Trapped in Iowa�s Puzzle Locker with Ivan Bellman (Part None)

I thought I would open this series with a little email feud between two University Theater Journalists . . . Dum di Dum’s stint as academic Theater Fag Hag is all too familiar. But perhaps some Freshman somewhere will read this and switch her major back to philosophy . . . I’m only trying to help. Let’s all wear black sweatpants and Nikes before we dig into the chocolate pudding! I’m just jealous, jaded and pissed off that A) I never got to sleep with Psychic Girl 2) I never got into Dana’s pants.


I apologize in advance for the perhaps…unexpected nature of this e-mail. I am a friend of Ivan Bellman, the director of The Puzzle Locker at Iowa with whom you’ve recently had contact. I also am the author of the review of The Puzzle Locker at the University of Rochester that ran in our paper, The Campus Times, during my senior year last spring. Ian forwarded me his correspondence with you knowing that I would be interested in what you had to say. I, of course, couldn’t let your comments go un-responded to.

First, let me say that your review was very well written. I envy the staff at your university’s newspaper, as our oft closed-minded editors wouldn’t have let me write that much, let alone go into so much detail. Or use the word “fuck” for that matter. I usually had to fight to even get a review in our paper. Perhaps it’s the curse of a writer without desire to join the editorial staff. Thanks a lot, free speech.

I’m a theater girl. I’ve been an actor and active audience member for as long as I can remember, and I’m pretty passionate about both. The only thing better than attending a play, in my book, is being in one. Not only do I consider myself a well versed (and well read) theater goer, but I also understand production nuances that a normal audience member who lacks direct theater experience may not be able to grasp. Trust me when I say that I “get” theater. Perhaps more than you do. I’m not cocky about many things in life, but my knowledge and breadth of theater experience is certainly on the list. That, and my handwriting. And I’m a pretty good kisser. But I digress.

I had a wonderful time during my four years at the University of Rochester, in and out of the classroom. A lot of that “wonderful” came from my work with the theater. I found a niche there, and obviously bonded with fellow actors, stage managers, directors and professors. From within the department, surrounded by drama-philes, we often had trouble understanding why our productions weren’t very well attended by the greater student body. So when I interned as a PR director for the theater department my junior year, part of my crusade for bigger audiences started with our newspaper. I had written for them before, and thought I could use it as my platform for reaching out to the students. This was a difficult task. In a dream world, if I was writing solely for the theater crowd, my reviews would’ve sounded far different. But I found myself having to compromise some of my writing desires to try and fulfill my task of bringing in more bodies to the theater. I never changed my opinion. If I didn’t like a play, you’d know it. But my personal ties to the department, and my desire for its success often forced me to “dumb down” my reviews to try and pull from a crowd that doesn’t normally watch plays. (You may think of this as “condescending,” as you noted. I just think of it as an attempt at targeted advertising.) This often resulted in pulling out some of the more notable, “interesting” aspects of the production–the dirt, the girls in their underwear, etc. I didn’t enjoy pushing aside my “journalist integrity” to try and lure people in. But in this case, my devotion to the theater department overruled my devotion to the paper. You called me a shill–I wasn’t standing at the side of the street trying to get people to guess which cup the stone was under…I was carefully selecting my words to try and get people to see plays that I really liked, in hopes that they would return for more shows and the department would benefit. I wished I had more time and space in the paper to write about what I did like about the show–the music and sound, the precise lighting, the hidden comedy in the most absurd circumstances, the otherworldy feeling of the play, its innocence and silliness like a children’s game of make believe, juxtaposed with these intense moments of mortality and loss of childhood. I had pages of notes on this show. I was forced, by my editor and my intentions, to try and pare it down to what I deemed the bare minimum. Perhaps I should’ve had more faith in my student peers, but 3 years of small audiences pushed me to try a new angle. As a result we had some great audiences for this show and I would like to think, in the most ego-centric way, that I hand a hand in that increased attendance.

I want you to also keep in mind that the productions that we saw were, I’m sure, incredibly different. Ivan Bellman and Nigel Maister are very different directors, and this play obviously leaves plenty of room for production interpretation. Please don’t apply my review or my thoughts on the Rochester production to the one you saw. It would be unfair. That being said, I think it’s incredibly important, as a reviewer, for you to open your mind a bit more. You express your lack of enthusiasm for plays that can be read “a thousand different ways,” but that is what theater is, in essence. Directors and producers and actors can go out there with specific motivations, and a goal in mind, but as it is with all art, it’s really up to your interpretation. And maybe it relates back to your particular taste for theater, that you like plays with more “specificity.” If this is the case, perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to diss Ivan’s production when it seems that you’re the one unwilling to interpret what he has laid out for you. You fight for the theater audience, saying they are willing to experience new things and open their minds. Do you then, not consider yourself a “theater audience?”

I apologize for using e-mail, an incredibly (for lack of a better word) pussy means of defense to throw my rebuttal at you. But I figured it’d be creepy if I showed up at your doorstep. And I couldn’t let your digs at me just hang there. I have a repuatation to uphold, even if it’s only what I see in the mirror.

Hugz ‘n’ Kisses,
Dana Mittelman

If you find yourself bored in the middle of the night: 
(and yes, I realize that the word should be “torrent” and not “torrid.” Human editing isn’t foolproof.)

the above resulted in the following to be printed in Rochester’s city newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle:

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