I'm reporting a story about some of the weirder arcana surrounding playwrights' royalties, and I just got a call from a well-known playwright who didn't want to talk about royalties at all but who said, essentially, that his income in the theater has been "destroyed" by Ben Brantley, Charles Isherwood, and Peter Marks, that he thinks the NY Times' coverage is "shallow and snotty," and that he longs for the days of Frank Rich, when serious plays and writers were taken seriously, and the theater was the place for "civic dialogue, not the place where Harry Connick Jr. takes off his shirt."
It's hard to know how to respond to all this, except to wonder at the disproportionate power that is ascribed to Times critics, both by detractors and admirers (this playwright also claimed, and I'd love to hear if anyone can back this up, that the Pulitzer has never gone to a play that the Times critics have "not done handstands for"). Is there any other field in which critics are perceived to have this much power? Is that a function of critics' scarcity, or of the relative fragility of theater, either aesthetically or commercially? I'm not asking all this rhetorically; this level of vitriol directed at two individuals—peers, as I think of them, in fact—is pretty new to me, except in the form of chatter on various blogs, and I'd like to try to understand it.
I do seem to recall that in his day, Rich was the object of similarly intemperate attacks (to the point that someone wrote a play called Frank Rich Is Dead).