I apologise for the lukewarm take on Hedy Weiss controversy. I struggle to keep up with USA theatre news but a lot is going down. Delta removed its sponsorship from a Julius Caesar produced by Shakespeare in the Park because Caesar was depicted a Donald Trump-like figure but had previously continued with a version that was clearly based on President Barack Obama. Delta’s future with arts organisations, both in the UK and USA is something to keep an eye on in the next few months.
Weiss is an experienced theatre and dance critic for the Chicago Sun Times, as a female theatre professional in an ethnically diverse city such as Chicago her comments seem even more shocking than if it had come from a male equivalent.
The focus of her ire is Antoinette Nwandu’s new play Pass Over at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Based on Waiting for Godot it looks at two young black men looking forward to a life where they can live without threats of violence. These threats are characterised by two white characters and Weiss was not happy
Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating…And the playwright’s final scenes — including a speech by the clueless white aristocrat who appears earlier in the story — and who could not be more condescending to Steppenwolf’s largely white “liberal” audience — further rob the play of its potential impact.
There’s an interview with Gillian Anderson, which includes the fantastic line “I don’t feel sorry for men” I don’t feel sorry for white audiences in this scenario. If you can’t go to a play about black people feeling and not expect race to come up then you shouldn’t be going to the theatre. Who on earth, apart from Weiss, is taking this a personal attack? Weiss at this point looks simply foolish but she then follows up with her view
To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African-Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself.
“Well they are killing each other anyway so what are the police doing wrong” I can’t even but I have mixed feelings towards talk of banning her and her publication. It is understandable theatres, desperate to divisify their portfolio, don’t want her drinking their free drinks and insulting theatre goers who may feel alienated by theatre. I wouldn’t want to spend an evening with Hedy based on this but her paper are standing by her, despite other incidences of casual racism and inappropriate comments. As someone who can be quite harsh I worry that bans over what critics say could become common but it is completely unacceptable for any publication to heighten any race tensions through an art as welcoming as theatre. She is a critic, she has a right to criticise the production I hope Weiss learns from this but she is old and set in her ways, she is like many of her readers and the general population.
The issue is that whilst theatre is still so dominated by white, middle-class faces (and in most cases of a certain age) it needs not only to be more diverse in its critics’ diversity but in its viewpoints but why should it when this controversy has probably brought attention it wouldn’t receive otherwise.