Margo Jefferson Out as Times Second String Theatre Critic

News   Margo Jefferson Out as Times Second String Theatre Critic
Margo Jefferson, who was announced at the new second string theatre critic at the New York Times in December 2003, will step down from that position after only six months in the post, Variety reported.

Earlier this summer, the Times announced that Jefferson—a Pulitzer Prize winner for her book reviews— was "on leave" in order to write a book. Many in the theatre community, however, suspected she would not return to the theatre beat.

The Times recently named Patti Cohen to the new position of overall theatre editor. Cohen will oversee the daily and weekend coverage of the theatre. Cohen confirmed that Jefferson had stepped down.

Jefferson's tenure was remarkable for its brevity and the ire she inspired among theatre professionals. Producers and artists widely objected to what they perceived as the patronizing, professorial tone of her reviews, which often began with lofty pronouncements on the theatre and concluded with prescriptive advice for the playwright.

The turning point in Jefferson's career may have been her review of the Lynn Nottage play Intimate Apparel, in which she derided the work of Daniel Sullivan, one of the most uniformly respected directors in the theatre. The review read, "Daniel Sullivan is a mechanical director. His blocking is efficient, never organic, and props are always used predictably." The notice caused enough of an outcry to inspire a mention in Variety.

Jefferson's new beat, cultural news editor Jon Landman told Variety, will be to "write about experimental art in all its forms, using all the critic's tools: reviews, essays, even perhaps the occasional guide to the perplexed." Neil Genzlinger has assumed Jefferson's beat in the last two months, reviewing major Off-Broadway shows, making him a possible candidate for the job. Bruce Weber, whom Jefferson replaced, is also still covering the theatre, writing feature stories. Another arguable possibility for the job is Jason Zinoman, the On Stage and Off columnist who has a long history behind him as Time Out New York's lead theatre critic. Cohen said the paper will be looking both inside and outside its ranks for a replacement. Ben Brantley remains the Times' chief theatre critic.

Meanwhile, the future of the On Stage and Off column, which appears in the Times every Friday, has been called into question of late. On July 11, Variety columnist Robert Hofler speculated that the long-standing feature would not return in the autumn, pointing to the fact that the broadsheet was not printing the usual weekly notice: "The On Stage and Off column will resume with the new theatre season in the fall."

Cohen confirmed that the fate of the column was being discussed.

Theatre producers and press agents have always depended heavily on the Times Friday column, routinely furnishing the paper with news items in hopes they will receive placement in the well-read column. Variety noted that the rise of theatre websites (Playbill On-Line being one of them) has made such exclusives increasingly difficult to preserve.

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