The Playgoer: Guirgis vs Blum

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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Guirgis vs Blum

Okay, well some interesting comments on that David Blum NY Sun Public Theatre piece. Including one in the Sun itself (as anyone who goes to the original now will see) from LABrynth playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis:

While I share Mr. Blum's enthusiasm for the coming season at the Public and his support for Oskar Eustis (whom I genuinely adore, believe in, and am grateful to), his dismissal of George Wolfe's tenure at The Public reads like a hastily-argued joke -- and his attempt to encapsulate George's career there by his less than riveting production of "This Is How It Goes" would be equally laughable if it wasn't so transprently incorrect and downright insulting. I don't have the time or the inclination to defend George's tenure at The Public here. I was there with my theater company, LAByrinth, for the last four years on a daily basis so I know the score. George gave us a home and helped foster my playwrighting career, so perhaps I'm predjudiced. Furthermore, I'm quite sure a host of other artists would be "George prejudiced" as well -- starting with Suzan Lori-Parks, Liev Shreiber, Jeffrey Wright, Tony Kushner, Tonya Pinkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Greenberg, Savion Glover, and every band, artist, and cabaret act that ever played at Joe's Pub. The question that lingers and disturbs me most is this: why does Mr. Blum feel the need to tear George Wolfe down in order to write what is essentially a promo piece on The Public's upcoming season? If nothing else, the vivisection of George's career, legacy, and reputation merits far more than eight ill-considered paragraphs. Any semi-cultured New Yorker without an axe to grind could tell you that in his/her sleep. Oversimplified generalizations are tolerable at a bar after a couple of martinis. Mr. Blum does himself -- and your readers-- a disservice.

Respectfully, Stephen Adly Guirgis

The Sun is as white a paper as they get. And while it may be provocative for Blum to assert that Eustis has brought more "diversity" than Wolfe, it's surprisingly tone deaf from someone once, albeit briefly, the editor of the Village Voice! (Then again, as that link indicates, such reactions to his views seem to have played a role in his termination.)

I'd say Wolfe's tenure was marked by various excesses and, yes, a fair share of starfucking--but no more than our other nonprofits. But with shows like Noise/Funk, TopDog/Underdog, and the LABrynth partnerships he did get some of that Papp spirit back in the house and successfully distinguished the Public "brand" from his theatrical competitors. No one has yet made the lobby at Lafayette jumpin' again, but Wolfe did bring a tangible energy and made the Public matter as a generator of new work, good or bad.


Playgoer said...

Just to emend this a bit: Im NOT saying criticizing George Wolfe is racist. Obviously. I'm just a little surprised that Blum didn't anticipate such perceptions in his critique (perhaps even more so given the rumors of his Voice departure) and couch it in different language--like not using the word "diversity" without backing that up more.

Anonymous said...

Blum is being unfair, imho -- I wonder if he ever even went to the Public regularly. But his attack is nothing compared to the unfair piling on against JoAnne Akalaitis that took place before and after George took over!

Guirgis might have more credibility if he didn't think 'playwrighting' existed in the English language.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but what's the deal with "playwrighting" anyway?

When it is it playwrite and when is it playwright?

Is playwrite a verb? Or is it just used as a gerund, as in "playwriting"?


Anonymous said...

playwrighting is a word, folks...look it up.

Playgoer said...

I'm so glad you asked, Carter, since it allows me to don my professor's cap!

Basically, a "wright" is a craftsman (like "shipwright"). Its antiquated origins give away how theatre was historically often seen as less than high art. While some eras bestowed the epithet "poet" upon their dramatists, this term "playwright" has been passed down to us, instead.

Now, when it comes to making a verb of this, I'm not sure "wright" can be used as a verb. (Or not unless you're in the 16th century.) So I say it's perfectly ok to say that one takes a "playwriting" course, for instance.

But don't say "Playwrite" 'cause that means nothing. Unless you're going all Yoda and still using it as a verb. ("I playwrite long time.")

Anonymous said...

I don't think criticizing Wolfe is inherently racist either. But I think the "he got too big for his britches" and "he was only out for himself" tone that often marks criticism of his tenure (given that almost all of that criticism is leveled by white men) does not stand up well to scrutiny. While the Public is a unique institution and Wolfe is a polarizing figure, you just don't hear Tim Sanford or Todd Haimes or Andre Bishop or (with one notable recent exception) Jim Nicola talked about in such personal terms. I don't believe in crying racism, but I don't believe for a second that issues of race play no part in the intensity with which some of Wolfe's detractors continue to discuss him.