Those daggers some theater people have been flinging at that local reviewer? They've hit home.
Washington Post theater editor Michael Cavna phoned Tricia Olszewski this afternoon with the verdict on whether she would be continuing to cover theater for the Paper of Record.
Just joining us? Here's the backstory:
On Monday, correspondent "Morgan Kent" sent Tboy a link to the bio page from Olszewski's movie-reviewing blog, MovieBabe. "Kent" raised a virtual eyebrow at a couple of lines (since removed) on the topic of T.O.'s Post reviews:
... drama nerds can find my snooty takes on local theatah on washingtonpost.com. Help make MovieBabe a success so I don't have to see any more pretentious plays!
Now, this is the place for Tboy to say that he knows T.O. (she freelances movie reviews for the City Paper) and is not unkindly disposed toward her. That said, he was a little surprised to see that language.
On the other hand, the above crack was followed--immediately--by an I'm-just-joshin' parenthetical:
Disclaimer: Movie Babe is not insinuating that all productions in the Greater Washington, D.C. area take themselves too seriously. Just some of them. And by some, I mean many that I'm sent to.
"Kent," as you might suspect, was gnashed to discover on Tuesday that T.O. had taken that language down sometime during the past 24 hours.
"No matter," he reported in a satisfied tone (if an e-mail can have a satisfied tone): "I sent her link to many a theatre person yesterday who saw it before she changed it. At least we all know what we are dealing with."
Meanwhile one of those theater persons, this one not anonymous, was e-mailing Tboy to ask why the flap wasn't already featured on the blog. Said theater persons provided a screen-grab (at right) of the language in question. And one or more wrote to the Post about it.
T.O., with whom Tboy has talked about all this by phone and e-mail, sounds frustrated, regretful, and resigned about it. To her credit, she wasn't hesitant to discuss it publicly; she gave Tboy permission to quote freely from their correspondence.
"Peter [Marks] told me about it last night," T.O. wrote on Tuesday, when Tboy was still so busy chasing the Source Theatre story that he hadn't had time to do more than shoot her a quick e-mail asking Whatthefuck?
"It was something I wrote last year and, since I'm not quite that stupid, I did try to make it playful. And I understand the initial uproar, but I think I should be judged by my reviews, not by a joke."
Tboy knows there's a sense among some theaterfolk that T.O. shouldn't have been writing about theater in the first place, that she didn't "get it" in the way a critic needs to.
Tboy's not so sure. More from her e-mail:
I don't dislike theater. There are aspects of reviewing it that make me uncomfortable -- the social aspect of getting to know the people who run these companies (being the social phobe that I am, that right there makes my stomach turn) and seeing them again and again even if I give them terrible reviews.
Plus, unlike with big dumb Hollywood movies, I'd much rather see a good production than a bad one, less for my own entertainment but because I know these people are passionate about what they do and are not out to make big bucks by knowingly putting out crap. But obviously, I don't enjoy sitting through garbage, either, and being on the low rung I've certainly been sent to my share.
Tboy thinks, regardless of whatever other reservations people may have about T.O.'s appetite or lack of it for theater in all its gruesomeness and glory, that those last two lines are telling. The first is a big part of the "getting it" that's one of the essential qualities of a good critic. The second is the kind of blunt realism that keeps a good critic from getting so Kool Aid-drunk as to be unable to separate the shit from the shiny bits.
If I was vicious about everything I saw, I could understand making a big deal out of this. But I believe my reviews are fair and diplomatic and I'm thrilled to give people credit for a job well done. And as you once pointed out, these companies are asking people for quite a chunk of money to see this stuff, so you can't sugarcoat things, either.
And in a later e-mail:
I wouldn't be as unsettled if I didn't already feel like the red-headed stepchild of the theater world. ... [I]n the CP roundup last year (was it a double byline?) the anonymous quote from a director complaining about being reviewed by "second stringers" bothered me. (Nothing against you or Bob, I know I was being overly sensitive about it.)
Between Nelson, Celia, and me, I'm the one with the least experience and theater background. ... And I suspect that because I *don't* go to see shows I don't review -- I think I've done so twice -- it comes off as complete disinterest, when actually it's because I'm juggling so many things I often don't have a night to myself.
... [A]fter [Peter and I ] talked I emailed him an apology for causing any embarrassment as well as an offer to make some sort of statement if necessary. Last night I felt I should keep the site comment as it was, so as not to self-implicate; this morning I was feeling less confident.
This afternoon, having told T.O. that he'd hold off on stirring the pot until the Post had decided whether to keep her on, Tboy phoned to check in with her.
She'd heard from Cavna not long before. She'll no longer be writing about theater in the Washington Post.
And though some theaterfolk will doubtless have trouble believing it, she sounds genuinely sad about it.