1. Moneygate, January 2010. In her review of the newly-written play Everything Must Go, Sheila Regan wrote that the show was still “rough around the edges,” but noted happily that “the Twin Cities are home to many, many, creative theater artists and also have space rental that is relatively affordable, so that with a little savings, an individual or small company can put on a play without bankrupting themselves.”
In response, Everything Must Go producer Katie Kaufmann pointed out that putting on a show is far from cheap. “A small show of this scale, even with the reduced rental fee involved in collaborating with the Red Eye, cost $4,000. […] I wish it were easier to risk, create, and fail without losing our shirts.”
2. Streetcargate, July 2010. I really blew it on my review of the Guthrie Theater’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, blaming director John Miller-Stephany for “cheesy” sound effects that, in fact, were explicitly called for in Tennessee Williams’s script. I duly ate crow with a mea culpa blog post, but I felt somewhat vindicated later that year when I saw a production of Streetcar at Pioneer Place on Fifth in St. Cloud that presented many of the sound effects more subtly, and omitted others entirely, to altogether stronger effect.
As I wrote in the blog post, “Sifting through the pieces of my carefully-constructed review that now lies shattered on the Web, there are a few sentences that I can still stand by, among them: ‘In a play as superbly-written as this, there’s absolutely no need for melodramatic sound effects and showy lighting cues to underline dialogue and events.’ The effects may have made a bang in 1947, but in 2010 they distract. Tennessee, if you still give a rip what I think—and I can’t blame you if you don’t—you can go ahead and roll over in your grave again.”
3. Eyesgate, February 2011. “Instead of presenting real characters with comprehensible motivations,” I wrote about Cory Hinkle’s Little Eyes when it debuted in a Workhaus Collective production at the Guthrie, the play gives us “outrageous archetypes who bounce around randomly, like ping-pong balls in a popcorn maker.”
That sparked the ire of a reader connected to the company, who wrote complaining that my glib tone lacked consideration for the amount of time and effort put into the script and production. “The fact that it was a labor of love,” I responded, “actually raises expectations rather than diminishes them—if you’re just cashing in on a quick buck, then at least you’re guaranteed the quick buck! If you’re volunteering a lot of time and effort for a piece, the stakes are higher.”
4. Jesusgate, August 2011. Though my Feburary review of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ Jesus Christ Superstar was on balance largely positive, when I contacted the theater months later to request admission to their production of Hairspray, I was informed that due to the tone and content of my writing, the Daily Planet had been removed from the theater’s list of approved press outlets.
“Your style passed directly into the out-and-out unnecessarily snarky at times,” wrote Chanhassen PR director Kris Howland. “Perhaps your intent was to be entertaining or silly, but it wasn’t taken that way by any of us. […] To cite an example, your comments regarding souvenir water bottles and the wall calendar we included in your press kit really have nothing to do with the play itself.”
5. Charleygate, December 2011. In her searingly negative review of Charley’s Aunt, Sheila suggested that the Guthrie is doing neither itself, its audiences, nor its actors any favors by so frequently casting students and graduates of the Guthrie Theater/University of Minnesota BFA acting program. “The Twin Cities are rich with wonderful talent,” she wrote. “Maybe it’s time to look elsewhere for casting.”
Quinton Skinner, a longtime theater critic who’s now director of communications at the Guthrie, protested that Sheila’s criticism does not reflect the reality of the company’s diverse casting. “Your final paragraph,” he wrote, “implies a level of insularity that reality doesn’t bear out at all.”
Photo: Ben Bakken in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Act One, Too Ltd., courtesy Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.