Oh Really? Really???

Please just fucking kill me.

In the New Yorker review of Young Jean’s show at the Kitchen Hilton Als leads with:

One generally hesitates before identifying a new trend in the American theatre, largely because language has a tendency to fix and limit the joy one feels at witnessing the stops and starts, the moments of grace, and the moments of awkwardness in the work of a fledgling director, performer, or playwright. One senses, however, that the thirty-four-year-old playwright and director Young Jean Lee wouldn’t be content with inchoate praise for her work—work that is both explicitly political in content and often mundane in tone. Like her contemporaries the up-and-coming playwrights David Adjmi and Thomas Bradshaw (Bradshaw performed in one of Lee’s early pieces), Lee is a facetious provocateur; that is, she does whatever she can to get under our skin—with laughs and with raw, brutal talk that at times feels gratuitous, and is meant to.

Its not that I disagree. I don’t. Its just that this is so “after-the-fact”!

Young Jean Lee & Thomas Bradshaw both studied with Mac Wellman at Brooklyn College. She did a show at the Ontological and Mark Russell booked her at PS122. Mark had left by the time Young Jean’s show was being developed (Pullman, WA) and during that time I got to know both of them. And when  Young Jean brought Thomas by the office to talk about his work I pushed it through and supported it and advocated for it with Vallejo who went on to promote and foster both of these artists.  During my brief tenure at IRT I gave both Thomas and Young Jean residencies to develop the shows that Als ultimately wrote about in the New Yorker. Not to forget Soho Rep, Little Theater, The Brick, The Flea, BAX and all the other places that have supported these writers along the way and informed the discussions in and around the work.

The larger issue is that these artists, this idea, this “new trend” does not arise in a vacuum. There is a huge, rich, diverse, complicated, underfunded ecosystem where these “trends” are nurtured, explored, devised, discussed and refined. And it is NOT part of the mainstream theater world.  I started Culturebot to cover THAT world – and thus I’ve been writing – and talking –  about this “new trend in American theatre” for a long time.

Not to mention that both of these writers have been, at different times, featured in PRELUDE and that this past year we also featured Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and others who are totally cutting edge on this.

So okay, first off, Mr. Als – how about doing an article on PRELUDE this year? We would love to discuss current trends in American theater with you. Or how about an article on the ecology of downtown theater/performance where ALL the innovation comes from? How about helping downtown out a little bit by more by enlightening your readership about the essential role that “downtown” plays in the cultivation of new voices and investigation? 

Oh and Hey!! David Remnick! I know I didn’t go to an Ivy League school and I don’t have a master’s degree but if you’d like someone to cover the arts from the trenches and not the Ivory Tower, I’d be glad to help out.

6 thoughts on “Oh Really? Really???”

  1. parabasis says:

    Hey Andy,

    I think the Als “review” is worse than that. He also gets some facts about Young Jean’s career wrong. She did not (for example) move to New York City already an established experimental playwright for example, she started as a dramaturg on a show at Soho Rep (Attempts On Her Life, which I assistant directed). Furthermore, the “review” barely contains any actual comment on the show he saw on a qualitative level, and he gives away the ending something most critics of the show have been very careful not to do (I should know, I had to read all of them for Criticometer!). Arg.

  2. Bogan Dust says:

    Whats your Ivory tower anti-eltism thing here? Its confusing. Am I wrong to think that Hilton Als isn’t neccessarily “ivory tower”? And, why, for example, isn’t anybody excited that it wasn’t a review of, oh I don’t know…PAL JOEY? THE CHERRY ORCHARD?? Its a full page review in a national magazine with millions of subscribers for an off-off-broadway show with a three weekend run at The Kitchen. The Kitchen. Isn’t that even kinda cool? She’s not even eligible for an OBIE! The Kitchen!!!

  3. Andy says:

    Hey Bogan –

    Okay, first off, The New Yorker probably has, at most, one million readers worldwide. That’s a lot but it is not massive. Secondly the Kitchen is not an “off-off-broadway” theater. It is a contemporary art space that presents work ranging from visual art to music to performance. Work that is presented at the Kitchen is only perceived as marginal by the mainstream theater world – if the Obies and Drama Desk and all those folks are too hidebound and narrow-minded to understand what’s happening there, that says more about the sorry state of “theater” than it does about anything else. Besides, I’m pretty sure Young Jean already won an Obie.

