I've always felt that there are certain lines critics shouldn't cross. While the overall performance, direction and design choices are fair game, I will never go after those involved, personally.
Now you would think that all critics would adhere to the same set of guidelines and ethics, when being tasked with evaluating a performance, but you would be grossly mistaken.
Ever since Siskel & Ebert because household names or Frank Rich became known as the "Butcher of Broadway", critics have become hungrier and hungrier for national notoriety with what they write. So much so that some often go out of their way to say provocative things about the plot of a show. Or they insert their own personal agendas into how they judge a performance. Maybe they even go a step too far when describing cast members and their appearance.
Or maybe the do all the above.
While I won't be casting stones when it comes to publishing attention grabbing material, I can say that I've never taken steps too far when reviewing a show. I wish I could say the same for the Chicago Sun Times' Hedy Weiss. With her latest review, Ms. Weiss, with her familiar tone of pettiness and condescension, decided to body shame the performers.
In her review of the Marriott Theatre's production of Mamma Mia, Ms. Weiss said the following when describing the costumes:
"Theresa Ham’s character-defining costumes make the most of the many “real women” figures on stage, just as the gold and silver spandex outfits outline the perfect bodies of the terrific chorus dancers"
At first glance you might think this was a compliment, and to the costume designer, it is. However Ms. Weiss' usage of the terms, "real women figures" and "perfect bodies" is where I have the problem and I'm not the only one.
In a response to the review, cast member Cassie Slater stated the following:
"The thing that’s confusing are the quotes around the “real woman figures” juxtaposed with the “perfect bodies” of the dancers. I would argue that every woman on that stage is a “REAL WOMAN.” I also would argue that mine, Danni (Smith’s), and Meghan (Murphy’s) bodies are also perfect....Tall, short, athletic, curvy, flawless skin, dry hair, manicured hands, cracked cuticles, brown, white, black….all perfect, all real. And yes, the costumes are gorgeous. Because Theresa is good at her job and she had some gorgeous bodies to costume."
While I could certainly lay into Ms. Weiss over the issues with body shaming, especially in the theatre industry, I'm not going to. I'm not going to point out the hundreds of different ways she could praise the costume work without shaming the size of the cast members. I'm not going to point out to Ms. Weiss how wrong she was, because she knows she was wrong for saying it and worse yet, she did so to elevate her reputation. This is where my biggest problem lies.
I, perhaps like you, could be outraged by her commentary but I'm actually more annoyed. Because this isn't the first time Hedy Weiss has tried to up her status by going outside the metaphorical lines of theatre criticism.
“Do you think Jonathan Pryce should be banned from playing Shylock because he is not Jewish? Do you think you should only recruit murderers in Cook County jail to play Macbeth? It is called acting.”
I won't even begin to point out the idiocy in that quote.
Ms. Weiss has also called Tony Kushner a "self-loathing Jew", slammed material that was still in development and disparaged productions she admits she did not sit through entirely.
It would be one thing if she was scrutinized for her opinions but it's the way she purposefully degrades others to boost her own ego, that is equally moronic as it is confusing. I've rarely met a critic who takes glee in tearing productions apart and I've never met one that does it to elevate their status. Yet Ms. Weiss once again shows her true skills as a writer, making the review more about herself than the show.
If her writing ability rose to the level of her ego, readers might treated to insightful commentary about Chicago theatre, but that might be a step too high for Ms. Weiss.
Instead of being a responsible critic, she would rather been the mean girl in the cafeteria.