Ben Brantley and Celebrity Stunt Casting


Ben, may we please talk?

I’ve really noticed this season, due to the celebrity studded Broadway season, how celebrity crazed you can be. It’s breaking my heart because you’re the chief theater critic for the New York Times. You normally would seen as a force to be dealt with that makes producers tremble.

Granted, your star obsession has been known for a while. There was the infamous review of the revival of Three Days of Rain that was not only entitled “Enough Said About ‘Three Days of Rain.’ Let’s Talk Julia Roberts!”, but you confessed that you are (or were) a “Juliaholic.” You then proceeded to go on about how nervous it was to be in the same theater as Julia Roberts.

Which, if you were trying to convey a point, I understand. But at that time I banged my head into my desk. In fact, when I read those words today, I have to refrain from banging my head into my desk.

This was seen again in your review of “33 Variations,” which seemed as though you spent far too much time going “OMG JANE FONDA” and discussing the errors of the play than talking about the performances of the other actors which you seemed a bit dismissive of.

“In ’33 Variations,’ Katherine is being ruthlessly denuded of her defenses, and for those who grew up enthralled with Ms. Fonda’s screen image, it’s hard not to respond to her performance here, on some level, as a personal memento mori,” you wrote in your review.

“Those who grew up enthralled with Ms. Fonda’s screen image”? Were you referring to yourself? Your colleague at Time Out New York, David Cote, pointed this out on “Upstaged” and I couldn’t agree more with him.

Your approach to Fonda’s performance is more drooling than anything. In fact, your near-drooling is really sad after your colleague at the Times, Charles Isherwood, wrote in his article “Celebroadway!” this:

It gives Ms. Fonda so little to play that the production marks the saddest waste of an actor in at least a season or two, given that it has been more than four decades since she has appeared on a New York stage. As a chilly music scholar trying to unearth the secret history of Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations, Ms. Fonda is largely required only to lecture us about her research, act standoffish toward her needy daughter (Ms. Mathis) and then slowly succumb to disease.

She does it all with unexceptionable integrity, but you are left wanting a lot more. Ms. Fonda is as serious a person as you could hope to meet, but let’s hope that next time she braves Broadway — and I sincerely hope she does again, soon — she consents to make a spectacle of herself, or at least a spectacle of her formidable talent.

While you sounded breathless and over-the-top, Isherwood–who not only is another critic, but writes for the same publication–was refined and said that he hopes that she appears in something that isn’t a waste. You just pointed out the flaws in the play and talked about Fonda like you’re a host on E! News.

It makes me so sad since I’ve been reading and digesting your reviews since I was twelve. There are some weeks where I just don’t read your reviews because I know what the reviews will sound like. They will sound like shrill praise from a celebrity obsessed critic.

My heart leapt a bit when I read your review of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone because I thought that maybe you had gone back to being serious. But perhaps I shouldn’t think too much of it. There are still several plays awaiting to open.

Yours Truly,



3 thoughts on “Ben Brantley and Celebrity Stunt Casting

  1. Jane Fonda is excellent in 33 Variations, David Cote is a 2nd rate Michael Riedle and you are too full of yourself. Ben Brantley, I’m sure, doesn’t give a flip about what you have to say about what he writes in his column. And if Cote really felt that way about Fonda then why didn’t his review say how he felt. Instead he waited a day and decided he needed something to provoke more readers to comment on his new blog and so that his editor would see that people were actually reading it. Get real – stick to your own opinions and stop standing in judgement of the opinions of others as if you were the be all to end all in theatrical knowledge.

  2. First of all, this isn’t a question of whether or not Fonda is good in “33 Variations.” In fact, I’ve gathered from reading the reviews of several critics that Fonda does a good job, but “33 Variations” is the wrong vehicle. The question here is that Ben Brantley seems a bit too celebrity dazed.

    Second, have you ever heard of satire? I doubt it since you are unable to spell Michael Riedel’s name correctly and your punctuation is dubious.

    Third, if I wanted to really do something, I’d get off my ass and write the New York Times a letter. This is to encourage intelligent discussion of the fact that Brantley seems too star struck, which is not something I’m pointing out for the first time. Other bloggers and there are critics that feel the same way.

    Fourth, I love how you have no judgement of Isherwood, who I also cite, but you attack not only myself but Cote, who I personally don’t see as a second rate Riedel. Riedel is a rumormongerer that will probably only be able to write for the Post. Cote writes for TONY and had a piece in The Guardian this weekend. Cote is a critic.

    As for myself, have you ever read my blog? Sure, I might come off as full of myself, but I have a list of people I go to when I need my ego inflated. I only own thirty-one books relating to the theater and thirty of those are plays. I regret my inability to purchase more and I do realize that I have much more to learn. This is why I’m going off to college.

    This is my own opinion, Jon-who-has-a-Yahoo-email-and-no-blog-or-website. I’m stating it with other opinions backing up mine saying “I’m not the only one to feel this way.”

    You sir are a hypocrite since you end your comment with “stop standing in judgement of the opinions of others…” and yet you are doing that same exact thing.

    In fact, I can think of several critics that are worse than Brantley. In many respects, I don’t think I’m as good as he is because, as seen with his review of “Mary Stuart” today, he does have a tenacity for wit and sarcasm. But the star dazed attitude is very annoying and I’m trying to encourage intelligent discussion here.

    (By the way, TONY has a limit on how many words they can use in a paragraph. Also, what I linked is not Cote’s review.)

  3. Thanks for good post.

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