Debunking the Defense of ‘Essential Self-Defense’

For those of you keeping score at home, the Times thoroughly trounced Pulitzer-nominee Adam Rapp’s Essential Self-Defense, produced by Playwrights Horizons and the Edge Theater Company, prompting Carolyn Cantor (director) to send a letter to her loyal Edge Theater audience denouncing Isherwood’s opinion.

“The future health of the theater requires that we embrace material that challenges artists and audiences alike and it is enormously discouraging to be summarily dismissed by as influential a publication as the New York Times.”

Yes, maybe, but having seen the production, we’re inclined to second Mr. Isherwood’s critique. (But take that with a grain of salt. Opinions, assholes, etc.) Should the Times be the sole arbiter of taste in the city? No. But the playwright himself acknowledged that the show was an experiment, partly inspired by the works of downtown auteur Richard Maxwell. Sometimes experiments fail, despite the best efforts of a talented and proven creative team. Cantor mentions Eric Shim’s sound design received a Lortel nom, and while the sound design was superb, it’s rare one seeks out shows due to the awards accrued for its designers.

Of interest, Cantor recognizes in her letter the handful of bloggers who’ve wholeheartedly embraced the show. A move we applaud. The blogosphere needs to make further inroads into theatre as it has in the areas of politics, pop culture and media, so inviting the blognoscenti is great. What Cantor neglected to mention is that they offered comps to the bloggers and discount tickets to blog readers as a marketing tool and feted them with a “kegger” after the show. (And y’all know how bloggers will show up if there’s free booze. Or shrimp.) Cantor then utilized their pull quotes to show that, ya know, “the mainstream” doesn’t get it. Even though several mainstream outlets agreed with the Times’ assessment, like Variety,
the AP, the NY Post (mixed), even So, singling the Times out for publishing a review that reflected the sentiments of several other media outlets (and we’d imagine audience members) seems unfair.

It might be said that one of the essential self-defenses for one to produce and direct theater is to have a thick skin.

Under Ominous Cloud Formations, Ominous Anomie [NYT]
See Cantor’s full letter after the jump

You may have read a scathing review of Essential Self-Defense by Charles Isherwood in the New York Times. I feel compelled, because of that review, to reach out to Edge’s friends and fans.

I feel that Essential Self-Defense is exactly the kind of work that Edge Theater exists to support. The future health of the theater requires that we embrace material that challenges artists and audiences alike and it is enormously discouraging to be summarily dismissed by as influential a publication as the New York Times. I am as proud – if not more so – of this show than I have been about any Edge Theater production and I hope you won’t let one man’s opinion deter you from coming to see what we are up to.

Essential Self-Defense represents the work of artists who are reaching outside their comfort zone, something that I believe should be celebrated. It is the work of a playwright who is challenging himself, writing a play vastly different from any he has written before. It features some extraordinary acting and the kind of design that has been a hallmark of Edge Theater productions from the very beginning. I am proud to announce that we just received our first Lucille Lortel nomination for Eric Shim’s sound design. That nomination is due, in part, to the extraordinary work of our onstage band. Trust me, you haven’t seen anything like this before.

There are only fifteen performances left so if you want to help a small theater company like ours defy the power of the Times while enjoying an exhilirating, thought-provoking theatrical event, please don’t delay. Get your tickets now.

Indeed many critics – Mr. Isherwood notwithstanding – have responded enthusiastically to the production. Perhaps most exciting is that the community of theater bloggers, who represent a much younger and more adventurous audience than is typical have been enormously supportive of this production.

But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself:

“Adam Rapp is a latter-day Sam Shepard. Essential Self-Defense is an entertaining tale of fear and loathing in midwestern America.” – John Lahr, The New Yorker

“Rapp was born to wrestle words to the page and then to the stage; he has a love of language and a zest for his characters’ lives.” – David Cote, Time Out New York

“Paul Sparks is an absolute deadpan riot.” – Frank Scheck, New York Post

“Heater Goldenhersh gives one of the most unforgettable performances I’ve ever witnessed.” – John Simon, Bloomberg

“This often brilliant show is receiving a first-class production, courtesy of director Carolyn Cantor and a terrific cast led by Paul Sparks and Heather Goldenhersh.” – Dan Bacalzo, Theatermania

Click the links below to read what some New York theater blogs have to say about Essential Self-Defense:

“ESSENTIAL SELF-DEFENSE is one of the very best plays I have seen in a long time.”

“Wildly surprising and wonderfully offbeat.”

“Adam Rapp’s new play raises the fun bar.”

Check below for how to get discount tickets to this important play. I hope to see you at the theater.

Carolyn Cantor

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