As someone who writes reviews of films and theater, I’m no stranger to the creators of what I review lashing back at me if I say something critical about their work. Of course, this is nothing new — just recently Alec Baldwin called for the firing of New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley because he felt Brantley’s review of his recent play was too harsh and said nobody he knows likes Brantley anyway — but most people in the arts seem to understand that the simple act of making your work public immediately opens yourself up to criticism, both constructive and petty. However, because of the internet and social media, it’s easier for those criticized to bite back.
Such is the case with playwright Neil LaBute and a recent review of his play Reasons to be Happy, which is now running off-Broadway at the MCC Theatre and stars The Office‘s Jenna Fischer and Crossing Jordan‘s Leslie Bibb. Time Out‘s David Cole not only gave the play a negative review, but he called aspects of it boorish, monotonous, predictable, and banal. In fact, he began his review with, “If Neil LaBute were to teach a course on playwriting, I bet his lesson plan would look something like this: ‘Week 1: Dumbing down characters to pad out dialogue and pump up conflict'” and it just went downhill from there.
Minutes after the review went online, a commentator by the handle of “neil labute” responded:
david: actually i have taught writing courses at various universities and workshops and my lesson plan invariably begins by having students read the collected works of George Steiner, who was clever enough to remind us that “a critic casts a eunuch’s shadow.” some shadows, of course, are more portly than others but their effect on mankind is basically the same. brief and passing. keep enjoying the free tickets while they last. nl
The MCC Theatre would not confirm to Entertainment Weekly if the comment was actually written by LaBute, but did respond, “We can confirm that Mr. LaBute is indeed the author of Reasons to Be Happy, the new MCC production that opened to rave reviews from just about every critic that matters.”
Cote noted to Entertainment Weekly that this isn’t the first run-in he has had with a “neil labute,” with the two trading shots in 2009 when Cote wrote about LaBute’s relationship with the MCC Theatre. Cote remarked to EW, “I wasn’t surprised to see that Neil made a comment – but I was taken by the speed. Fifteen minutes! He might have written a new play in that time. If I were to review the comment, I’d say formulaic and lazily composed: one star. If he paid genuine attention to his critics, though, his work might improve.”
So Daily Actor readers, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think LaBute should have responded in such a way, or do you find that petty? Should artists ever respond to critics in such a manner, or what should be the limits?