    As to the “Ivory Tower” point – let me clarify. I’m not upset about Hilton Als writing on Young Jean. I’m delighted. And I was thrilled to see his piece on Thomas Bradshaw. I don’t have anything against Hilton Als in the least, I think he’s a great writer, I always appreciate his writing and I’m always happy to see “downtown” artists get recognition in an “uptown” publication.

    And god knows I’m glad that the space was devoted to Young Jean rather than PAL JOEY. However I would have welcomed a thoughtful analysis of why Sam Mendes’ CHERRY ORCHARD was so deeply flawed. I think critical analysis of “big” theater is sorely lacking – and critical thinking on downtown theater is almost entirely absent from mainstream cultural conversations.

    And that is, ultimately, what prompted me to write this post. The New Yorker and other thoughtful, critical, mainstream publications should not be waiting so long to cover these artists or this strata of work. Young Jean, Thomas, Radiohole, NTUSA, Jenny Schwartz, Kristen Kosmas, Will Eno, The Debate Society and countless other artists that I’ve covered on these pages represent a vast and vital creative ecology. There are writers, actors, ensembles, directors, curators, producers, musicians – countless people working outside of the mainstream of theater that, for various reasons, are unrecognized and underanalyzed. They are reviewed by writers who are, largely, going to see “theater” and applying an inappropriate, outdated criteria to the work.

    The New Yorker should recognize that these artists do not come into existence by accident or happenstance, that there is an entire community of people working tirelessly, usually without pay and often without recognition, to

    keep theater and live performance vital, relevant and exciting. We need the work to be reviewed more often and more thoughtfully, we need the intelligentsia and the establishment to try harder to seek out provocative and thoughtful work, to deepen the critical dialogue around the work.

    Personally in my work at PS122 and with PRELUDE and with Culturebot, I have been an avid advocate for deep dramaturgy, for introduction of rigorous scholarship and ideas into the creative process. Like in Greek mythology, the flash of inspiration (Hermes) is always paired with order and structure (Apollo). Arts and ideas go hand in hand, Beckett’s work was Existentialism staged.

    We need the Fourth Estate to step up and stop being like Siskel and Ebert offering consumer advice on how to best spend your entertainment dollar and be more like the philosopher and cultural critics of the past, providing an informed public with a forum to examine arts and ideas together.

    I’m glad Hilton Als wrote about Young Jean. I’m frustrated that he makes it sound as if he discovered this new thing when in fact this work – and these ideas – have been evolving in the downtown “petri dish” for at least five years if not more…

    The odds of something interesting, important, innovative or relevant ever happening in a big Equity house are close to zero. Those writers who are supposed to be tackling big ideas and trends in culture should be looking downtown (and in Brooklyn and Queens) more often.

  4. jojo says:

    “We need the work to be reviewed more often and more thoughtfully, we need the intelligentsia and the establishment to try harder to seek out provocative and thoughtful work, to deepen the critical dialogue around the work.”

    We need the “establishment” to go away and stop messing with our fun – as for criticism – you don’t need the recognition of the New Yorker it come up with your own opinion of a downtown show. Peace.

  5. Gary Winter says:

    Andy-And don’t forget the Brooklyn Rail. They cover theater before it happens, viz. in-depth essays and interviews. Then the theater-goer can go see the piece with some background and make up his or her own mind about the work.

    Gary Winter

    (sometime contributer to The Rail)

  6. tinderfoot says:

    I’m sure to sell this piece to his editor, Mr. Als had to say something like “It’s not just a review of a three week run off-off Bway show at the Kitchen, this piece has got so much The Way We Live Now/Theater In America in it.” Which is totally annoying.

    Also Andy, I very much agree that a critical analysis of “big theater” is in very much in order. It’s like critics of big plays are fish who don’t know they’re in water. How could The Cherry Orchard, from the fact that the actors seemed to be acting on different planets, to that embarassingly terrible dancing part, to the 4,000 pound Mendes hand emerge with OK to good reviews?

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