To the editors:
Bill Wyman had the right idea in talking with the much-panned Twelfth Night director Neil Bartlett in “He Bombed in Chicago,” February 14. Critics and directors, artists and audiences, can use more such exchanges.
But this particular interview misses the main point of much of the criticism of the Goodman production and can be read as implying that Chicago critics are parochial and narrow-minded at best, homophobic and puritanical at worst.
Neil Bartlett talked–and continues to talk–a good game. The problem is that he can’t bring his talk into action. If he–or any other director–wants to do an all- (or mostly) female Twelfth Night (or an all-Black, all-nude, all-alien, all-anything production), more power to him. But the onus is then on him, as it is on any other director of any other play, to carry it off, and at this Bartlett failed miserably.
There is, alas, little point in discussing the ostensible sexual politics of a production as poorly put together as this one. When some of the city’s finer actresses are so grossly misdirected, when the stage blocking is this clumsy (there was a “movement director”?!), when the text is frequently unintelligible, when the acting of three central characters is so amateurish, when the clowns are unfunny . . . for Bartlett to play his sexual outlaw game is cheap mau-mauing.
And for Bartlett now to try to excuse his offensive racial stereotyping–not only of the twins but of the fool Feste as well–is merely another dishonest cop-out. To say that two 16- year-old actors came up with the idea for a jigaboo routine only further demonstrates the British Bartlett’s ignorance of American racial history and codes as well as his total lack of dramatic or artistic discernment. (I suppose Bartlett will try to blame actor George Merritt for the tired old Negro preacher number, too.)
Bartlett’s is an old con job played by cultural charlatans since the building of the first proscenium: Blame the Yahoos for not understanding your genius and–with the help here of the Goodman apparatus–laugh all the way to the bad-boy reputation bank.
S. Hyde Park