Producers, Actors, Directors have been whispering about it for years . . .
When will Ben Brantley give up his post?
Some have asked it with urgent desperation, as if a new Times critic would be the end to their theatrical drought. (It’s so easy to blame critics when things don’t go your way – but negative reviews and/or positive reviews are never what decides your fate.)
I asked Ben the same question when he appeared on my podcast. Even back then, he had already occupied his important theater seat longer than most.
“How long will you keep doing this?”
His answer? He told me he was going to keep doing it and saw no reason to stop.
And I remember thinking . . . “Good.”
I know, I know, that response surprised even me, but keep reading.
Last week, Ben finally saw a reason to stop. On Friday, the Times announced he was stepping down from his post as the Chief Drama Critic for the New York Times. Another casualty of the pandemic.
Ben was a tough critic, no question. But I’m going to miss him, something I never thought I’d even think, never mind say.
Because I learned something on that podcast he did with me. We had something in common. We both loved theater more than anything.
It’s common to think critics hate the theater, since they wake up in the morning and 50% of the time (or more), their duty is to be negative.
And for some, it’s obvious that the love of tearing people down gets them out of bed.
But for Ben, it was clear that what drove him to rant or rave was because he loved the theater so @#$%ing much. He celebrated when a show got the fanboy in him to jump up and down. And he sliced a show to shreds when he wanted more for the art. (And he was often right! Including on some of my shows!) It was tough love. I often saw his negative reviews like a conversation with a boss or parent or friend who was critiquing you only because they knew you could do better. And he SO wanted that!
And when he loved something – boy oh boy could you see the joy on his face . . . just by reading what he wrote! (And even if you weren’t a fan of his taste, no one can argue what a writer he was. He turned a phrase as well as any dramatist I know.)
My love and respect for what he did inspired me to create a website all around him! (Which I sold years ago because I couldn’t take any more calls from Producers asking me to change the thumbs up/thumbs down rating the website staff came up with.)
So yes, I’m going to miss his stuff. And I’m going to miss him.
Because regardless of whether I agreed with him or not, I always enjoyed reading his “drama.” And I always knew that he did what he did out of a love and passion shared by all who work in the theater.
P.S. The only good news about the curtain coming down on the Brantley era is that the Times has an opportunity. One of the most important seats in the entire world of theater is open. It’s a position of influence. It can change the art form. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to fill this theater seat with the voice of someone from a community who hasn’t had the chance to use their voice? (To be Ben Brantley-like clear – I’m saying that the NY Times should take a cue from Joe Biden. The new Co-Chief Theater Critic should be a female person of color. Period. Yes, the future should be DidSheLikeIt.com.)