Oh my, I think he did. I read Als’ review of Thomas Bradshaw’s Southern Promises when I got my copy of The New Yorker, of course, but frankly I sort of dismissed it — it’s rather a naked and astonishingly weak attempt to, as Rob suggests, move the goal posts left and right and sideways.
There’s something about the tone of Als’ review, I agree, that suggests that just because the critic deigned to visit P.S. 122 (major kudos to publicist Ron Lasko for persuading him to go), Bradshaw must therefore represent some sort of vanguard, if not strictly some avant-garde.
As for me, I have not seen the play as yet, and frankly I’ve been debating whether I should. And that is because of my strong and still-not-fully-forgotten reaction to Bradshaw’s play Purity a year and some ago. Truly, it was one of the most uncomfortable nights I’ve ever spent at the theatre. I will never, ever forget the sight of Bradshaw standing, arms folded, at the back of the house, smiling from ear to ear as people literally streamed out of house by the score, offended by the two simulated rapes of a child on stage; as the playwright, pleased with himself beyond all measure, comprehension and sanity, overtly thrilled to seeing women cry and men disgusted; as Bradshaw delighted in hijacking his own dramatic concept with such stark gratuitiousness and showy alienation. Artaud and Brecht might have been beaming from their respective graves, but it was such a sad occasion because it was all in the name of some misguided mind-fuck.
So here comes Hilton Als, it seems, to proclaim Bradshaw some messed-up messiah, and Rob is right to question the quality of Als’ review, the critic’s motivations for covering the play, and, in a “broad brush” way (his phrase), suggest that the rest of us question whether blurring the line between criticism and agenda setting is in the best interests of the form. It seems to me that the question is: Does agenda-setting damage the artist in the long run, for isn’t the conferring of status really about the critic’s self-aggrandizement first and the art itself last?
I’m also very pleased to see Weinert-Kendt tackle Als’ footloose, fancy-not-so-free discussion of stage artists “purposefully incorporating blackness into America’s primarily white avant-garde theatre”:
…it’s not my area of expertise, but does Suzan-Lori Parks not count? Or George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum? And is that unappetizing list of black theater sub-genres, which I guess includes and dismisses everything by August Wilson, Douglas Turner Ward, Lynn Nottage, Kia Corthron (and these are just the names I can pluck off the top of my head), really relevant to the question of the scarcity of black artists in the avant-garde theater?…
Read the comments on Rob’s blog, too. It’s not the first time he’s taken Als to task, if memory serves, and I guess it won’t be the last.