Welcome to the new Clyde Fitch Report.

Pedophile Musical Causes Critical “Crapstorm” in Philly

Dear Nice People Theatre Company,

What Philadelphia Inquirer critic Wendy Rosenfield says you did isn’t very nice. I’m not going to suggest it isn’t good marketing — or shrewd, mercenary marketing. You’re mounting Megan Gogerty’s Love Jerry, a musical whose title character is a pedophile — a fellow for whom the audience’s empathy is, we presume, actively solicited. You have to do what you have to do.

But you could do it with class. First I read Rosenfield’s review, then I read about the brouhaha you’ve apparently incited around it, then I read about the second brouhaha around the rejection of your ad for the show, then I learned about how you’ve turned it all into a cause celebre — going so far, Rosenfield says, as to demand that the Inquirer remove her review. Well, I’ve started to suspect you’re really in it for 15 minutes of “look at us, we’re so edgy!” fame, not cultural dialogue. I think that trying to silence a critic is very small. I am ashamed of you.

Thinking about the parameters of Love Jerry, one parallel that comes to mind is the story of Lionel Dahmer — father of Jeffrey. He wrote a book that was under-read that asks readers to do the near-impossible: reconcile the evil of Jeffrey Dahmer with the idea that a parent’s unconditional love really does mean that it’s unconditional. So it’s about morality, isn’t it? It’s about conundrums that test our mettle, isn’t it? Doesn’t an empathetic pedophile prick the bubble of safety we wish to associate with, and hopefully extend to, our children? So how do you expect a thinking critic to react? You have successfully tested Rosenfield’s mettle. Clearly she’s wrestling with your subject, with her value system, with her beliefs. What would you prefer? Oh, right — a rave.

Well, you can maintain that Rosenfield failed the test because she didn’t like the show. But the fact is, there was nothing unprofessional in her review. Indeed, she stated she had no quibble with the production. She just didn’t like the show. She’s a parent; she thinks empathy for pedophiles is offensive, like empathy for a serial killer. She reacted precisely, it seems to me, as any parent might react. Isn’t that the point? To affirm, but to challenge? To arrest, but to free?

For the love of Dionysus, please confirm or deny whether you tried to persuade the Inquirer to remove Rosenfield’s review or not. Deny it and you’ll force Rosenfield to retract her claim. Confirm it and you’ll have proven that “open honest discussion” is not what you want. Phillyist liked the production and, to read what Gogerty’s posts, much of the entirety of the city of brotherly love is right there with you. How nice. Now that you’ve got what you want, buck up and come clean.

And remember, nothing on earth endows you with the right to smack around a free press, to challenge the fundamental First Amendment rights of Rosenfield or the Inquirer or anyone else. You should be grateful that Rosenfield took time to wrestle — even if imperfectly, even if unfavorably — with the conundrum Gogerty’s piece put before her. Personally, I will take fecund over feckless any day.

If you don’t believe the American theater deserves more than obsequiousness and acquiescence in its critics, then no, I really do not think you are very nice at all.

Love, Leonard


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  1. JoshJosh06-11-2010

    I feel really, really torn on this.

    Of course I think it’s wrong of said theater company to demand a retraction of the bad review. That, to me, is ridiculous and uncouth at face value. But I also think that in the age of “new media” artists have every right to call out critics that they feel are unfair or misinformed or incorrect, right?

    By the way, not to ruffle any feathers but that is a really strong marketing image.

    • LeonardLeonard06-11-2010

      Hey, Josh. I don’t have a problem “calling out” a critic. I have a problem trying to shut the critic up. Big difference.

  2. JoshJosh06-11-2010

    True enough, and I definitely agree.

    I guess my initial response was caused by sensitivity. As a writer I feel like I’m not allowed to respond to critics, even if I feel like they missed something or, on the rare occasion, just an asshole. But that’s bullshit, right? I mean, look at the Times critics for god’s sake. Those guys never get anything right.

  3. Zev ValancyZev Valancy06-11-2010

    I find this whole thing unpleasant in the extreme. I don’t know about the merits of “Love Jerry” as a piece of theatre (though apparently even Rosenfield found no fault with them). I’m not even sure if I would agree with her stance on the moral responisbility of the play. I personally believe that having empathy for people suffering from pedophilia and helping them before they harm anyone is the right thing to do–and indeed would keep children safer than wildly furious reactions that simply drive pedophiles into hiding. However there is a very thin line between empathizing and excusing, and I can see how a play like this would fall on different sides of that line for different people. Whether I would agree with Rosenfield on seeing the play is entirely beside the point.

    A critic’s job, as she said in the comments, is to say what the play’s goal was, how well it achieved it, and whether it was worth doing in the first place. It’s the critic’s right to say if they think the answer to the last question is a resounding no. Luckily, Rosenfield very clearly explains her moral problems with the play’s perspective, allowing the audience to make up their own minds about whether the show’s perspective is worth seeing. (I would actually be interested in seeing the show and making up my own mind.)

    But to say that she misrepresented the show–not just misinterpreted it, but deliberately mischaracterized it with malicious intent–is inappropriate, and inaccurate. And to claim that her “misrepresentation” is such a danger that it should be suppressed is way over the line. If that’s what really happened, then Nice People Theatre are indeed not acting very nice.

  4. PhillyDramaQueenPhillyDramaQueen06-11-2010

    Thanks for weighing in on this issue. NPTC’s defense is that my review and what they see as as my “misrepresentation” of the piece might incite readers to violence. I say the subject matter itself raises great passion and that the company’s own ad which reads, “This is Jerry. Jerry is a pedophile. Can you love Jerry?” is far more dangerous in terms of sending the wrong impression than a well-reasoned review. Which is what I happen to think I have written.

    Also, I have to say I really, really appreciate that the theater and audiences care enough to join the fray. I even sent NPTC a note that told them not to worry about me holding a future grudge about all this–they feel as passionately about their work as I do about mine, and that’s honorable. I just wish there were more debate and less piling on, and additionally, I wish every review inflamed this much message board passion, not just the negative ones, and not just by those who have a vested interest in the production’s success.

    Wendy Rosenfield

  5. Bayla RubinBayla Rubin06-11-2010

    Hi Leonard,

    I appreciate your article and your point of view. I have read many a bad review on shows in which I have participated. You say, “That sucks. They didn’t give us a good review.” You put the paper in the trash (or recycling, if you’re good) and you move on. However, this issue is far from being about having a critic not like the play. This critic has misrepresented the play, and one could argue that she has slandered the company and the playwright. I know there must be standards about printing accurate representations of a piece of art in the critic world.

    Again, I appreciate your sticking up for your fellow critic, but I gather from your article that you have not seen Nice People’s production. (I apologize if I am assuming wrongly.) I suggest that you go and see the play and then decide your position. After all, how can you side with a critic when you don’t know about what she is writing? Thanks.

    Bayla

    • LeonardLeonard06-11-2010

      Bayla,

      I’m not siding with the critic. I made that clear. What I’m siding with is the First Amendment. You do not address the question of whether Nice People pressured the Philly Inquirer into taking down Rosenfield’s review. If they did pressure the paper, do you side, then, with censorship? If they did not pressure the paper — which is what Rosenfield accuses them of doing — then why don’t they say so?

      Read my post. Obviously you didn’t.

      LJ

  6. braakbraak06-11-2010

    Yeah; I don’t know that I specifically agree with the premise of Wendy’s review, but there was absolutely nothing about it that was over the line. Her concerns were valid, and she didn’t misrepresent, at all, what she didn’t like about the play.

    I don’t oppose Nice People rallying their supporters to comment on her review (actually, I kind of wish more theaters would do this), but if they did lobby the Inquirer to take it down, that’s utterly inexcusable.

  7. nicolenicole06-11-2010

    Nice People Theatre Company Here to answer your question:

    We did NOT and would NEVER ask Rosenfield to take down her review because we didn’t like it. We received a scary phone call from an outraged man who talked about guns and his own abusive past and had not seen the show but read Wendy’s review and gathered from her review that we were ‘Making money off of children who had been abused and promoting pedophelia.’. This is obviously not the case. The show doesn’t come close to promoting pedophelia – not to mention we are a non-profit theatre company who doesn’t make money off of any show, let alone this one.

    We were scared because of this somewhat threatening phone call. We felt that if this man drew that conclusion from Wendy’s misrepresentation of the play – someone else with an abusive past and a lot of rage might do the same.

    Up until that point we were bothered by her misrepresentation of the play but thrilled by the response from our patrons – never had we even thought to ask her to take it down, nor would we – that is crazy – it’s not as if we haven’t received a negative review in the past.

    We were simply concerned about the false impression her review gave and the dangerous response it was causing.

    So we called Wendy in confidence – shaken by this very irate phone call. So much for phone calls in confidence and so much for a journalist not twisting that phone call to support her case. Yes, Rosenfield did send us a private message on Facebook to say she didn’t hold a grudge and neither do we – but we are upset that a phone call we placed in confidence to her was twisted and publicized and continues to get people thinking we asked her to take the review down because we didn’t like it.

