There's the old saying, "No one likes a critic". But some Chicago theatres are looking to deny a particular critic access to their productions over her provocative reviews.
The other day when I received an email with "Chicago critic issue", in the subject line, I immediately had a guess of who the email was about. As predicted, it was about Hedy Weiss.
The Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic who once referred to Tony Kushner was a "self-hating Jew" was back in the news this week after her review of the play Pass Over was published. The Antoinette Nwandu play follows two young black men struggling to survive as they encounter a white man in their space. In the review she states,
"To be sure, no one can argue with the fact that this city (and many others throughout the country) has a problem with the use of deadly police force against African-Americans. But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene."
In response, the Steppenwolf Theatre has condemned her comments and a petition drafted by the Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition is seeking to have theatre dis-invite Weiss and the Sun-Times to review their productions. The petition, which as over 3,000 signatures at this point (including mine) states the following:
"Hedy Weiss, theater critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, has proven that she is not willing to work with us to create a positive environment. She has proven this repeatedly with the racism, homophobia, and body shaming found in her reviews. She has proven this by never, not once, apologizing to a party injured by her words.
To be clear, we are not calling for a ban on Ms. Weiss attending performances. We are simply requesting that she not be given a ticket for free. If she wishes to present her damaging views, we ask that she pay for the privilege."
While she's not dropping n-bombs left and right, her statements are certainly overtly racist in nature. And of course, this isn't the first time that Weiss has strayed outside the line of where critics typically stay. Keep in mind this is the same critic who has body shamed a cast of Mamma Mia, once equated the costumes of Wicked's opening Shiz scene to that of concentration camps. and defended racial profiling of Muslim Americans. She's also crossed ethical lines of criticism by reviewing readings and workshop performances as well.
So Ms. Weiss is no stranger to blurring the lines what should be included in theatrical criticism. But is this a case of a critic overstepping her role with non-pc reviews? Or is this just a theatre being a bit over-sensitive to the reviews? Given her history, I think it's more of the former but I can't blame those who think the latter.
At the same time, while I question why Ms. Weiss would include her own political beliefs in her reviews, I also have to ask why their being approved by her editors. I know that the print newspaper business is still dwindling and the Sun-Times has been lately the focus of possibly being sold to the Chicago Tribune, so it's not unbelievable to think that the Sun-Times is hoping that notoriety will help to sell papers. But the problem is by allowing Weiss to air her bigoted and narrow-minded views, it's not helping the Sun-Times' standing in the theatre community it needs.