Robert Brustein

Robert Brustein

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 14 1997 3:30 AM

Robert Brustein

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       Additional material in today's mail suggested that there are others, beside Frank Rich, with a special agenda regarding the debate between August Wilson and me. The Village Voice, for example, dispatched four reporters to rebuke us for not debating the place of gays, lesbians, Asians, women, and other minorities in the theater, a fifth later finding me guilty of being "old, misguided, and white." I humbly confess to most of these felonies; I promise to try to avoid them in the future.
       The theater journalist for the Boston Globe resented the fact that the debate had not been more contentious, and then, in a follow-up piece, grumbled (unconscious of any contradiction) that neither Wilson nor I had embraced the other's position. She was hardly alone in that last complaint. Dozens of commentators seemed unable to grasp that, in Wilson's insistence on black actors working only in black theaters, and my call for nontraditional casting as well, we held conflicting points of view that could not be reconciled. But then we live in a country that believes not so much in teaching people how to swim as in advising them how to "get along" in the water, where togetherness is more valued than practice or principle.
       A handful of analysts--among them Jack Kroll of Newsweek, Stanley Crouch of New York's Daily News, and John Simon of New York--had no trouble grasping the issues. And it was comforting to receive strong supporting letters from a number of black intellectuals. But the great majority of commentators saw the debate through the prism of their own interests and ideologies. (Admittedly, so do I.) I've been criticized, by a growing crowd of relativists, for believing in universal values and embracing a single standard for art. The reports on the debate have forced me to admit the futility of sustaining artistic criteria in a politically correct age. Oh, the truth is out there, of course. And posterity no doubt will tell us what is vulnerable in the past, for history is the ultimate critic and arbiter. But our own time is almost totally blinded by subjective points of view.

Robert Brustein is artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.; professor of English at Harvard; and theater critic for the New Republic.