Bright Light of Broadway: Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic of the New York Times, Reflects on Editing a New Book of Times Reviews, Dueling with Antigay Critic John Simon, and Witnessing the Healing Power of Theater. (Theater)

By Bahr, David | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), January 22, 2002 | Go to article overview

Bright Light of Broadway: Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic of the New York Times, Reflects on Editing a New Book of Times Reviews, Dueling with Antigay Critic John Simon, and Witnessing the Healing Power of Theater. (Theater)


Bahr, David, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Reading a Ben Brantley review leaves little doubt: This is a man who loves his job. As chief theater critic for The New York Times, having begun there as a theater reviewer in 1993, he writes reviews that are insightful, intelligent, and, most important, joyously passionate. Although his first journalism job was as a fashion reporter for Women's Wear Daily (with no previous knowledge of fashion, he bemusedly adds), Brantley has always been an ardent theater fan. He was 15 when he saw his first Broadway production, Follies, and 32 years later he can still recall every moment "scene by scene." Having edited the recently published The New York Times Book of Broadway, which contains 125 Times reviews of some of the most unforgettable productions of the last century, Brantley sat down with The Advocate to discuss gays in theater, 2001's best of Broadway, and his infamous television debate in June with homophobic critic John Simon. What follows are excerpts from that conversation.

How did you decide which 125 reviews to include in the book?

Several factors. We wanted reviews that embody the time. These are productions that had a real impact and made news, something that people said they'd never seen anything like that. These are shows that either disturbed or shocked or were else such perfection that they became a standard for all other productions.

Looking at the past year, what do you think of the current state of gay theater? I know you liked Edward Albee's The Play About the Baby.

I don't think of that as a gay play, although Albee is a playwright who is gay. To try and interpret everything he writes as if it's coded homosexuality is wrong. I had an argument with John Simon [on Charlie Rose's PBS show] about this. The Play About the Baby was much more resonant than Simon thought. I don't think it's coded "faggot nonsense," as he would have it.

How did the whole subject come up between you and Simon?

Charlie Rose had said something about how I had grown into the job, giving me a kind of pat on the back. Then he turned to John and said, "Don't you agree?" And John said something like [imitating an affected voice], "Oh, yes, but the one difference between us, I would say, is Mr. Brantley's affection, for want of a better word, for what I call `the homosexual play.'" And of course I just went, "Huh?" Then I said, "Are we going back to The Play About the Baby?" Because we had argued about it earlier. To which he said, "Yes, that and others."

I think John mistakes obscurity for homosexuality. He feels a little threatened. So I said that I believe it's generational. A lot of the things that he identifies with gay sensibility are certain kinds of irony, a sense of talking in quotation marks, and what we often call camp, something that most kids are now familiar with in the age of Letterman. Then I said to him [laughing], "Maybe it's in the water, John. Maybe it's that gay fluoride in the water."

What makes a good theater critic?

For me, tone of voice. It's someone you want to listen to whether you agree with him or not. You want that kind of dialogue going in your head.

Is that what you take into account when you write your reviews? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Bright Light of Broadway: Ben Brantley, Chief Theater Critic of the New York Times, Reflects on Editing a New Book of Times Reviews, Dueling with Antigay Critic John Simon, and Witnessing the Healing Power of Theater. (Theater)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.