An Apologia Pro Vita Lena Younger
Dear Jesse ,
I have a fond memory of speaking with you in 2003 and of the generous profile you wrote about me for the New York Times on the Broadway transfer of Caroline of Change from THE PUBLIC THEATER. I credit that profile for the publication of my book GET OVER YOURSELF: How to Drop the Drama and Claim the Life You Deserve by Hachette/Hyperion in 2006. I have not seen you since then and have not thanked you. I am grateful.
The Caroline transfer was my rude awakening to the politics of American Theater and New York Times reviews. My contract for the production provided for me to take part in marketing meetings. The marketing team knew that Ben Brantley was going to pan the show before the show opened to the world. Brantley’s “beef” with Tony Kushner at the time was a matter of industry knowledge. Brantley, was the head of the Pulitzer committee and had already forbidden the play from consideration for the Pulitzer Prize for drama that year. It is also common industry knowledge that few shows can survive a bad review in The New York Times.
Your profile, along with several other targeted pieces in the Times by David Richards, Frank Rich and Margo Jefferson were a part of the producer’s strategic campaign to counteract the bad review that was expected to come from Ben Brantley. The strategy was successful. The show moved from THE PUBLIC THEATER to Broadway. It ran 136 performances and garnered six Tony nominations and a win for Anika Noni-Rose.
There is little irony that the recent revival transferred from the West End to Broadway after Ben Brantley wrote in the New York Times that he did not know why he suddenly found himself enjoying the show fifteen years later. Theater criticism is the bane of every artist’s existence. You can’t live with it. You can’t survive without it. It is a literal currency. A bad review in the New York Times sends many people to the unemployment line.
In a March 2017 interview with American Theater Magazine, you remarked that
”One problem with ivory tower criticism, though I enjoy it and there are reasons to keep critics isolated in a germ-free chamber, is that you don’t know how it’s done. If you’ve never been in a…