Robert Brustein

Robert Brustein

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 13 1997 3:30 AM

Robert Brustein

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       Yesterday, a weighty log arrived from Theatre Communications Group, the sponsor of last January's debate between August Wilson and me at Town Hall. It contained scores of reports on the event from a great variety of newspapers and magazines. Leafing through this huge mass of Xerox copies made me realize, with a start, that the real quarrel was not between Wilson and me but rather between the two of us and the media. How difficult it is to get anything more than the simplest ideas reported accurately in the press. I was reminded of Arnold Weinstein's classic remark, when refusing to be interviewed by a reporter, that the issue in question was too complicated "to survive the epistemological vicissitudes of journalism."
       I can't speak for Wilson, but I just can't recognize my position as reported in the New York Times, aside from William Grimes' objective account the morning after the debate. Paul Goldberger first muddied the waters in an earlier interview by imputing to me a belief that there was no place for all-black theaters in America. This he disputed, as well he might. So do I, as I made clear to him during the interview and later on in the debate.
       Frank Rich weighed in a few days later, forgetting to mention that we're engaged in a long-running feud. (This is not the first time he's tried to retaliate against me for questioning the undue power he and his wife, as drama critic and theater columnist, had been wielding over the New York stage.) I'm surprised he even made it to Town Hall. Most of the legwork he does as an op-ed reporter for the Times consists in walking to his television set to switch on Entertainment Tonight or marching to the corner newsstand to buy a copy of People magazine (all right, stop it; you don't have to keep stoking the embers of this feud).
       Aside from his exercises in character assassination (Wilson and I are called "humorless," "decadent," "egomaniacs," and I am called "tone-deaf," among other rich adjectives), Rich rebukes me for "bragging about how many black people he has known." I had actually listed the black artists I had trained and worked with at my theater, in an effort to illustrate the importance of colorblind casting. His most laughable charge is that in discussing racial issues, Wilson and I are ignoring the low estate of the American stage, when that is precisely what we have both devoted our lives to trying to improve. I wonder why the Times published no letters protesting his column. I knew of several myself.

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.