Stage coverage at the Boston Globe/NPR brain trust is generally dedicated to serving the rich and the trendy — the publicity gum drop for Finding Neverland is the latest evidence that the fix is in for the fat cats.
By Bill Marx
Patti “Scoop” Hartigan was back on the Finding Neverland trail for the Boston Globe yesterday. J. M. Barrie may have had trouble finding the enchanted territory, but a stage reporter is made of sterner stuff, especially when an editor calls him or her to duty — so more puff was rolled out for the big musical, which is currently being manufactured at Harvard University’s American Repertory Theater to Broadway/West End specifications. This was a short but amusing update on the process, with assurances that film producer Harvey Weinstein’s ‘creative’ contributions are taken by all with humorous aplomb. (Perhaps a Harvard Professorship in Dramaturgy is in the offing for the Hollywood mini-mogul?) My favorite infotainment line: “Many of those involved in the show say they’re rediscovering their inner child — or inner Peter Pan.” Creating profitable ‘family’ entertainment for the Broadway/Las Vegas nexus no doubt demands a single-minded dedication to regression – adult sensibility must be banished if a Glee-full experience is to be created for all. Today, dumbing down is an elemental requirement for artists and educational institutions on the hunt for mega bucks.
That said, let me thank the adults who contacted me after my last From the Editor’s Desk. Via e-mail I heard from a few readers who were unhappy with my “tirade” against Diane Paulus’s commercial sensibility and the slavish Boston Globe/NPR coverage. One respondent argued that A.R.T productions had become “incomprehensible” before Paulus took over, so the current turn to ‘innovative” musicals was refreshing. Another suggested that performers needed jobs and that she was arranging that handily – pushing theatrical boundaries should take a back seat to economics. Hypocrisy, when it generates cash and national awards, is the American way. But I had a number of theater people and readers who strongly agreed with my line of attack, sometimes telling me in person that it was reassuring to have these points about theatrical doublethink aired, that they were embarrassed by what the A.R.T. had turned into. And horrified by what this crass model meant for the future of non-profit theater.
Much of what I said was not new — a recent lively conversation on the online ‘theater commons’ HowlRound also dealt with the passionate concerns of those who feel that regional theaters are fouling their creative souls by going Broadway. But HowlRound is an industry bulletin board, so the exchanges tended to contain special pleading galore and bad faith aplenty — condemnations of non-profit regional theaters ‘selling out’ were vented by those who were already taking the plunge or – if given the opportunity – would go the Paulus glitterati/moneybags route if they could. Suggestions from HowlRound honchos that regional theaters sign a pledge to maintain strict standards of aesthetic quality and ethical integrity proved just how innocent and/or ineffectual an exercise in talk for the sake of saying there was talk can be. (Just who is going to police this agreement? The ghost of William Shakespeare? And the punishment?)
The answer to the downward spiral is that those who care about serious theater must support it by sustaining marginal groups that are doing something different, who march to a genuinely risky, non-safe drummer. It would be great if the mainstream media was on the right side of this cultural response, if critics and reporters made a special effort to nurture imaginative theater that challenged audiences. But stage coverage at the Globe/NPR brain trust is generally dedicated to serving the rich and the trendy — the publicity gum drop for Finding Neverland is the latest evidence that the fix is in for the fat cats.
As for articles on The Arts Fuse, there were a number of strong pieces this past week I am proud to have posted. In terms of critical spikiness, I particularly recommend Franklin Einspruch’s review of the “overcrowded, cloying” Jamie Wyeth retrospective at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Jonathan Blumhofer’s tough-minded commentary about management’s responsibility for the mess at New York’s Metropolitan Opera was linked to by ArtsJournal and garnered thousands of page views. I hope to have a follow-up once we see if the threatened lockout of the unions becomes a reality.
In terms of providing illuminating context, Betsy Sherman’s feature does at least partial justice to the massive Fritz Lang retrospective currently running at the Harvard Film Archive. She looks at how the noir vision of Lang’s Scarlet Street re-imagines its source, Jean Renoir’s La Chienne. I love that photo of Edward G Robinson painting Joan Bennett’s toe nails. Harvey Blume’s review of a biography of early Zionist leader Vladmir Jabotinsky expertly combines critical and political evaluation. For those who want homegrown theater magic, the kind that is not concocted for export but made to stay in Massachusetts, Terry Byrne’s critique makes a strong case for Double Edge Theatre’s Shahrazad, A Tale of Love and Magic. Think about giving your inner child a treat and driving out to Ashfield to see it.
Bill Marx is the Editor-in-Chief of The Arts Fuse. For over three decades, he has written about arts and culture for print, broadcast, and online. He has regularly reviewed theater for National Public Radio Station WBUR and The Boston Globe. He created and edited WBUR Online Arts, a cultural webzine that in 2004 won an Online Journalism Award for Specialty Journalism. In 2007 he created The Arts Fuse, an online magazine dedicated to covering arts and culture in Boston and throughout New England.