LOS ANGELES -- Laurie Winer, the chief theatre critic in Los Angeles, has taken an unexpected leave of absence from the L.A. Times. No official statement about her departure has been released by the paper -- her office phone machine simply states that she is on a three-month leave of absence. Other staff members refuse to comment, though one staffer told Playbill On-Line, "She's on leave." It is widely believed in the theatrical community that she has been relieved of her duties.
Winer joined the Los Angeles Times in 1994, having been recruited from the east coast. No replacement for her has been named by the paper, though a staffer said that Don Shirley would be doing the major reviews, with freelancers filling in on the second-string shows.
In her four-year stint at the Times, Winer concentrated almost exclusively on reviews since, as Back Stage West editor Rob Kendt said, "she reportedly didn't feel the scene had enough coherence to merit other 'think' pieces or trend criticism."
Winer also made frequent trips back to New York to review Broadway shows; many local theatre people, Kendt among them, feel this was one reason why the Times soured on her, though other rumors attribute her departure to internecine political and/or personality clashes in the Times entertainment department.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent