The Lynching of Charles Isherwood


Jason Grote, who I recently assigned to be profiled in the pages of Back Stage, has posted a piece called “Bring Me the Head of Charles Isherwood. Or Not.”

And I must say that I really like Jason’s take on the fracas because it aims to put the whole thing into some sort of respectable and intelligent macro-perspective. To wit:

“I’m a bit late on the Baitz essay, but (despite the fact that a half a dozen people emailed it to me), I didn’t feel compelled to comment, because (with all due respect to Baitz), he seems to be missing the point. Maybe he’s too nice. What really offended me about the Isherwood piece in question (that is, his plea for TV writers to return to the stage), is not that Isherwood’s own fire-breathing criticism makes him something of a hypocrite (though it does); but that playwrights who are writing television scripts for the stage should be in Hollywood making money and not writing plays because TV on stage is fucking boring. Now, I love a lot of TV, and clearly not every writer who pays the bills with TV writing is a hack. But why on earth would I pay anywhere between $20-$200 and drag my ass into midtown to see something I could get at home for free? When theater starts competing with television, it’s already lost….”

Jason goes to talk about why he trashes NYT’s theatre criticism and culture coverage on his blogs, but I would argue that he, along with Isaac (in his open letter to the Times) and even Matt Freeman, both of whom I greatly like and respect, nevertheless aren’t taking much in the way of action to force NYT to make whatever changes — not fully and specifically articulated, in my view — they desire.

Story continues below.

Hang him?

Everybody seems to be interested in posting 100 sentences about theatre and 20 rules for writing about plays and 100 this and 100 that. How about somebody post 100 ways to improve theatre coverage in New York? How about somebody post 100 reasons why Isherwood and/or Brantley should be let go immediately? How about somebody post 100 other people that could replace them? How about somebody, somewhere, stop the whiny-bitchy-moaning and be fully specific about how to ameliorate the situation and end the immature lynching Charles Friggin’ Isherwood? The more you mock him, the more you rake him over the coals, the more you call him names, the more you assail his character, the more you write open letters to the Times that you know full well they’re not going to read because they lack any teeth, the more you ascribe power to the Times — the more that you give the Times precisely what it wants. How about getting some journalists in on the gig? How about putting your money where your mouths are? Jason Grote had the strength of character to create and circulate a petition against New York Theatre Workshop, signed by 939 people, when the workshop did that horrid job of explaining why Rachel Corrie was being postponed-slash-cancelled. Why not make it clear that Times advertisers will be boycotted if this and this and this and this isn’t changed immediately? Why not take some kind of really serious action against the Times if you don’t like what Isherwood is doing? Do you really believe a blog will affect change? If so, show me how it’s happening. I don’t think so — I don’t think the Times considers these blogs all that important.

And why does everybody continue to act like Isherwood is some wild renegade who writes whatever he wants without his editors, Rick Lyman and Sam Sifton and who knows who else, knowing anything about it? Are you all suggesting they’re not complicit in this mediocrity, if you believe he’s vile and vicious and mediocre?