Along with Donald Trump, Gov. Chris Christie, the Washington Redskins (with a name that liberals now hate), and reviled pro-Confederate flag protestors, Washingtonian magazine credits me with one of the “17 Moments of Local Outrage That Defined 2015.”
Here’s an outtake from the Washingtonian article:
July 14: Wall Street Journal vs. Wordless Shakespeare
Synetic Theater wins bushels of awards and favorable reviews for its arty, sultry, and wordless adaptations of Shakespeare plays, but not from Wall Street Journal contributor James Bovard, who used his column inches to diagnose the Arlington-based company as a symptom of “bad Shakespeare productions in America.”
Outrage-worthy? Synetic’s 27 Helen Hayes Awards since 2001 would seem to disagree with Bovard’s assessment, as would the mystery of whether he has actually seen one of the company’s productions—he wouldn’t say.
Actually, my WSJ piece was more playful than outraged, and it focused more on Shakespeare than on the local theater company. But there was a huge uproar locally because I had mocked a sacred cow of the local cultural scene.
After seeing Synetic’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I commented to a reporter from the DCist.com: “Synetic offered dry humping in lieu of Shakespearean dialogue…. Maybe Synetic believes that its East European-style pantomime is superior to the words Shakespeare wrote. I disagree.” I was confounded to see Synetic early on cast most of Shakespeare’s plot overboard. Synetic Theater subsequently explicitly claimed that its performances were “deeper” than Shakespeare’s original.
The Washington Post published a long piece last month seeking to vindicate Synetic Theater from my criticism and from the jibe in Sen. Lankford’s Federal Fumbles list of wasteful government spending. But a few days later, a Washington Post review bludgeoned Synetic’s latest would-be masterpiece – a wordless adaption of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” The Post labeled Synetic’s performance “curiously hollow,” “erratic,” and complained that “the production falls back on showy tricks to make up for some protracted and uninspired storytelling. But the piling on of shtick… make the production seem too much like a talent contest. This version is so cavalier with plot that it doesn’t even bother to resolve the crime that sets the play in motion.”
Ironically, the response to the WSJ article vindicated the final sentences of my piece: “The fact that many Washingtonians consider Silent Shakespeare an improvement rather than an oxymoron reflects unkindly on the capital’s cultural pretensions. But perhaps we should not be surprised that the city that pioneered obfuscation is now exalting expunging English altogether.” The fact that Synetic wins lots of local theater awards doesn’t prove anything about its value outside a circle of D.C. insiders. (A Washington Post article last summer conceded that the Hayes awards can be a farce.)
This nation will never have a shortage of dry humping regardless of whether the National Endowment for the Arts continues subsidizing Synetic Theater.