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June 17, 2008


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Supposedly, Isherwood and Brantley have a rivalry and dislike each other. While Brantley was in London last summer, Isherwood snuck to Chicago to review "August."

As for Mr. Als pretentious airs, who knows. What I really think bugs the two reviewers is that the audience had too good of a time enjoying the play. Surely, nothing with anything to say could be so ENJOYABLE. How dare anyone make theatre ENTERTAINING? (BTW, nobody ever laughed at "Mama's Family" so it's at least funnier than that horrible show.)

Those who claim that "August" has nothing to say about America, have little to back up their claims. They may not like the plot twists, which is their right, but it's plainly evident that the Westons have been dramatically affected by the violent nature of how America got to be America.

Hilton Als negates any legitimate analysis about the play for ridiculing the acting and directing in August. Even for people that think "August" is "soapy" never find fault with the actors or direction. The second act is universally lauded as one of the best acts and scenes in recent history and rightfully so.

As for Als' original review, it pissed me off the first time I read it that the second and third paragraphs are spent analyzing and quote Letts' STAGE DIRECTIONS. Stage directions? We're analyzing the stage directions of a 3.5 hour play? Since when is a play reviewed by the stage directions? I wasn't aware the audience in New York or Chicago paid $50-$250 reading stage directions. I thought the lights came up, and an ensemble came out and acted their freaking guts out. It's as if Als, went out of his way to show this playwright from Chicago, couldn't hold the LITERARY candle to O'Neil and Williams rather than backing up his distate for the play by writing about the production he saw.

As a Shakespeare professor once said to my class, "Plays are meant to be seen not read." He then took us to as many Shakespeare plays as possible and invited actors to the class. My 19-year-old self, 14 years ago, knew about theatre criticism than Hilton Als currently does.


This just shows how irrelevant Ben Brantley has become in the world of arts criticism. As David Hare said last year in a very public tussle with the New York Times, Brantley is a "critic who despises theater". With this pathetic, undignified, and desperate grab for attention, he just doesn't despise theater, he obviously does not understand it too.


"People" (and I use that term liberally) like Als and Brantley, so obviously full of self-loathing, should rightfully be viewed as objects of our pity, anachronistic little toads whose only purpose in life is to attempt to tell the rest of the world that they matter. They do not. They are nothing.


fine, I'll be the one to say it.

what a douche.


stupid bitches. every one.

Scott Walters

I saw "August: Osage County" on the Sunday of the Tony, and I will say it had the finest direction and acting that I have seen in a long, long time. I think you are right about the non-NYC backlash -- Steppenwolf is an ensemble, not a random collection of actors thrown together to do a show in three weeks, and their acting chops puts most Broadway acting to shame. It has a truthfulness and a power that is exemplary. The direction was incredible. Her ability to shift audience attention from place to place smoothly, and the orchestration of the many overlapping conversations was simply extraordinary. What an amazing show!

Jon Steinhagen

Bear with me. I sometimes have a big mouth, and it usually gets me in trouble.

Few things anger me more than what I consider to be irresponsible criticism. Who are these men, and where are their editors? I don't advocate mass censorship, but these gentlemen have, in my opinion, a responsibility to their readers. A responsibility to provide analysis and evaluation, not soundbytes of vitriol just for the sake of sounding superior, snarky, clever, bitchy or - in these instances - jealous. I'm writing a new play at the moment that deals with these themes, and I, too, notice that I have to watch myself while writing so that I don't do a downward spiral into dogmatism, running the risk of isolating my audience.

Mud flinging like this is not criticism. In my opinion, valuable criticism is that which takes the democratic rather than authoritarian road. I suppose we all attempt to relate new experiences to others by use of comparison to that which is already known. But referencing "Mama's Family?" How long will that easy shot be a relevant comparison? How many twentysomething folk with a possible interest in theatre have any knowledge of this show?

I wonder why these writers can't live up to the erudite and smart reputations they are supposed to have and turn their criticism around: construct rather than destruct, encourage rather than denigrate. One could argue (in their cases) that criticism is being used as an antisocial tool, psychologically speaking. Do they aim to protect the so-called mystique of Broadway by reducing Chicago-originated Art to pithy bon-mots about accents and stage directions? Personally, if you're going to tell me the direction of a play is bad, I want to know why it is so. The criticism must be supported, otherwise the writing becomes as annoying as the fat, racist uncle who smokes cigars and bitches about the world at every family BBQ just for the sake of being noticed. I'm less interested in problems than I am in solutions.

I now descend from my soapbox. I thank you for your time. Light refreshment will be served in the next room.

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  • Kris Vire
    I write about theater for Time Out Chicago. I write more about it here.

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