Given the nature of his work, is it a surprise to anyone that Neil LaBute will ignore classic protocol and respond to his harshest critics?
Apparently he's done just that, taking on David Cote from Time Out New York, who has given LaBute many reasons to be unhappy with his latest review. Cote's parting words for LaBute:
"Having authored a couple dozen plays and adaptations, and scads of one-acts, LaBute has abundant technique (he turns out fresh, highly actable dialogue by the yard), but he doesn’t have much to say. That void doesn’t stop his long-winded, boorish creations from yelling, simpering, insulting and apologizing. A wish for the future: Reasons to Be Silent."
I was at the theater the same evening as Cote, so I know for a fact we didn't see different performances. And I have no problem with Cote not liking the play, but the snarky nature of his criticism can irk.
It certainly got to LaBute, who was the first to comment on the review. The Internet actually let artists respond to their public reviewers, but still, at least in the USA (England has more of this fun going on), it is rare to see an artist return the volley.
Here's LaBute, mostly eschewing capitals, consistent with the title of his play: "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"
Cote's words clearly spread quickly around the Lucille Lortel, because the show's sound designer, Robert Kaplowitz, also had a response for Cote, one far more eloquent and questioning. (Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to have Kaplowitz do the sound design for one of my plays Off-Broadway, and the man is not only a great talent but also incredibly observant. He's full of ideas, and he's a Tony winner for a reason.)
A tidbit from Kaplowitz: "If you can only offer highly quotable, glib dismissals of a writer whose style offends you, how are you any more helpful than a child insisting we all buy vanilla ice cream, because that's the only flavor he likes?"
Most working playwrights will inevitably experience dismissal from critics. I certainly have, and often at surprising times and in unexpected ways. It ain't fun. But what fills me with happiness are not the barbs being tossed around but the fact that the artists at hand actually have the opportunity to respond to criticism they find questionable.