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No Prize for Criticism

I make it a practice never to answer criticism--either from columns or reviews in newspapers--believing, primarily, that the work does and should speak for itself and, secondarily, that any response by the artist, no matter how justified and warranted, usually is read by someone who didn’t see the original criticism and, regardless of the circumstances, smacks appallingly of the “sour grapes” syndrome. It is usually best to leave things as they are.

However, Nancy Churnin’s column “San Diego Spotlight” in the Friday, April 14, edition of Calendar contains so many misconceptions and misleading inferences that it would be irresponsible to the patrons of the Old Globe Theatre not to attempt to clarify a few issues.

The leading paragraph states that the Globe “came tantalizingly close to presenting two Pulitzer Prize winners in its upcoming summer season.” Since the first play Miss Churnin mentions, “Driving Miss Daisy,” is, in fact, scheduled to be presented starting June 29, with Globe Associate Assistant Sada Thompson in the leading role, that tantalizing possibility does not seem to have been missed at all.

The second production Miss Churnin mentions is August Wilson’s stunning drama “The Piano Lesson,” which did not win the Pulitzer Prize this year and, in fact, occupies the Globe stage next. “The Heidi Chronicles,” which did take this year’s prize, is in negotiations at this moment for inclusion in the next season, so the Globe couldn’t be more timely if it tried.

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Miss Churnin continues her article by pointing out that San Diego has sent “its share of shows to Broadway in the last five years, but has yet to produce a single Pulitzer winner.” I don’t believe the Globe, or the Seattle Repertory Theatre, or any major resident theater in the country, creates its work for the Pulitzer committee, nor thinks any prize at all the end product of the work itself.

The resident network of theaters that span this country are primarily interested in two things, so far as I understand the movement: reaching and satisfying the needs of their respective communities and, in doing so, nurturing the theater arts as we know them: acting, writing, direction, design, etc. When we look to Tonys and Pulitzer Prizes to justify the work of our theaters, we have become little better than institutional donkeys, following carrots at the end of a journalistic stick.

The Seattle Repertory Theatre, which Miss Churnin justifiably celebrates for its creative programming and its adventurous workshop, has spawned over the past few years not only “The Heidi Chronicles” but the Tony-winning “I’m Not Rappaport.” Such a record of success and creative excitement is to be praised and desired.

Still, the (Globe’s) Play Discovery Program, which Miss Churnin states as serving four plays a year for one night (actually five to six plays are publicly offered, and many more processed in spite of the fact that only the “dark” Mondays are available to us at present), has produced Reuben Gonzalez’s successful “The Boiler Room”; “Alfred Stieglitz Loves O’Keefe”; last year’s musical by Stephen Metcalfe, “White Linen”; this summer’s “Breaking Legs,” and many others.

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The Globe is deserving of both criticism and scrutiny by its audience and its critics, but a more comprehensive view of its financing and its resources might yield a clearer view of its programming. Meanwhile, a “critically panned” play like “Up in Saratoga” finishes its run with 55% of the original script having been reworked and improved, playing to extremely enthusiastic audiences, and a climate of positive general health without any notice or encouragement whatsoever.

The audiences seem to understand this process very well. But to point to a Pulitzer Prize to signal the worth of any theater institution seems as fatuous as assuming that the critical worth of any newspaper is contingent upon how many Pulitzer Prize-winning critics it can boast.

JACK O’BRIEN

Artistic Director

Old Globe Theatre


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