Friday, November 14, 2008

The Times notices Off Off Chicago (a belated grouse)

I am not one to usually grouse at the New York Times or the current bete noir of theater blogs, Charles Isherwood. I feel like, though Isherwood and the Times have their problems, so does theater media in general in New York, and really, the reason that The New York Times is the only game in town is that it is the only daily that makes any credible effort towards covering theater.

But I would think that knowledge of the New York theater scene should be a prerequisite, and it does gall me that Isherwood seems totally ignorant of anything but the most high profile work. When I first came to New York, Mel Gussow was the second stringer, and I often fantasized during the first few years of having him come to my theater. He has, sadly, passed away now, though I was lucky enough to at least have him moderate a discussion on Ionesco during my Ionesco Festival. His reviews were always extremely smart, a lesson in theater as well as a review, and he found numerous artists off the beaten path whom he chose to highlight. After he retired from reviewing, he wrote books on Beckett, Miller, Stoppard and Pinter, among others (long form interviews with them, really). I miss him.

All this is said as a prelude to my belated grouse. I was looking at last Sunday's Arts and Leisure section, when I saw an article entitled Prolific Director Off Off Off Off Broadway. In some ways my hackles were raised immediately: I hate it when people add Off Off the Off-Off-Broadway term (One reason I prefer the term independent theater), trying to make a further hierarchy among the small, disenfranchised theaters of New York.

But in fact, the truth was much much worse. Or, to mirror the headline, it was Much Much Much Much Worse. For the director, David Cromer, who was supposedly obscure, was only obscure because he had done a few shows off the beaten Chicago. Here, of course, he has recently directly the highly visible and successful Off-Broadway productions of The Adding Machine (won an Obie and a Lortel) , as well as the very successful Orson's Shadow which had its start at a tiny little theater in Chicago...called Steppenwolf.

My God, is that what passes for a find? This is "the most talented theater director that Americans have never heard of?" Is Isherwood even aware there actually is an Off-Off-Broadway scene, here in New York?

I wish Cromer success, and congratulations on his article in the Times. I saw both The Adding Machine and Orson's Shadow and enjoyed them. But this sort of coverage in the Times is why so many very talented directors in New York continue to be unheard of.

Perhaps we should move to Chicago so Isherwood can notice us.


Mitchel C. said...

Just to be fair, The Adding Machine started at an even more obscure Chicago theater called Next Theatre; which, technically, isn't even in Evanston.

I can understand your dismay that The NEW YORK Times chooses to profile a Chicago director with 2 succesful Off Broadway New York shows to his credit, but The Times has a long history of profiling theater in the rest of America, not just Chicago.

Theater of Ideas said...

My complaint wasn't that the Times is covering a Chicago director (though I would argue that it was covering an Off-Broadway director who happened to have come from Chicago), my complaint was that he was being represented as the most obscure director there was. It's a bit of a put down for Cromer, as well. I would think that with his success, he should be considered at least little bit more than obscure.

But it's a good point that the Adding Machine started in a small theater. One thing I have noticed in Chicago is that even the smaller theaters get well covered, allowing good work to be discovered.

I only wish that any daily had that sort of coverage in New York.