Thursday, October 20, 2011

You know, maybe Chuck does kind of suck

I guess I've been a little slow admitting to myself what a lot of other people have been saying for quite some time:

Maybe Charles Isherwood does suck.

I just finished reading a rave - and I mean a rave - from Isherwood for a play I gave nearly a pan when I saw it last spring, Stephen Karam's Sons of the Prophet.  I advised Karam, in fact, to do a thorough rewrite - but it doesn't sound like he has, because Isherwood cites every plot point I recall from last spring.

And man, does he gush.  Isherwood weeps over the play's "many soul-piercing truths."  He calls it "an absolutely wonderful new comedy-drama . . .that shines a clarifying light into some of life's darker passages."  He says it's the first important play of the season.

Yet six months ago I described the play as "a car crash . . . an entertaining, funny one, mind you . . . but still a car crash . . . that doesn't really have anything new to say." I will note that director Peter DuBois (who handled his duties well) has recast his lead role - which I'm sure helped with what I called the "void" at the center of the script. But still . . .

See, I'm also struggling with Isherwood's review of Mary Zimmerman's Candide. Everyone I know felt it was the show of the year; several friends saw it twice (I saw it three times). Isherwood, however, called its Goodman Theatre version "polished, pretty and well-sung," but insisted it faltered because Zimmerman returned to the original Voltaire, which made the show "a punishing three-hour ride."

Okay, so, in the world according to Isherwood, Voltaire = punishing; Stephen Karam = soul-piercing and wonderful.

Now, maybe I'm crazy, but honestly - I don't think that's how history is going to view those two authors.  That's how a certain pseudo-intellectual, self-satisfied segment of the gay (and gay-friendly) audience may view those two authors; but  I am 99.9999% confident that people will still be reading Candide long after Stephen Karam - and certainly Charles Isherwood - are long forgotten.  And right now the feeling that Isherwood's dismissive review may be hurting Candide's chances of being seen in New York are beginning to really irk me.

(Sorry for the gay-bashing, btw, but one attribute of my own tribe that really irritates me sometimes is its propensity to imagine that simply being gay makes one stylishly insightful.  It ain't necessarily so.)

I also can't forget Isherwood's wild over-promotion of Sarah Ruhl - he called the sweet, but slight (and often vapid) Euridyce "devastatingly lovely," and basically launched the fatuous playwright's career in New York.  But when I saw Eurydice, I was - well, underwhelmed, to say the least; I noted that it played like jottings from an undergraduate's journal.  (I later discovered while reading an interview with Ruhl that my surmise was literally true.)

So who's ahead so far, would you say?  I'm siding with Voltaire; Chuck's with Sarah and Stephen. Hell, this is even making me think twice about Adam Rapp - if "the Ish" hates his latest, perhaps it's great!  Although I will say this - I was probably right to argue that he should be taken off the Adam Rapp "beat," as Isherwood requested in a now-notorious column.  In fact, I don't think I went far enough in that argument - Isherwood should be taken off everybody's beat.  This silly, superficial man has done enough damage to the theatrical scene already.


  1. Perhaps he goes to far in praise, but you undercut your own credibility by going too far in the opposite direction. Both of these plays were very good nights at the theatre and these playwrights deserve encouragement and praise.

  2. Honey, I don't worry about my own credibility, that was established long ago. (And if you disagree, my advice is always the same - don't read the blog!) "Sons of the Prophet" is funny - I said as much - but an important new play? Sorry, no way. But you know, as someone once pointed out to me, superficial people generally take the superficial as profound, and the profound as superficial. I've finally admitted to myself that Isherwood belongs in that category, and that people have coddled him for far too long (myself included!) because we all want to believe in the currently-popular vision of the urbane gay male as the appropriate designated arbiter of art. But we've got TWO witty queens reviewing at the Times now; surely that counts as over-validation. Maybe it's time heterosexuality got a voice again at the Grey Lady?