Pin It

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hedy's review was a rave—why is everybody so upset?

Posted By on 08.09.13 at 04:22 PM

If Silk Road Rising is looking for quotes from the critics to fire up the ad campaign for the company's new show, Invasion!, Hedy Weiss gave them plenty.

"Part satire, part agit-prop, part impassioned look at identity politics."

"Verbal pyrotechnics, deftly delineated characters, sly humor."

"Sharply etched direction . . . and a bristling good cast of four capable of morphing on a dime."

"Kamal Hans brings a wonderful sense of Abulkasem's zest for life to his portrayal. . . . Amira Sabbagh shifts with great style from princess to edgy modern grad students. Glenn Stanton is the well-muscled class clown one moment and inept pickup artist the next. And understudy Omer Abbas Salem nailed the roles of fellow class clown and military man . . ."

"Polished, to be sure."

I guess Hedy loved it.

No, Weiss was unable to love it. Her Wednesday Sun-Times review gave Invasion! only a "somewhat recommended," the reason being that the real world confounded her ability to enjoy what she was watching. As she wrote, the play "is a cry against Muslim profiling," but in coming as the U.S. warned of an al-Quaeda attack and closed embassies throughout the Muslim world, "a certain skepticism met those cries."

That skepticism would be Weiss's own, which she's entitled to. Sometimes reality seals our hearts against entertainment. I remember being completely unable to enjoy the movie Speed because the police and media caravan following the hijacked bus looked, to me, so identical to the slow-motion nightmare I'd watched on TV a few days before, an identical caravan tracking O.J. Simpson's white Bronco through the same LA streets.

The matter of Arabs and Jews and the Middle East haunts Weiss. I'm sorry that in her review she did not come right out and say so. She wrote, "But despite [playwright] Khemiri's passion, those still thinking of the horrific terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon might well be tempted to ask: What practical alternative to profiling would you suggest?"

Again she undermined her critique with a circumlocution. She was still thinking of the Boston attacks. She was tempted to ask. She did ask. But she didn't own her trepidations until the last line of her review. In the print edition of the Sun-Times it concluded: "Polished, to be sure. But I still don't buy it."

Don't buy what exactly? She didn't say.

A public furor immediately rose up against this review, and the Sun-Times altered it online. (The Sun-Times and Reader share the same parent company, Wrapports LLC.) The last line became "But I still don't buy the play's arguments," which answers my question but not honestly. It was something "polished" that she didn't buy. That wouldn't have been the play's arguments but the entire theatrical experience—script, acting, direction—that she had praised. She didn't buy it because even though she could acknowledge how good it was she wasn't receptive to it. It was the wrong play for the wrong reviewer at the wrong time.

And the Sun-Times dropped the lines about the Boston Marathon and alternatives to profiling. An online note after the review says, "A previous version of this review contained language about racial profiling that may have been perceived as expressing a political opinion. This is an updated version of that review."

This note turned bad into worse. Damned right, Weiss's language about racial profiling was perceived to be a political opinion. That's what it was; and Weiss is entitled, as a critic, to allow her politics to show up in her reviews. Let me quote Roger Ebert here: "Where did so many Americans get the notion that there is something offensive or transgressive about expressing political opinions? Movies are often about politics, sometimes when they least seem to be, and the critic must be honest enough to reveal his own beliefs in reviewing them, instead of hiding behind a mask of false objectivity. …If you disagree with something I write, tell me so, argue with me, correct me—but don’t tell me to shut up. That’s not the American way."

Jamil Khoury, the founding artistic director of Silk Road Rising, immediately challenged—and linked to—Weiss's review on Facebook, and later posted an extended response on the theater's website. It's a more coherent critique of Weiss's review than that review was of Khoury's play—at least it is until it sails over the top. "And while I appreciate her editor making this change," Khoury writes, that change being the deletion of the line about Boston and racial profiling, "it is woefully insufficient and downright offensive to Sun-Times readers, particularly readers from communities that are, or have been, racially profiled! A more appropriate response from the Chicago Sun-Times would be a formal apology to Chicago’s Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities, and a disavowal of Hedy’s Islamophobic and anti-Arab views."

This might be just my own jaundiced point of view, but when a statement of outrage concludes with a demand for apologies all around, it's a reliable sign that someone has run out of argument and is counting on indignation to keep him going a little longer.

Hedy Weiss responded briefly on Romenesko. "Whether we like it or not," she said, "we are ALL being profiled every time we enter an airport, highrise or crowd of any kind these days — primarily out of a genuine necessity that the playwright, in my opinion, was not addressing honestly. For me to not honestly address that feeling would have been to write a dishonest review."

My big regret is that Weiss didn't address that "necessity" more honestly—and directly. She had two choices, I think. She could have written her review as an explicit argument with the play, instead of torturing language to make her own issues sound like mere anxieties in the wind. (Not that they aren't.) Or she could have handed off the assignment to someone else. Of course, somebody else might not have given Silk Road Rising such wonderful quotes. Justin Hayford, for example, reviewed the play for the Reader. He wasn't a bit impressed.

Hayford wrote: "I'm guessing the play is supposed to be a satire—mostly because that's what the hyperbolic New York press said when it opened there in 2011—but Anna Bahow's pushy production for Silk Road Rising isn't particularly satirical. In fact, it's so unfocused and indefinite that it ends up being almost nothing at all."

That's not the review Jamil Khoury raised a hue and cry about. It's not the review that makes a "somewhat recommended" production sound like one of the best shows in town.

The original version of this post failed to disclose that the Sun-Times's parents company, Wrapports LLC, also owns the Reader.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Find out how you can help

Comments (11)

Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

More by Michael Miner

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
The Jackie Wilson Story Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center
August 07
Music
August 25

Tabbed Event Search

The Bleader Archive

Popular Stories

When You Shuffle A Deck Of Cards, You're Creating Something Entirely Unique