Alec Baldwin Talks ORPHANS' Early Closing, Blasts New York Times' Ben Brantley
Ben Brantley, who I must state up front is no fan of mine (every John Simon must have his Amanda Plummer, I suppose), is not a good writer. Whereas Rich's keen sense of what worked or did not work on stage helped to elevate the position of his desk, Brantley is viewed as some odd, shriveled, bitter Dickensian clerk who has sought to assemble a compendium of essays on theatre, the gist of which often have no relationship to the events onstage themselves. Brantley carries the Times into the performance and little else. Beyond the obvious impact that a weak or scathing review in the Times has on sales, particularly with booking agents for tourists, no one I know of in the theatre reads Brantley except in the way that a doctor reads an x-ray to determine if you have cancer. Brantley doesn't offer criticism, per se, as much as he seeks to signal to some that they are actually unwelcome on Broadway. If you aren't Brantley's type, why bother? And it is this very "Why Bother" approach of Brantley's that I think is the most troubling.
A critic's job is to evaluate two things: what you are attempting to do and how close do you come to pulling it off. Highbrow, lowbrow, Shakespeare, Williams, movies like The Hangover, movies like Lincoln, they all deserve the same fate. If it's trash, then call it. But is it good trash or is the bar too low? Then call it. Is the piece ambitious and groundbreaking? Factor that in. But never say "why bother?'
In the case of Orphans, Brantley wrote "Why bother?" And that is to spit in the face of the playwright, the producers and all of their investors, the cast and director, the designers and the Schuberts, all of whom have had some success in the theatre. Brantley says we were wrong-headed to have even tried. Where would the theatre be if that was the prevalent thinking?
Thus far we have performed 48 shows and we have had 48 consecutive standing ovations. That's not easy with a drama. And as much as I am not one to say that this indicates we have a great production, I think it does indicate that Brantley spits in the face of all of those audiences, too. Write that you don't like something, surely. But, on Broadway, at least, don't mock those who do.
Frank Rich got cranky in his last year. He hated nearly everything and later admitted that, towards the end, he did not enjoy going to the theatre. Perhaps that is now true of Brantley, who has occupied his seat since 1996 (hard to believe) and seems to have spent the current Broadway season writhing/writing in agony.
I read the print version of the Times every day and will continue to do so, I assume, regardless of (or in Brantley's case, in spite of) who covers the theatre. But the "Why Bother" theme seems wrong for the Times. And with the more insightful Isherwood sitting there, writing circles around Brantley, I think it's time for the Times to get rid of Brantley. I don't know anyone, anyone at all, who will miss him or his writing.
Orphans closes soon and with it the good work of Dan Sullivan and his team of designers, the hard-working backstage crew, the cast and their understudies. I am so pleased for Tom Sturridge and his Tony nomination. What a fantastic welcome to Broadway for a very talented young actor.
Most of all I want to thank Ben Foster, who, in the wake of the cast upheaval, parachuted into New York and saved the play from closing. Ben is not only a truly gifted actor, he is one of the great gentleman I have ever worked with. Every night before our respective entrances, Ben would give me a sign of "encouragement," a clap on the back or some such, to let me know we were heading into this together. Some nights, that gesture alone put the wind in my sails.
And thank you to Lyle. I bothered because of you, Lyle, and your beautiful and weird writing. Without playwrights, there is nothing. I will never forget your play, Lyle. I only wish we could have given it the success that it, and you, truly deserve.