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History of Hedy Weiss Controversy

By Nick Fracaro at 1:34 am on Thursday, August 31, 2006

The NY Times article points toward how/where this controversy began.

“The review came to the attention of a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Jeffrey Sweet, who alerted other guild members.”

What’s not so well known is that Jeffrey Sweet had an agenda here. As playwright he does not like the way Hedy Weiss reviews his plays. So Jeff has been trying to pick a public fight with Hedy for sometime now. Here’s his Letter to the Editor from six months ago trying to instigate that debate.

Also being a critic, Jeff has access to the media, including writing for The Dramatists (published by The Dramatists’ Guild). So no surprise the scandal should begin here with their letter. He also writes the blog for Back Stage where he did this little piece of investigative journalism.

“I spoke to Joan Mazzonelli, the executive director, and she confirmed to me that Ms. Weiss was explicitly told that these presentations were not for review.”

Joan Mazzonelli told the New York Times something much different.

“Ms. Mazzonelli has distanced herself from the Dramatists Guild, acknowledging that she had not made the festival’s policy clear to Ms. Weiss, whom she had encouraged to attend, along with other members of the press.”

As with many scandals, this may also come down to “he said/she said.” Either Jeffrey Sweet or Joan Mazzonelli is not being honest here.

The celebrity this scandal provokes will of course serve Jeffrey Sweet in many ways. Just by instigating the controversy he already achieved much of his primary agenda of a public debate with Hedy Weiss. But scandals tend to be double-edged sword. If I were a playwright in the Dramatists’ Guild I think I would be annoyed by the exploitative use of their collective authority for such a transparent personal agenda. I might even write a letter.

“Irresponsible” – Edward Albee.

“Ignorant” – Stephen Schwartz.

“Incapable of understanding standards of professional and ethical conduct” – Tony Kushner.

Filed under: Artist/Critic1 Comment »

1 Comment

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Comment by Jeff Sweet

September 23, 2006 @ 7:50 pm

Joan Mazzonelli, alas, was not strictly accurate in discussing this with either me or the people from the Dramatists Guild who checked with her. But the point of whether she actively discouraged Weiss from reviewing or not is pretty much small potatoes compared to the larger issues.

The point really isn’t whether Weiss was invited or not. The point is that any professional critic knows — whether or not he/she has been informed explicitly that something is not for review — that critics are not supposed to review pieces which are performed script-in-hand, with three days of rehearsal, without scenery and with someone reading stage directions. This is a no-brainer. And, to top it off, one certainly is not supposed to review eight shows without seeing more than an act of any of them.

As to my motives: Weiss has given me good reviews and she’s given me mediocre reviews. (Her worst review has been tagged “somewhat recommended,” by the by.) This is about my sense that she has consistently violated the rules of ethical criticism, something I take seriously.

In some respects, this goes against my self-interest. I have a new play opening in Chicago, and I can hardly expect Weiss to approach it in a sympathetic frame-0f-mind.

But she’s written stuff about colleagues (including calling one very nice man a propagandist for terrorists) that I find offensive, and some of the stuff she’s written about my work has ascribed political and philosophical convictions to me that a) I don’t remotely have, and b) nobody else has ever claimed to see in me or my work.

If artists should expect to have their work criticized, and if critics claim to be artists, then critics can’t object when their work is criticized. I am criticizing her work.

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