    We felt that it was our responsibility, as producers, to make sure that if there was even a shadow of a doubt that her review could jeopardize the safety of any of us that maybe it should not be posted? I still don’t know if it should or shouldn’t be. We never demanded that it be taken down – we just asked if that would be the right thing because of the false conclusions people were drawing.

    So that is the long and the short of it. I’m really bored of the Inquirer staff (advertising and editorial) twisting conversations completely because they can and because they are the ones with the major communication outlet where their version of the story is more powerful.

    You can believe what you want. But we are just not that ridiculous, hypocritical or unprofessional that we would ever ask someone to take down a review under normal circumstances or because we didn’t like it.

    Wendy claims that the threat of this misrepresentation was not great. She has no way of knowing, nor do we, if a scary phone call could ever become more than just that. But if it could – I’d rather protect myself and my team then regret not having done so if there is even a shadow of a doubt. That is the responsible thing to do. She said she couldn’t take it down and we said ok. We did not insist on anything. We just inquired.

    Wendy also says that she’s had threats before from writing controversial stories and that the subject matter of the play is one that we should have expected controversy from. Of course we expected controversy! We prepared for that in all sorts of ways including partnering with CAPE. What we did not expect someone to write a review that leads people to believe we are promoting and forgiving pedophelia!!! That is crazy – and insulting for someone to insinuate. The play serves the opposite purpose. And when she writes story’s that could incur a threat, the address of where you can find her is not listed alongside the story – for us, it is.

    • LeonardLeonard06-11-2010

      So, just to be clear, when Rosenfield wrote (in her post on the blog Drama Queen) that you “asked the Inquirer to remove the review from Philly.com’s website,” she was not being truthful? Because your response is that you “never demanded” that it be taken down, yet that is not what Rosenfield accuses you of doing. in fact, she accuses you of having “asked” for it to be taken down. Isn’t that what you just acknowledged — that you “asked” if “that would be the right thing” to do as a result of the “false conclusions people were drawing”? Speaking of which, you’ve only cited one phone call. Were there others? How do you get to the use of the plural — “conclusions” — from one call?

      As for the confidentiality of your call to Rosenfield, I’ll let her respond to that. Obviously she did not think the conversation was off-the-record. If you are accusing her of using off-the-record commments as publishing fodder, that is a serious charge.

      But back to you all. I don’t know if I fully understand whether “asking” or “demanding” matters — is a free press not a free press?

      Finally, in a courtroom, would the burden of the evidence not fall to you to prove, conclusively, that Rosenfield’s review directly and specifically incited the phone threat? Indeed, did the man who made the call say he’d reached a point of outrage by sole or partial dint of Rosenfield’s review? Did he mention the review or Rosenfield specifically? Can you prove that, for example, your advertising — and the publicity you received as a result of your advertisements being rejected — had no effect whatsoever on the man’s perceptions of the play?

  8. NicoleNicole06-11-2010

    Yes a free press is a free press and I would never suggest otherwise- I have a masters in journalism from London, England where perhaps that is even more heavily practiced than it is here? I believe in free press. I also believe in not risking safety for the sake of that free press for a theatre review. This is theatre we’re talking about- it is so important to me and can be extremly powerful- but it is still theatre and noone should get hurt because of it. Wendy said she couldn’t and wouldn’t take the review down and I said ok- I thought though that she might feel she didn’t want anyone to be mislead because of her review as she, I hope, did not mean for people to draw those false conclusions.

    And yes, I asked where the man got his conclusion and he told me that he had read the review and not seen the show.

  9. braakbraak06-11-2010

    What we did not expect someone to write a review that leads people to believe we are promoting and forgiving pedophelia!

    Also, not to pile on here, but really? You’re doing a play that portrays a pedophile as a sympathetic character, and you didn’t think there might be at least one reviewer that misinterpreted it as forgiving pedophilia?

    I don’t actually think that’s what Wendy’s review says, really, but you guys seriously didn’t consider the possibility that your intentions would be misinterpreted like this? Frankly, I’m surprised there weren’t more articles suggesting you were godless child molesters.

