Aug 25, 2006

The Courage Files

So Jeremy McCarter at New York mag has weighed in, with a kind of reverse take from many reviews, which have praised Streep but deplored the production. This play wouldn't be doing its job, in my opinion, if it didn't stir up this much dispute. (Garrett Eisler is right, though, that the review to look for will, if not the last word, be Feingold's.) The tally thus far, for those who care: In the thumbs-up column are the Post's Frank Scheck, Variety's David Rooney, New York Mag's Jeremy McCarter, Bloomberg's John Simon, USA Today's Elysa Gardner, and yours truly. The only thumbs way down are Eric Grode's at the New York Sun, but many of his criticisms are echoed in the mixed-to-negative reviews by Ben Brantley and Charles McNulty, of the respective Timeses and Linda Winer of Newsday. I should add that my Internet-only colleagues, Matthew Murray at Talkin' Broadway and David Finkle at Theatermania, both more or less echo the Streep-good-production-bad meme. UPDATE: As does Alexis Greene of The Hollywood Reporter and Back Stage's Leonard Jacobs. Two out-of-towners, Peter Marks of the Washington Post and Jeffrey-Eric Jenkins of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, are distinctly underwhelmed. Meanwhile, another pair of out-of-towners give top-to-bottom raves: The Philadelphia Inquirer's Toby Zinman and the Connecticut Courant's Malcolm Johnson. MORE: Andy Propst at American Theatre Web has a rave. And apart from a few quibbles, so does Time Out's Adam Feldman. By my count, that's nine positives vs. ten mixed-to-negative reviews. Not quite a rout, and far from a consensus. UPDATE: We can add another in the rave column, such as it is: The New Yorker's Hilton Als. Als is an odd bird who makes even odder claims and goes on private tangents with only passing relationship to the work at hand; plus he gives a cheap, unjustified slap to Jenifer Lewis as seeming like a "refugee from the chitlin' circuit." I was looking forward to seeing John Lahr parse this one, but then we wouldn't have seen a comparison between Streep and Candy Darling, or been privy to this doozy: "Streep almost single-handedly ended the era of the free-floating spoof, as she ushered in the kind of nuanced psychological and historical narratives that would define the American film industry from the seventies on." Hmmm. UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout doesn't much care for the production or for Streep, based on the excerpt on his blog. I dispute no critic's honest reaction to a work, but from the persistent chorus deploring the choices of Streep, Kushner, and Wolfe to make the play entertaining, funny, dazzling (to my mind they simply mined the potential of the play, according to their own native skills, and in that way were truer to Brecht than any pseudo-orthodox rendering), you'd think some critics would prefer to see Brecht done in pure white light, as at the Berliner Ensemble, with no laughs, no pathos, no "stars," and God forbid, no special effects. I think alienation and blunt pedantics are easy; you-really-like-me sentimentality is easy; the trick with Brecht, and this play in particular, is to hit both the pathos and the chill, which is in itself a jarring, not-smooth blend. I thought the production hit that balance better than any I've seen. UPDATE: The Siegels echo the Streep-great-production-bad chorus. And a fellow blogger, Joshua James, has a shoot-from-the-hip rave. For those keeping score, that's 11 positives, 12 mixed-to-negatives. Still awaiting the verdicts of The Observer's John Heilpern (did he drag Eric Bentley along this time, I wonder?) and the Voice's Michael Feingold. OOPS: Missed one daily review, Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz, whose thumbs are mostly down. Make it an unlucky 13 disses.

1 comment:

Joshua James said...

I also have a review posted on my site that perhaps you may be interested in.