine: Tom Garvey said "a**hole" in a tweet!  Plus he said Shakespeare was white and James Levine is gay!  He is a terrible stain on your entire organization!  (Remember, Kati Mitchell works for Diane Paulus, so I think she knows from stains on reputations.)

Anyway, long story short, together Shawn and Kati slowly wore the IRNE members down.  Kati didn't threaten to deny them all press tickets (she has done that before, it seems), but I'm sure they feared that was the final step, after the Scary Letter, in her ongoing Inquisition.  They wouldn't actually get rid of me, of course, but I kept getting calls and requests to go to meetings that all revolved around their begging me to censor my blog (and then even my tweets) as if I were writing for the Globe.

In a word, that ain't gonna happen.  So I resigned, just to get the whole thing over with. And the bitch won.  (Yes, you can quote me on that.) Although it may be a pyrrhic victory, at least for Shawn LaCount - for as you can see, my resignation actually means Company One has lost an advocate on the IRNEs.  (And I don't think they've gained any others!)  Of course Shawn couldn't have known that, just as I'm sure he couldn't figure out that Mitchell was playing him for a patsy.  What the other dolts who apparently signed on to Mitchell's letter thought they could possibly gain from it I've no idea.  People do seem to think I have a mysterious influence over other IRNE critics, but rest assured, I don't.  Behind closed doors, my opinion of the quality of the productions at both the ART and Company One is widely shared.  I've really never had to argue against the ART, or Company One - or Steve Mahler, or Ryan Landry, or even David Miller (in fact I'm careful just to never discuss David Miller).

Anyway, for a few days I was very blue.  I thought I wanted to close The Hub Review, in fact. It wasn't that Kati Mitchell "won;" it was, as another critic put it, that her example, along with the fact that several other theatre producers would fall in line behind her, made you not want to go to the theatre at all.  Because Kati's - and Shawn's - vision of the theatre is a place of sleazy, crude gamesmanship overlaid by Harvard "class" and political correctness, where artistic quality comes dead last.  It's creepy - a kind of theatrical hell, in fact. 

And I have to say that this whole affair has set a horrible precedent.  It gives the impression that PR people are setting critical policy - at least at one remove.  Which, in a word, should never happen.  Plus there's the dispiriting sense of what the IRNEs have turned into backstage - a vile exhibition of arm-twisting and back-biting.  It wasn't supposed to be that way.  The IRNEs are entirely a volunteer organization, of critics who do indeed love the art form they cover; they "owe" the grasping Kati Mitchell and Shawn LaCount, as well as the theatre companies they represent, precisely nothing.  And yet both feel entitled to attack and bad-mouth these volunteers at will.  They're just disgusting.

Never fear, however - I'm not abandoning the Hub Review. (Then the bitch really would have won.)  Mitchell and LaCount may have tarnished the IRNEs, but who knows - things change, and if there's any justice, Mitchell will be struck by lightning and a piano will fall on LaCount.  And as my partner pointed out, the only practical difference to me is that now I don't have to cover their mediocre theatre companies anymore.  Because that rogue's gallery of "usual suspects" I listed above - the ART, Company One, et. al. - are, indeed, the shallow end of the theatrical talent pool, the ones who have to lean on money, clout, or political correctness to "win" awards.

So I'll keep writing.  I have to.  If I quit, the amount of theatre coverage in Boston is almost cut in half!  And I'm really not concerned that my reputation for skeptical, fair-minded analysis will be at all impacted by this whole imbroglio.  Everyone knows I'm the strongest, most versatile, and most prolific critic in town.  That's why Kati wants me gone.  But yes, it's true that if you poke me enough, I will respond with a word like a**hole - and that's just the way it is.


  1. I did wonder a few times if there was something afoot. I am very glad you will continue Hub review. I admit that I do not attend (m)any performances beyond Boston Ballet (since I live in Toronto) but I appreciate good writing and critical thought. I also appreciate the apparent enthusiasm for art as a medium to say something of interest and value. I would have lost a cherished source of entertainment and education should Hub review have shut down. And, on that purely selfish note I will close.

  2. Thanks Doug! I'll do my best to keep up that enthusiasm despite what's gone on the past few weeks. And sorry to have revealed to the world (I've got steady readers all over the globe now) what goes on behind the scenes in Boston! But I suppose it's the same everywhere, isn't it; power (the ART) and ideology (Company One) always corrupt.

  3. I'm just glad that we'll not be deprived of The Hub Review.