In a battle of words reminiscent of the 1970s feuds between Broadway producer David Merrick and New York reviewers, South Bay, CA, theatre impresario James Blackman has called on theatregoers to boycott the South Bay Daily Breeze until it fires its theatre critic, Jim Farber.
Blackman's attack on the Breeze was triggered by a negative review it ran recently of The South Bay Playhouse's current production of Deathtrap at the Hermosa Community Theatre. Blackman is the Playhouse's executive director.
Farber has been the Breeze's theatre critic for the past five years. Prior to that, he was a theatre and music critic for Daily Variety.
In his review of Deathtrap, Farber said that the play showed "the worst hack side of director Glenn Casale's talent... Even more odd and disturbing, the management of the theatre obviously feels that the play's homosexual subplot (which is crucial to the action) is far too risque for the sensibilities of South Bay audiences. So the secret love affair between the aging playwright and his young partner in bed and crime, has been toned down to the point of virtual nonsense."
Farber went on to ask, "Why do the play at all if you don't intend to explore the nuances and psychological ramifications it intends?" Farber concluded his negative review by advising the reader to "save your money, rent the video." In a stage appearance prior to a matinee performance, Blackman took the stage to accuse Farber of being unfairly negative not only about his own productions but of productions at other South Bay theatres as well. He said his complaint was not with the Breeze or any of its other reviewers, but only with Farber.
"I don't object to a bad review," he said. "But I do object to a reviewer trying to kill local theatre. And that's what he is doing when he tells readers to stay home and rent the video."
Farber, when asked to respond to Blackman, said, "I just do my job. As sports announcer Gil Stratton said, 'I call 'em like I see 'em.'"
Breeze editor Jim Box said of Blackman's comments, "James seems to think we should be doing public relations for him. But our first loyalty is to our readers. We're trying to help readers decide how to use their time and money. He's charging downtown prices ($30) and wants to be reviewed professionally, so we review his productions that way. For him to tell me who to send to review his productions is like me telling him whom to cast."
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent