Oct 11, 2011

Charles Not in Charge, Part III

I don't have much to add to Isherwoodgate (Isaac has been on the case), but I wanted to pass along this comment on the American Theatre Facebook page. It's a point of view you don't hear very often in these too-quick-to-righteous-anger debates. From Utah playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett:
As a playwright, I'm hurt and yet fascinated and sometimes secretly thrilled when people HATE my plays. To draw hate, or even lasting irritation, from somebody is an artistic accomplishment. Of course, it's not an accomplishment anybody likes claiming, but it's still impressive.

That Isherwood is so annoyed by Adam Rapp that he feels he has to avoid his work is really saying something. Rapp has moved his mind. Unfortunately for Isherwood, he's moved his mind in a way that he thinks is negative or maybe trivial. But I don't think Isherwood can really think Rapp is trivial if he's SO bent out of shape that he has to stop watching his plays!

Presumably, Isherwood is paid to review. Probably he doesn't even *have to pay* to see Rapp's plays. So he sees a bad play. So what? Sometimes work is boring. Why take it so personally?

As a playwright, even though I can get really hurt if somebody dislikes something, I still think, "You know, it's just a play. If you don't like it, that's okay. THERE ARE ALWAYS MORE PLAYS."

Also, bad reviews are a part of playwriting. I'm not put off by Isherwood's bad reviews. If you're a playwright, you have to accept and expect that people will totally and maybe irrationally *hate* what you've done. It may take three months to write a play, but it will always only take one second for someone to say, "That sucks." But that's the way it is.

I would only add one thought: I've been a little dismissive of the outrage on Rapp's behalf, from fans who wish Isherwood had done this ages ago and/or from sensitive theater folks who are hurt on any playwright's behalf. I do think that Rapp can stand it, and his career has shown few signs of being slowed by Isherwood's disdain. But if I do a thought experiment and imagine a playwright I admire, like, say, Conor McPherson, being subjected to the longstanding scorn of a powerful critic I don't admire (as I do Isherwood, in fact), I'm willing to admit that my view—roughly stated, that Isherwood shouldn't lose his nerve and retreat from the field—might be different.


isaac butler said...

I actually think this commentary is 100% wrong and representative of a rather dangerous mindset amongst contemporary theater makers that if you get any kind of response out of someone you are doing something right. Leaping from "Isherwood hates this writer's work he doesn't ever want to be subjected to it again" to "Adam Rapp... moved his mind" has no logical underpinning whatsoever.

The idea that if someone doesn't like something it's because you've done something so awesome/controversial/challenging/mindblowing/great that it's upset them is dangerous. Isherwood is sayin ghere that Adam Rapp's plays are really shitty and he has to see them all the time and their shittiness upsets him. There's nothing mind-moving in there.

When I saw WAR HORSE I was angry. Furious, actually. For days. Maybe even a week after. It's not because my mind was moved. It was because so much energy and ingenuity was going to serve (or perhaps create a gloss over) a truly terrible show, awfully directed (Except for the puppets) embarrassingly acted and written, with an overbearing score and a terrible folk song framing device. I still think about this show now, as it represents for me a lot of what's wrong with middlebrow spectacle-driven theater. Also, it's successful, wildly so, and so that reminds me of (and exacerbates my) hatred of it.

It didn't move me. It's a shitty show. I care about theater and art and want them to be good. So when something sucks and is wildly celebrated, it angers me. I recognize a similar thing in Isherwood's take on Rapp. The idea that Rapp was doing something right simply because Isherwood thinks he's lame makes no sense.

It's only one hop skip or jump from there to the work of Thomas Bradshaw. Or Neal LaBute. The idea that if you abuse your audience's humanity to get a response out of them that's equally valid to trying to give them some kind of meaningful experience. It's a terrible idea, and a terrible post-Royal Court trend in English language theater that must be stopped.

Rob Weinert-Kendt said...

I don't disagree on the substance, Isaac. What struck me as new in Matthew Ivan's post was his admission that inspiring hatred secretly thrilled him on some level. That seemed like a particularly honest acknowledgement of a pretty human impulse, however unhealthy. Yes, it's dangerous to hold that up as an aesthetic ideal or a standard, for either side of the discourse (artist or critic), but it's probably worth admitting that one thing (not the only thing or the best thing, certainly) that keeps us going as artists and/or bloggers is a certain relish for the fray. No?

Anonymous said...

Like any human being, I occasionally indulge in the deep dark negative pleasure of attention in whatever form it comes.

Of course I know that it's trapped to write to be liked. I don't think it's actually "dangerous" to think any kind of response is "right." At most it's misguided and juvenile. Isaac was reading in too much to my response. Flippancy, I think, has a way of coming out in the artistic wash. I don't worry about second-rate artists eating better than me because of their luck or charm. I think that's just the world.

On the relish for the fray...I think there's a hierarchy of preferred responses among writers. At the top is "I love it, you are brilliant." Second is "I hate it, you suck." And third is "Meh."

- Matthew Ivan Bennett