Monday, January 16, 2012

Okay, you thought Charles Isherwood was a crazy queen? You forgot about Hilton Als!

I've already deconstructed Charles Isherwood's review of Lydia Diamond's Stickfly - do I really have to do the same thing for the New Yorker's equally-erratic theatre queen, Hilton Als?  I suppose I should, but frankly, I'm not sure I can - Als' truly bizarre pan of this smart, funny, complicated play simply defies description.  His post on the New Yorker's "Culture Desk" is a critical (and maybe psychological) car crash of epic proportions; indeed, I'm not sure I've read a paroxysm quite this incoherently breathless since Kael saw Brando naked in Last Tango in Paris - Al seems to have been undone mentally in some deep way by Diamond's play.  He rants that Stickfly "panders to black audiences" by "revering whitey" while simultaneously "putting down whitey"!!  Uh-huh.  And trust me, that's not the half of it.

It's almost weird what this play is doing to New York, isn't it.  Who could have guessed it would prove this radical?  The spectacle of a big, well-made drama, written by a black woman, about a black experience of wealth and power that exists largely independent of white experience seems to have driven the town's critics, white and black, completely nuts.  What gives?  I wish I knew; but let me think about it some more, and I'll get back to you.  (In the meantime, see the play; up here in Boston we showered it with awards for a reason.)

4 comments:

  1. I stopped reading Hilton's review after the title. If Stick Fly is pandering to black audiences, wait until he sees a Tyler Perry show. His head will explode.

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  2. Race seems to be addling the New Yorker quite a bit lately - as Art recently pointed out, their OTHER critic, the marginally-more-reliable (but only marginally) John Lahr, recently railed against "infernal" (!) all-black productions of Tennessee Williams. What's going on over there?

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  3. Why the blatant homophobia? I agree, Als and Isherwood are awful, dimwitted critics. What does calling them queens add to the conversation/your argument?

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  4. You'd prefer covert homophobia? Actually, these jibes (though crude) are central to the long-form argument I've been developing for some time here at the Hub Review - only this time directed at my own tribe (I'm as gay as either of those two girls). Part of what makes Isherwood and Als such weak critics is their own stylized "homosexual" stance; they deploy this as a kind of camouflage for their dim-wittedness. I mean, queers are SUPPOSED to know from theatre, right? They have better taste than straights, are obsessed with performance, blah blah blah, you know the drill. All I'm really doing is reversing the stereotype they're depending on for their authority.

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