Off-Broadway impresario Ken Davenport decided to take Time Out New York theater editor David Cote to task for a comment he made on the TONY blog.
Cote, who ostensibly revels in his perch as aesthetic arbiter, did something nice, giving the five-venue New World Stages some major props: “You can actually see worthwhile shows there,” he wrote.
Engaging in a classic then-and-now comparison, he first took a swipe at two of the long-running shows there, including one of Davenport’s:
Cote opined that with Jon Marans’s The Temperamentals reopening there next spring, plus the presence of a passel of additional shows that Time Out has given a thumbs-up to (including Davenport’s own Altar Boyz), things are going well for the W. 50th Street theatrical jungle gym.
Cote even went so far as to confer new hope, light and air to Davenport’s peeps, Off-Broadway commercial producers:
The death of commercial Off Broadway is a constant refrain in theater news, but New World Stages continues to buck the trend.
Now, while it is true that Cote went on to rue the absence of an institutional nonprofit in residence at New World Stages, his TONY blogpost bestowed more positive PR in just a few lines than commercial Off-Broadway typically gets.
Unfortunately, Davenport, who is widely known to be openly hostile to critics, chose to take offense to Cote’s view of My First Time as “gimmicky tourist trash.”
“I don’t understand,” he wrote, “how an editor of a prominent publication can make a derogatory statement about a show that he has never seen.
Several lines down, he added:
Making insulting and demeaning comments about a show that you have never seen is simply irresponsible journalism.
Here, may I offer a few thoughts? To suggest three words represent “insulting and demeaning comments” is a bit much. “Trash” is noun here, there’s just one of them. As for “tourist,” well, perhaps Davenport could release demographics of his audience — if it’s mostly tri-state area, then that would buttress his anger at Cote, right? And to object to the use of the word “gimmicky” — well, that’s hair-splitting. Cote could have used the term “concept” and probably not earned the excoriation. But to suggest a show built around people’s loss-of-virginity stories doesn’t have a gimmicky quality to it is just not valid. My gosh, isn’t everything gimmicky to some degree?
Bottom line: Davenport, in objecting to Cote’s words, basically ascribes a capital offense to a minor misdemeanor.
All of which is small stuff in any event. The main news is Davenport asked his PR to “reach out” to Cote about My First Time
…and invite him to see the show. Perhaps once he got in to see it, he’d like it? Or perhaps he wouldn’t, and he’d cut it up even more (which would then be his right, and the risk that I’d be taking).
He said he was too busy.
That’s unfortunate: the message Cote could be sending, in addition to simply being busy, is that the critical reception of My First Time was so uninspiring that he’d really rather not waste an evening on it. Truthfully, he should go.
But you also have to wonder what grave medical misfortune is ailing Davenport’s dialing fingers. The theater abounds with story after story of great, wise and thundering producers calling up critics to discuss all kinds of prickly matters, including their reviews (and non-reviews). Despite flaring temperaments and disagreements, it was always considered gentlemanly for a producer, in the natural defense of his business, to launch into a direct dialogue with a journalist or critic who might threaten or otherwise harm that business. So Cote might say, “Well, that’s what I think” and Davenport might say, “You can’t say what you think about something you haven’t seen,” but at least there’d be a direct exchange of views. It wouldn’t be handed off by the producer to someone in his employ. If the matter is important enough for Davenport to write about it and publish it, it should be important enough to Davenport to pick up the phone himself.
Let’s also have a moment for something else Davenport wrote in his post. Again, he is well known to harbor a seething dislike for critics. But even he would have to admit that he’s not a journalist. So he should be careful when attempting to define what does and does not constitute ethics. Consider this quote:
…how the editor of the theater section can make snarky comments with no firsthand knowledge of the product is shocking to me. It’s not journalism. It’s tabloidism: making bold and exaggerated statements to give your rag personality (and I can call it a rag, because I was a subscriber and an advertiser).
Isn’t it as if he’s almost begging for a response? If he chose to, Cote could simply reply with:
…how the producer of Altar Boyz and My First Time can call those shows quality is shocking to me. It’s not producing. It’s commercial gimmickry: making bold and exaggerated “theater” to give your mediocre show personality (and I can call it a mediocre show because I reviewed one of them and I read 15 reviews by all the other major critics of the other one — here are links to all those reviews so you can read them.)
Mind you, if Cote did write that, he’d also be wrong — two wrong still don’t make a right. And I purposely wrote that graph to illustrate how easy it is to raise or lower the temperature without thinking through the consequences of said raising or said lowering.
So if an argument can be made that Cote was too cavalier with his language, an argument can also be made that Davenport’s characterization of Time Out New York as a “tabloid” was equally cavalier. The theatrosphere does not fully obviate the need for people, when possible, to comport themselves like actual adults.
(And if you’re reading this and saying out loud, “Oh yeah? Look at all the times you, on your site, didn’t act like an adult,” you’re right. Sometimes it’s possible to recognize in others what you have trouble recognizing in yourself.)