In the Winter 2013 Nieman Reports, in a collection of essays titled “Critical Condition,” John Lahr (former New Yorker drama critic) lambastes American theater critics in general and a couple of well-known ones in particular (but not by name). Under the heading “The Illumination Business,” he says, in part:
“The reviewer proclaims his ignorance, then blithely practices it. His chirpy tone is the voice not of a critic but of a ‘cricket’ … . The writer makes noise but not meaning. He’s full of energy but not information… . His article is not criticism; it’s bluffing.” Later, Lahr adds, “A drama critic has a historical and descriptive function; his job is to look at and look after the theater; a reviewer’s job is to look after the audience.”
One terse response has come from Charles McNulty (LA Times) on Facebook: “I always thought [Lahr] was part of the problem. His reviews rarely provided in-depth analysis of a production… . I lost all confidence in Lahr’s critical integrity. I would read his reviews and see his dinner parties.” If you are on Facebook, you can also see piling-on comments by Jason Zinoman (NY Times) and others.
But the best place to read McNulty’s comment is in George Hunka’s online journal, “Superfluities Redux,” where on March 3 (“John Lahr v. Charles McNulty: Round 1”) he discusses Lahr’s charges. As is often the case, the comments there add some substance and lots of fun. Hunka returns to the subject the next day with “A Modest Proposal,” which attracts comments of its own.
And the debate (brawl?) goes on.