Online Petition Calls For Chicago Theatres Not To Invite Sun-Times Critic Hedy Weiss
The reviews are in and some in the theater community are non-too-pleased with Chicago Sun-Times theater and dance critic Hedy Weiss.
A petition urging Chicago theater companies to stop inviting Weiss to productions was posted on Change.org on June 13th by the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition. As of this writing, the petition has received more than 2,000 signatures.
In the petition, the group specifically charges Weiss with having consistently made inflammatory remarks in her reviews.
"[She] has proven that she is not willing to work with us to create a positive environment," the petition states. "She has proven this repeatedly with the racism, homophobia and body shaming found in her reviews."
Most recently, Weiss' review of Steppenwolf's production of Antoinette Nwandu's PASS OVER has generated some fierce criticism. TheHawkChicago.com called her review "vomit-inducing," "shocking" and "irresponsible."
The paragraph in her review that the website and others took issue with:
"But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion's share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu's simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene. And the playwright's final scenes - including a speech by the clueless white aristocrat who appears earlier in the story - and who could not be more condescending to Steppenwolf's largely white "liberal" audience - further rob the play of its potential impact."
Nwandu said she signed the petition herself because "HW did a hatchet job on my play and the theater community in Chicago deserves more."
Weiss declined to comment on the petition, but says she stands by what she wrote in her reviews.
As of writing, the newspaper has also not responded for BroadwayWorld's request for comment.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company has also yet to respond to our request for comment.
The Chicago Sun-Times' chief theater critic since 1984, Weiss is no stranger to controversy.
Weiss was accused of body-shaming earlier this year in her review of Marriott Theatre's production of MAMMA MIA in which she wrote "Theresa Ham's character-defining costumes make the most of many real women' figures on stage, just as the gold and silver spandex outfits outline the perfect bodies of the terrific chorus dancers."
Last summer, she again faced criticism when she wrote about the "authentic" casting of Porchlight Musical Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS; that production lead actor was not a Latino.
In 2013, Jamil Khory, the founding artistic director of Silk Road Rising called Weiss out for what he said amounts to racial profiling in her review of Jonas Hassen Khemiri's play INVASION!. The paper later removed portions of her review from the online version.
IN 2006, Weiss found herself again in hot water when she reviewed a weekend-long festival of new musical works in progress called Stages, despite admitting in her reviews that she did not see any of the works in their entirety because of their poor quality. Dramatist Guild members took offense and demanded an apology. Weiss defended her actions by correctly stating that she had previously reviewed the festival in years past and the press kit did not explicitly indicate the critics could not review the productions in the festival.
In 2005, Weiss tangled with Tony award-winning director Joe Mantello over her review of the first national tour of WICKED in which she equated costuming choices and events of the show to Nazi Germany. It lead producers of the hit show to decline a review ticket for the Chicago sit-down production of the show later that year. Full disclosure: the paper sent this reporter to review the show for the Sun-Times instead.
In 2004, Weiss sparred with Tony-award winning playwright Tony Kushner over her review of his musical CAROLINE, OR CHANGE in which the critic wrote "Unfortunately, Kushner, in the classic style of self-loathing Jew, has little but revulsion for his own roots."
"It is appalling that a playwright can be flatly accused of hating his own people without a single word cited from the play in question," Kushner wrote in a response published in the Sun-Times.
Weiss is not the only newspaper critic who has recently received criticism, however. In 2015, both Weiss and the Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones were called out for negative reviews of Steppenwolf's THIS IS MODERN ART (BASED ON TRUE EVENTS, a play about teenage graffiti artists.
"What I'm not surprised about is old white people, critics for these dying papers, don't want to celebrate stories about youth culture who have been systematically denied agency," Kevin Coval, co-author of the work, told DNAInfo.
This story is developing.