Trinity Rep Falls Back on the Woke Grift to Bully Reviewer
Reactions to bad theater reviews have been a topic to which comic writers have returned for material over decades. Naturally, such reviews are much more personal than their analog in the movie or television market. The performer knows the person was out there in the audience watching him or her perform. Often, they circulate in the same communities. And, of course, actors have to keep repeating the performance if it’s a play, whereas movies are recorded and done and television shows at least have different episodes, so it’s easier to move on.
Susan McDonald’s Providence Journal review of this year’s take on A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Company can only be described as mostly positive. She just felt the company tinkered a little too much with the story this time around, particularly when it came to wokeness:
… beginning with an opening monologue — inviting people to remember Native American tribes that once populated the state, mentioning slave trade connections and urging support for people of color — there is a layer being added to Dickens’ message of humanity and kindness that feels forced. …
What proves awkward [in the Fezziwig party scene], however, is an extended segment in which half the actors dance boisterously, stomping feet and banging brooms on the wooden stage, while the others mill about, watching. While wisely advocating diversity in the show, Wilson has created a moment that splits the cast along racial lines, with actors of color dancing and white actors looking on. It seems divisive instead of inclusive.
Faced with such comments from a reviewer who is obviously on the side of the production, both as theater and as a “progressive” statement, a company can take the criticism as an indication that it perhaps missed the mark in some ways or it can internally dismiss the reviewer as having been the one to have missed something.
Not a chance, in this case. Much of the attraction of being woke, as James Lindsay describes in a recent episode of his New Discourses podcast, is that it comes so readily to hand for grift. That includes the evasion of blame, responsibility, or self-reflection.
So, Trinity can’t just let McDonald’s review go. Wokism forces everything to be political and ideological, so sprinkling woke dust into a performance has to have the magical effect of making it beyond criticism on woke grounds. Thus, Trinity deploys, in an open letter, the chilling accusation that the review “contained a number of elements that were problematic from an equity, diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism perspective.” Any totalizing, oppressive movement has codewords to suggest that somebody is guilty of a thought crime, and “problematic” is one for the woke.
This isn’t just a vague, consequence-free observation. Apparently, the reviewer made multiple statements “that were in violation of the theater’s content guidelines, designed to protect our artists and staff from harm caused by unconscious bias.” It sounds as if Ms. McDonald must either issue a forced apology or perhaps be banned from the theater.
Theirs is not merely a thinned skinned reaction, the theater management assures the reader, oh no, not at all. McDonald is guilty, guilty, guilty — marked by the color of her skin:
The elements that we have taken issue with have nothing to do with the artistic quality of the production, but rather the lack of knowledge on the part of a white reviewer and a white editorial staff. Our historical moment demands that greater attention is paid to the subtext of the writing; that if a production is making a concerted effort to center BIPOC voices, that effort is respected; and that stereotyping is avoided.
Trinity Artistic Director Curt Columbus (a white man) and Interim Executive Director Jennifer Canole (a white woman) cast McDonald’s review into the metaphoric fire as “language… rooted in hate.” Her entire newspaper, they say, should “take this as an opportunity for growth and change,” regarding which the theater offers to act as guide.
The coded, threatening language of the open letter is chilling stuff, redolent of jackboot fascism, and Rhode Islanders should take the warning that an iconic theater has marked a new step into the community’s loss of freedom and rights. Trinity no longer sees its role as entertaining the public, but as instructing it in the rigid belief system of guilt and penance.
You can try to enjoy the performance if you want, whitey, but you’d best not express an opinion that proves your deep, intrinsic guilt! Direct your entertainment dollars accordingly.