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Photograph: Joan Marcus

Thumbs up or down on It’s Only a Play’s fictional Broadway critic?

By David Cote
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Sure, everyone’s a critic, but rarely do you see our profession represented as a job that people, y’know, do on a daily basis. While we might not lead the most exciting lives—going to screenings, reading books, eating at restaurants, then sitting and writing about it—there’s a mystique around our breed. Wait: is that mystique or mistake? Most people assume that we’re all hateful, bitter snobs who love nothing more than putting down work with cheap puns and ad hominem attacks. (Cue the dumbest example of this, Saturday Night Live’s Jebidiah Atkinson.)

The latest woeful misrepresentation of our noble profession is Ira Drew, a smarmy, arrogant hack played by F. Murray Abraham (pictured above) in It’s Only a Play. I was not a fan (to put it mildly) of Terrence McNally’s limp show-folk satire; I gave it two stars and a thorough pasting for being cheap, unfunny and far too long. A lot of it makes very little sense, even to those of us inside the media. For example, Ira is attending the opening-night party of The Golden Egg, the play within the play. This is simply never done. As a rule, theater critics attend a preview performance about three or more days before opening night. Come opening night, we release our reviews; we don’t go and swill champagne with the cast and crew. I’ve been to such parties, but not if I've reviewed. It’s not clear what Ira is doing there, besides providing a straw man for critic-haters everywhere. He gets a plate of spaghetti dumped on his head (a nod to an apocryphal incident involving John Simon and Syvlia Miles; apparently, it was steak tartare).

We’ll chalk it up to artistic license. If more artists actually knew what we do and how we do it, they might have to start taking our reviews seriously. Until then, we upholders of standards, drivers of aesthetic change and pioneers of cultural discourse will just have to accept the slander and caricatures until critics no longer exist (around 2018). Let our Christina Izzo roll her eyes at anhedonic Anton Ego; film expert Joshua Rothkopf wince at pudgy, whiny Jay Sherman; I might admire Addison DeWitt’s suavity and eloquence, but not his lack of ethics. If these are the best portraits we can get, we’ll take them. After all, flattery is not our business.

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