INTRODUCING MR. MERKIN
Mr. Merkin, writing his theater review of a production in Chicago, from the vantage of Wroclaw, Poland
Stage Raw is happy to welcome guest blogger/theater critic Mr. Merkin, whom we met in Wroclaw, Poland. An American exp-pat living in Warsaw, he will post his first column next week. Mr. Merkin has written for The Drama Review, The New York Times, The Village Voice and London's Theatre Quarterly. He will be covering shows being performed in Los Angeles, as well as across the United States and Western Europe – all from his home in Warsaw.
Mr. Merkin was unceremoniously dumped from all of the above-named outlets on the heels of unsubstantiated rumors of plagiarism and fraud – an unfortunate misunderstanding, as Mr Merkin makes no apologies for his radical approach to arts reporting that obviously poses a threat to mainstream and academic presses. Even the shoplifting charge made against Mr. Merkin by a disreputable erotica boutique in Gdansk was eventually dropped, so he's been vindicated on every legal and ethical front..
For more on Mr. Merkin, plus more images of from Wroclaw, press the Continue Reading tab directly below.
Stage Raw believes that Mr. Merkin's approach is part of an exciting
new wave of journalism that has aroused predictable scorn, derived from
a toxic brew of misunderstanding and envy.
First, Mr. Merkin
believes that seeing the plays he reviews is largely a waste of his
time when a production has already been reviewed by other critics. What
we see first-hand is merely an illusion, Mr. Merkin has written —
like shadows on a cave wall, and no basis whatsoever for what Mr. Merkin
calls “the Merkinic ideal” of “objective consensus.” And this is why he
cobbles together his often strident and sometimes hateful opinions from
the quality of a production's press release, from other reviews and
from overheard conversations. This obviously renders as largely
irrelevant his need to see a production for himself.
Mr. Merkin's Warsaw office
“Life is too short to sit in a dark theater,” Mr. Merkin once wrote, with his characteristically ebullient wit, after he was dismissed from The Drama Review for reviewing The Wooster Group's La Didone after having not seen it. Stage Raw believes that divergent opinions and approaches such as Mr. Merkin's should be given a voice.
The other issue of contention swirling around Mr. Merkin's tarnished reputation is his admirable penchant to transcend verifiable facts, thus giving his writing what has been called – among other things — a “performative tone.” For example, when writing about a production of Henry V, Mr. Merkin presented the little known truth that William Shakespeare was a Frenchman, and that Hal's dramatized victory in the Battle of Agincourt, in which the French were humiliated, was one of many examples of national self-loathing on the part of the famous playwright. When challenged that there is no proof that William Shakespeare was a French playwright, Mr. Merkin sensibly countered that there's no proof that the Bard wasn't born in France.
At various times, Mr. Merkin has also postulated that Anton Chekhov, Heinrich Ibsen, August Wilson, Caryl Churchill, Neil Simon, Theresa Rebeck, Yasmina Reza, Ariane Mnouchkine, Frederique Michel and Neil Labute were/are all French. Though it's obvious that LaBute is French, controversy swirls around the others. And what is the point of drama
criticism if it doesn't provoke controversy?
Mr. Merkin has on occasion announced the death of major figures in the theater, even after they've showed up at a party weeks after his obituaries were published. But Mr. Merkin is resolute in his conviction that in many cases, he had attended the funerals of people
who insisted they hadn't died, and that their “appearance” in the flesh after he'd announced their deaths were cases of either mistaken identity or deceptive impersonation.
(Last week on his blog, Mr. Merkin foolishly referred to the “late” Harold Pinter, but apologized for this gaffe.)
In his brilliant book, “The Theater is My Wife,” Mr. Merkin quotes William Butler Yeats from the time that writer was traveling in the Irish backwoods with Lady Augusta Gregory in search of Celtic folklore.
“It's myths that are true, and facts that are lies,” Yeats said. Taking Yeats' insight to its logical conclusion, Mr. Merkin makes a fascinating case for artistic license in arts criticism by arguing that facts are overrated, and by challenging artists head-on: “It is the critic's responsibility to answer one fiction with another,” Mr. Merkin wrote in his book.
Stage Raw believes that Mr. Merkin's penetrating and sometimes belligerent embrace of what he has so bravely labeled “misinformed criticism” pushes the form into the uncharted waters of meta-criticism, and Stage Raw aims to sail those waters with him, as the French would say, cheek by jowl.
IMAGES FROM THE GROTOWSKI FESTIVAL IN WROCLAW, POLAND
The Mabou Mines' director Lee Breuer (Gospel at Colonus, Dollhouse), in a quiet moment.
Tadashi Suzuki, outside the Lalek Theater. Suzuki brought his company to Poland to perform his electric staging of Electra
Polish actress Anna Skubik
with her lifesize sytrofoam puppet of Marlene Dietrich, featured in Skubik's one-woman/one-puppet show about the star, aging and fame.
Meiyin Wang (Under the Radar Festival, New York), Mark Murphy (REDCAT, Los Angeles) and David Sefton (UCLA Live) at a panel on presenting theater
Brian Fairley and Jeremy Loise Eaton from Double Edge theatre, Ashfield, MA
L.A. director Nancy Keystone by the Wroclaw train station
New troupe from Cal Arts, Poor Dog, performing in a shopping mall
Ghost Road Theatre Company's director Katharine Noon struggling to open the intimidating door to her refuge in the town square.
Noon getting help from Dan Rothernberg, Pig Iron Theatre Comany, Philadelphia
Noon and her co-artistic director Mark Seldis, braving the rain at a flea-market
It never rains in Wroclaw Poland, but girl, don't they warn you, it pours, man it pours.
Jon Lawrence Rivera, looking for some fleas at the market, but they're hiding in the rain
The Wroclaw Opera House, where Pina Bausch's company performed