Close Up Space

I had wondered where Mr. Isherwood had stored his ire of late, but it looks like he was just saving it for something special: like Ms. Molly Smith Metzler’s play Close Up Space.  Not only does Mr. Isherwood hate the play, but he uses his review to get in a few choice jabs at a completely different play by Ms. Smith Metzler, as well as a final (?) stab at another play he had already savaged by a totally different writer.  What style!  What class!  What a Master!  If any were to need a lesson in the always useful art of kicking someone (or a playwright) when they’re down, they can do no better than to read Mr. Isherwood’s critical oeuvre.  Mr. Isherwood is truly a blackbelt in a jujitsu of critical spite.  Sign me up for that dojo, please!

I responded to Mr. Isherwood’s review in the comments section.  They seem slow to post it.  Could it be that my passion for correct criticism intimidates them?  We shall see.  (UPDATE: It has been posted!  I hope that means that Mr. Isherwood approves!)  But for you, my dear reader, here is the text of my missive.

Title: On On Brief Candle!

Unsurprisingly, I, too, disliked this play. It was far too imaginative and less redolent of cold hard reality than I would have liked. A main character who speaks Russian? Please. Even the Russians speak English–look at any recent production of Chekhov in the city. I’m sure if the character tried a little harder, she could manage better and earlier. And that whole unrealistic incident when Harper removes all the furniture from her father’s office and camps out inCentral Park? Who would do that in real life? No one, that’s who! Our playwrights must learn that they must be bound by rigid rules of reality, that their imaginations or pretensions to metaphor have nothing to do with anything. And what, really, did they have to do with this play in particular? Sure, the foreign language and the references to exile, and the Akhmatova poetry all speak to a general climate of alienation, distance and emotional desolation which is symbolically represented by the empty office that subsequently and poetically morphs into the Siberian wastes–but what does that really mean? Why do we need all of that in a play which plunges into the distance between a father and a daughter? All of that might have made a fine poem: the chief virtue of a poem is that you don’t have to read it to admire it.

 I had prayed to the Jolly One to bring me a New Year filled with your amusing and cloyingly smug disregard for plays and their writers. When you wrote that piece that indulgently praised a few plays from the past year (some, surprisingly, by women–how could you?), I thought all hope was lost. But my wife insisted that you were just in the “nice” phase of your critical circadian cycle, and that all I had to do was wait for your wit to descend. She was right! And on this, the darkest day of the year, I give thanks for you, Mr. Isherwood, whose brief candle illuminates the inky night of “theater.” 

I hope you agree!

  1. suz2278 said:

    I liked the play well enough and posted a generally favorable notice on the comments section of the Isherwood review. I normally don’t bother counter attacking critics in such posts and did not do so there. But I agree that even for NY theater reviewing (I grew up on John Simon), it seemed off note. What was Isherwood’s problem with the title of the play? No one else is going to come away with a strong negative reaction to the title no matter what they think of the play? What should the author have called it? The M___er F___er with the Overhead Projector?

    There are some nice elements in the production, some things they can fix up, and maybe this far into it — after opening night in a limited run — some things they are just going to have to live with. But I liked it and the rest of the house was laughing at the most of the right places and, for the most part, drawn in when the play wanted us to take it seriously.

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