On the heels of the Hedy Weiss fracas in Chicago, Michael Bloom--the Artistic Director of no less an establishment than the Cleveland Playhouse--has kicked it up a notch. Literally. It would seem he attempted a few weeks ago to take down the lead critic for the Plain Dealer!
Or so the story goes, by way of Denver Post's John Moore...
Accounts vary, but they begin with Plain Dealer critic Tony Brown's tough review of "Rabbit Hole," and end days later in a physical confrontation with artistic director Michael Bloom. In between, Bloom called out Brown's ability as a critic in a nasty public curtain speech. He encouraged a letter-writing campaign to his newspaper.
Brown (could there be a better last name for a writer in Cleveland?) had been tipped that this public spanking was coming, so he bought a ticket. He then tried to slip out quietly before the show was to begin, but Bloom, also exiting, spotted him crossing the lobby rotunda. Witnesses say Bloom grabbed Brown's hand as if to shake it but then crushed it, yelling, "How long do you think you can get away with these personal attacks, you little (expletive)?" As Brown turned to leave, witnesses say, Bloom swiped Brown across his back, slightly staggering him.
Here's Brown's original Rabbit Hole review, so see for yourself how hard you would punch him.
Personally, if I were Brown I'd blame whatever editor decided to start the headline with, "Predictably directed..."
And here's the Plain Dealer's own Ted Diadiun with a more thorough account and commentary on the whole mishigas. Including the gem: "Bloom, calling the incident 'unfortunate,' declined to dissect it but described his parting gesture as a 'pat' on the back." Bloom indeed has waged a major campaign with his own subscribers, and they have been writing into the paper defending him.
It's all kinda notable--that is, juicy--given the Playhouse is a pretty major company and Bloom a widely known director in the regional circuit.
Meanwhile, Moore takes the occasion to reflect--even though Brown obviously did not transgress--on some good guidelines for civil criticism:
There is no universal rule book for criticism, no how-to manual. My guidelines: Be true to your visceral emotional response, good or bad. State your case and back it up. Be a catalyst for discussion. Encourage dialogue. Don't be personal. Never try to be funny at the expense of someone's feelings.
Of course criticism is no place for grudges or vendettas or misuse of power. Every show at every theater must be a clean slate. Conversely I think it is the responsibility of any critic, especially one at a major metro newspaper, to use his influence and access to help build up the community he serves in any way that does not compromise his ability to also objectively evaluate theater.
That means speaking to classes, moderating forums, and most of all - seeing as many plays as possible, and writing about them honestly. Then let the readers decide.
I can't say I've obeyed all these commandments myself... but the spirit seems right.