The Playgoer: Todd Haimes in the Hot Seat

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Todd Haimes in the Hot Seat

I was watching an old Theatre Talk episode on my DVR last night and was shocked to see an actually testy and non-chummy god honest debate! No nostalgic anecdotes, no book plugs this time. Just Michael Riedel and Susan Haskins grilling Todd Haimes on his stewardship of the Roundabout.

I'm telling you, there is squirming, there are evil looks, and there is substance!

I've noticed Haimes going on something of a "charm offensive" since the Fall. He appeared also on NY1's On Stage. Such appearances in themselves wouldn't be so unusual--except that he's Todd Haimes. He's not a colorful personality, not an artist, not a director. So if Roundabout's booking him on the theatre chat shows, there's some serious agenda at work, as if the negative chatter about the company in the theatre community has just driven them crazy--or even taken a bite out of their sales. Perhaps "humanizing" Todd Haimes--evil wizard of the American Airlines Theatre--is the point. Or maybe he just personally wants to answer his critics finally in a very public way.

I have to say, while hardly overtly "charming" Haimes does strike me as a straight shooter, and comes off rather sympathetically in the interview, I think. On some points, I feel he's absolutely right--such as Riedel's questioning the desire for more than one space. (Aren't "second spaces" the only possibility for new work? It's good enough for the Royal National.) And I support him on the much derided Threepenny Opera--which if nothing else was at least "risk taking."

I've actually always held little ire for Haimes. He's a businessman running a business company. Yes, he's a little knee-jerk reliant on the latest British directors. But some of them are good directors. (Sometimes just not matched with the right show.) Basically he gives his subscribers what they want.

On the other hand, because he's ultimately just a shrewd producer with decent middlebrow taste, he falters on the more difficult artistic choices--like whether a certain director is right for a certain show. Or whether a certain TV star is really right for that particular role. So he isn't who I would like to see head up our own de facto National Theatre. If we had one.

Then again, as he himself points out in the interview, Roundabout receives "less than one percent" of its budget from government funding(!). So we can't quite accuse him of violating public trust.

Anyway, watch it. Trust me, you won't be bored.


Unknown said...

I agree, it was a fascinating show. I often stop watching the Theater Talk interviews about 10 minutes in--too much back-slapping, too much of Riedel preening about his status as the man the New York theater world hates and fears--but this one was was compelling throughout.

Also agree that Haines caught Riedel contradicting himself by complaining that the Roundabout always plays it way too safe AND that the Threepenny Opera was far too out there.

Tom said...

That's a grilling? I've seen testier exchanges at ESPNZone.