David Cote vs. Terry Teachout vs. the Obama’s Seeing “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”

Left, Terry Teachout; right, David Cote

For those of you unaware of the event, on Saturday night, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama attended the revival of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at the Belasco Theater.

Since then, ticket sales have gone up considerably. Which makes me happy because this means that people are going to see a show that should be very good. More importantly, people will be going to see August Wilson. And since it seems as though a certain theater critic is not going to stand in Times Square wearing a sandwich board, this is pretty good.

The issue has been brought up that the trip will cost taxpayers about $24,000. I mulled this number over in my head and thought about how much of that is for the Secret Service, the motorcade, the police officers being brought in? Granted, the use of Marine One probably factors in heavily, but I would have to imagine that security factors a great deal into that figure.

Monday, Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal, who is a critic that I greatly respect and I enjoy reading, discussed the Obama’s attending the show. While he was thrilled that they attended a show he raved about, he wished that they had seen a show in Washington D.C.

However, First Lady Obama had apparently made President Obama promise her to take her to a Broadway show once the campaign was over. Or so I’ve read. If he had taken her to a show in D.C., it wouldn’t have been a Broadway show. But more importantly, it was a date night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge supporter of regional theater. Remember, I’m the one that tells people to at least see a show at the Steppenwolf instead of seeing a big glittery Broadway in Chicago show. I have to rally around the mostly community theaters here.

Quite frankly, this is a two sided issue. Yes, it would have been nice if they had seen a play in Washington D.C., but it’s nice that they saw a play that has quite a bit of artistic merit. And while Teachout brings in to the discussion the issue of cost, I personally don’t know how much of it would have been discounted by seeing a play in D.C..

Tuesday, Teachout posted a rebuttal to an anonymous drama critic who sent him a rather scathing email. Teachout does make some good points and while to the best of my knowledge, former President Bush never attended any Broadway plays or any shows in D.C., he did do somethings to support the arts. (On a side note, it is my belief as a journalist that the media is a bit focused on Obama, on both sides of the spectrum. I have yet to turn on my TV and hear about the fact that today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which I read about in this morning’s New York Times.)

Yesterday, David Cote, the theater editor for Time Out New York, came out as the critic who emailed Teachout. On TONY‘s theater blog “Upstaged”, he staged a smackdown of the Journal critic.

I respect both gentlemen as critics and I read both of their reviews. However, Cote has presented an argument that hinges on a hypothesis that Teachout’s reviews are biased due to political feelings of conservatism. (Cote uses “Republican” to label Teachout, but I know some liberal Republicans, such as my own mother, and I think the term he’s looking for is conservative.)

In the Wikipedia article on Teachout, it says that he is “a political conservative with wide-ranging cultural interests and sympathies.” And I remember hearing an interview with him on the American Theatre Wing’s program “Downstage Center” where he apparently told the two hosts to read his Wikipedia article before the interview. I think it’s safe to say that Teachout has a good idea of what is on this article.

But Cote suggests that Teachout uses his political ideologies to bias his reviews. He panned “Billy Elliot“, “Black Watch”, and “Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them.” But he also panned all of the other musicals that opened on Broadway this season. As a commenter on Cote’s post points out, he raved about “Avenue Q”, which has the line of “George Bush is only for now.”

You could suggest that Teachout pans shows based on political ideologies. But you could also suggest that John Simon is the lone voice when panning shows because he’s a cranky old man. You could suggest that Charles Isherwood might be the lone voice panning a show because he’s a snob. You could suggest that Chris Jones goes gaga for only big, expensive shows. The last one is a bit of a hyperbole, but I don’t think that Teachout does review shows using his political views as a blinder. If so, I don’t think he would have raved about a production of “Old Times” by Harold Pinter, who bashed Bush in his Nobel Prize in Literature speech.

And from reading his review of “Billy Elliot”, it seemed to be based on problems with the book and music. And the fact that it does spend some time bashing Margaret Thatcher. I listen to the music and I think “Thank you, I understand that a lot of people didn’t like Margaret Thatcher. May we please move on?” Sure, that’s a part of England at that time, but could we please move on?

In short, while it might seem as though Teachout pans shows based his political views, it’s just an assumption, a hypothesis. I believe that Noel Coward once said something about if you write a political piece, it can’t seem as though you’re forcing the views on the audience.

And for what it’s worth, I, an independent with some rather liberal views, read the Wall Street Journal, along with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Cedar Rapids Gazette. My rather conservative grandfather who reads the Journal on a daily basis was unaware of the existence of Teachout until I told him about it.

(It also seems as though someone is posing as me in the comments section of “Upstaged”)


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