  10. nicolenicole06-11-2010

    wow – nope. I guess i gave philadelphia’s reviewers a little more credit.

    everyone – for the last time – the play does not promote pedophelia. it does not condone it. it does not ask anyone to forgive anything. it tells a story. it tells all sides of the story. kate says, ‘i want you to lock him up and throw away the key’ and i think we all agree with her in that moment – atleast i do. but that doesn’t help fight the issue, does it?

    the play doesn’t portray a pedophile as a sympathetic character. no, it portrays a pedophile. period. whether you sympathize with him is up to you but this is a VERY common profile of a pedophile. it is the most common. and that is the part people get wrong. it’s not a school-yard lurking stranger. sometimes it is. but most of the time, 90% of the time, it’s someone the child knows and loves in so many cases. and who a family knows and loves. and who other people know and love. and do those people stop loving the person after they learn what they are capable of doing and have done? some do, some don’t.

    no i did not expect the play to be misinterpreted by a seasoned art critic who realizes that the play is presenting you with a story and each person’s side of that story.

    never has the show caused someone to draw that conclusion in any of it’s former productions. no other news outlet has twisted the point of the show and flipped it on it’s side! braak, have you seen the show? it tells this story so that we can better understand the problem (yes PROBLEM!) and better equip ourselves to fight it (yes FIGHT it).

    no, why would we think the play’s intentions would be misinterpreted when they are very clearly the opposite of what wendy writes? it’s pretty plain to see. ‘godless child molesters’ – wow – you are really far from the mark with that one. tell that to the wonderful child abuse prevention organization who has endorsed this show and partnered with us because it is an accurate portrayal that can help us SOLVE the problem. someone who wants to understand something so they can stop it is a godless child molester? careful what kind of backwards accusations you make or even suggest someone else might make.

  11. PhillyDramaQueenPhillyDramaQueen06-11-2010

    Let me be clear: I didn’t misinterpret the show. My interpretation is one with which NPTC doesn’t agree, and I don’t expect them to do so. But my review never says the play promotes or condones pedophilia. It doesn’t. It does however portray Jerry in a sympathetic light. It asks me to have empathy for a character who deserves no empathy–at least to my mind–and I think asking that of an audience leads us down a dangerous path. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    I’m happy to argue the finer points of the show because I could argue about theater all day. I love it. What’s truly boring is NPTC’s insistence that I’m somehow wrong, that my interpretation is completely invalid because I feel differently about the play and its message than they do.

    And Nicole, you’re misinterpreting Braak’s comment. He’s not calling you g-dless child molesters, he’s saying that considering the piece’s incendiary subject, he’s surprised there weren’t more and stronger responses against it. You got off easy. And anyway, there are, they’re just not all in print.

  12. Bayla RubinBayla Rubin06-12-2010

    LJ,

    Why so nasty? I read your post. I read every word. And then I offered my opinion, in a well-mannered way I would think. I even said that I appreciate what you have to say. Why so accusatory?

    Bayla

  13. LeonardLeonard06-12-2010

    Bayla,

    Because you’re still unable to distinguish between siding with a critic, which I did not do, and siding against the theater asking the Inquirer to remove the review, which I did do.

    Even the artistic director has now admitted they did this. And I think that’s terrible. I still do.

    As far as misrepresenting or not misrepresenting the show, that’s for the public — not for me — to decide. In these comments, Rosenfield maintains that she did not. The theater says she did. I did not take a stand on that. I took a stand on the tactlessness of the theater asking the Inquirer to remove the review.

    LJ

  14. NicoleNicole06-12-2010

    Leonard please stop suggesting that we asked Wendy to take down the review because we did not like it. And please retract what you said about the artistic director admitting to doing so when that is not the case. You may be enjoying stirring things up but I do not appreciate the accusation. And the complete lack of appreciation for what happened. Hello- have you not read my response at all? Wendy I’d appreciate if you’d set the record straight- atleast since my phone call to you in confidence has been twisted and publicized. You and I both know that’s not what went down and I resent the implication from Leonard or anyone else.

  15. Thomas GarveyThomas Garvey06-12-2010

    Uh . . . I dunno, Leonard. It seems to me that Rosenfield, in her hurry to assemble a posse with torches and pitchforks, did misrepresent the show; or rather she simply rejected its premise – that the behavior of some pedophiles may not be a “conscious choice” – while pretending that she had wrestled with it. And she rejected said premise out of hand, without real rationale or back-up – while implying (arguably, I suppose, but that’s how I read it) that the show is sympathetic to the crime of pedophilia itself. And that’s a claim which in today’s political atmosphere is close to libel. Her excuse for her initial review is that the pedophiles’ victims – the children – have been left out of the production’s artistic equation. Having not seen the show, I can’t speak to that; but even if her claim is true, she still has to explain why this particular criminal is so different from, say, a murderer – a type which has been “empathized” with by so many plays and works of art. And of course that question – the one that Rosenfield seems to answer but actually ignores – is rather a hot-button topic these days, as the Supreme Court has ruled that states can continue to incarcerate pedophiles past their prison terms; they can essentially be imprisoned forever. I’m sure that’s an appropriate action to ensure the safety of children – but it begs the question of whether pedophiles are really making “conscious decisions.” It’s hard, actually, to reconcile Rosenfield’s idea with the recidivism rates of this type of predator – they seem to be on some kind of horrifying autopilot. When you consider that many have themselves been victims of abuse the case for some kind of empathy becomes even more troubling. I also feel there’s some truth in your insistence that the theatre was wrong to ask that the review be pulled; I just think that at the same time you have to admit that Rosenfield screwed up, and screwed up in one of those “clinch moments” when a production really seems to engage with our politics. This sounds like an incredibly daring show, and it deserved a better critic than her.

    • LeonardLeonard06-12-2010

      Not sure whether I agree or not, Tom. The jury seems out in terms of the review itself. I don’t think, regardless of what you think of the writing, that Rosenfield was unprofessional, though — no one I’ve read thus far is saying that. My principal objection is to the theater asking for the review to be taken down. I don’t care what the reason is. That’s just not right.

  16. LeonardLeonard06-12-2010

    Now, Nicole, you’re trying to shut down MY words, too?

    In your first comment, you wrote, “We never demanded that it be taken down – we just asked if that would be the right thing because of the false conclusions people were drawing.” Aside from the fact that you have only cited one phone call as the basis of your concern and the word “conclusions” is plural, the fact is you admitted asking for the review to be taken down. I don’t care what the reason was. That was wrong. Period. You don’t muck with a free press. Ever. Period. Finished. Done.

    Well, not quite. How do we know you even received that phone call? Editor and Publisher magazine has already questioned the way in which Nice is parlaying all of this into an orgy of publicity. How do we know you didn’t make it up? And again, wouldn’t there need to be more than one call for there to be bad “conclusions” drawn? Who else, specifically, by name, is being misled by Rosenfield? Where are those masses, those hordes? And even if Rosenfield completely and deliberately and with frothing malice absolutely and willfully mininterpreted the play, does that make her the first critic in the history of Western drama to do so? If every company that has had to put up with a misinterpreting critic asked for a review to be removed, where, exactly, would we be?

    Meanwhile, Rosenfield continues to state that she did not misinterpret the show. And, as you can see from the comments on this site alone, plus on her blog, some people agree with her. So it’s your word against her word. At no point have I taken a side on that. I have simply taken a side on the question of you trying to shut down her right to write the review she feels most appropriate.

    I guess you wouldn’t print, say, the Pentagon Papers, right? Or when Corpus Christi was supposed to open at Manhattan Theatre Club and those death threats came in, you’d have sided with the board and shut down the show, right? You think you have a lot of guts, and maybe you do. But frankly, I think you lack courage. And a spot of wisdom. And a spot of faith.

    Last point. Your insistence on impugning Rosenfield’s integrity — by accusing her of violating an off-the-record conversation, which Rosenfield denies — is unseemly. Prove your conversation was off-the-record. Prove it now.

  17. LeroyLeroy06-12-2010

    It would appear that philldramaqueen believes that some subjects must be presented only from one point of view and that ever presenting a character that most people would regard as evil from their own point of view is an offense against humanity. In my opinion this attitude is an offense against the very purpose of art which is to explore fully the human condition from every point of view. This play clearly does that, and clearly comes down on the side of good when weighed in its totality. Decrying it as vile trash shows that phillydramaqueen doesn’t understand what theater is about. Maybe she should find another profession.

  18. Craig SmithCraig Smith06-12-2010

    The problem arises with the “free” press becomes the “got it wrong” press — if you take issue with it, I have found that theatre writers are amazingly thin skinned, have the memories of elephants and insist on having the last word.

  19. ThomasThomas06-12-2010

    Wow! It’s very clear the theatrical critic is becoming useless as they whine their way to oblivion.
    Someone should check out the history of Total Abandon starring Richard Dryfus (Booth theatre – 1983).

  20. PhillyDramaQueenPhillyDramaQueen06-12-2010

    Leroy: somewhere along the way I mentioned the film The Woodsman, the play How I Learned to Drive and the musical Thrill Me as examples of what I’d consider more successful explorations of the topic.