Aug 162005
 

The reason why I got the response I did yesterday is behind the cut below.

I’m sure that if you ask pretty much anyone who works in professional theater here in Tampa what they think of Mark Leib you’re going to get a pretty wide variety of “colorful” responses. Leib is the theater reviewer for The Weekly Planet , and he is not someone who is well loved by the community. Not necessarily because he gives bad reviews (Hell, I’ve even agreed with him at times), but because he’s…well…a jerk. Even when he’s giving a positive review he often does so in a backhanded way. Take, for example, his review of Cloud 9. I think it was one of the best reviews I’ve ever seen him give, but he just had to throw in there that in producing the play Jobsite had “finally justified its existence.”

On top of all that, though, is the fact that Leib spends 3/4 of his time reviewing the play itself and NOT the performance. From what I’ve heard, he’s an aspiring (failed?) playwright who teaches classes in playwriting at The Patel Conservatory. He will mention the history of a play, why it does (or doesn’t) have artistic merit (in his eyes), and whether or not the company in question should have even done the production in the first place. There was a time when he would demand a copy of the play to be delivered to him before hand if it wasn’t readily available so he could read it himself.

Excuse me?

Theater is meant to be seen and heard, not read. The written part of the play is important, but it is not ALL there is. Take Neil Simon (and yes, I reference him often…but most of us know who he is so that’s the easy way out). If the St. Petersburg Little Theater and Jobsite both mounted productions of The Odd Couple at the same time I’ll guarantee you that you could go see both of them and have an entirely different experience. Not saying that one would be better than the other – I’m just saying that SPLT would have a different “take” on the play than Jobsite would (the Jobsite take, I’m sure, would involve a whole hell of a lot of innuendo, homo erotic situations, violence, and Jason Evans saying “Fuck” at least once).

So yes, the play is the thing. But it is not the only thing. Leib focuses far too much on the script itself in his reviews.

And this is the problem with his review of The March of the Kitefliers.

There is a major plot twist at one point in the show. One that, if you know in advance, will significantly alter your experience when you first see it. It doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy the show (I knew the twist, and I had a hell of a good time). It just means that you’ll see it coming and be looking for it, and you won’t have that magical moment of “Ahhh…Now it makes sense” when it happens. It would be like seeing Fight Club or The Sixth Sense knowing what the reveal is at the end. What’s worse, is that you have no reason to even SUSPECT that there is a twist going in to the show. That’s why I put the disclaimer above. I’m not revealing it here, but dammit…the audience shouldn’t even know one is there. They should just be going to see a lighthearted romantic comedy, not expecting some sort of odd twist that directs the play in a new direction. That’s why the twist works so well – You really don’t see it coming.

Unless, that is, you read Leib’s review of the play.

He doesn’t just reveal that there is a twist. Oh no. He reveals it. In the third or fourth paragraph of his review. He talks about it in detail. He then goes on to say that he’s not going to talk about a scene later in the play that involves the twist because he doesn’t want to give anything away.

Needless to say, the cast and crew are a little ticked off. Especially when you consider the fact that he was specifically asked NOT to reveal the plot twist before seeing the show.

There was no disclaimer in his article warning the reader that there was a plot twist. It was just there, in black and white, for anyone who reads the Planet to see. Considering that the Planet is marketed for Jobsite’s demographic, that could end up being a lot of their audience.

What Leib did in his review was deliberately mean spirited and cruel. There is no other way to see it. Being a playwright he should have known not to reveal the plot twist in the first place, but when you add on the fact that he was asked not to it can no longer be seen as a “mistake” or a bad judgment call. It was, in the way I really wanted to say it when communicating my feelings to the Planet and really shitty and fucked up thing for that asshole to do and, frankly, he should lose his job over it. If he was the book reviewer and he did the same thing over the new Harry Potter book he would have. This should be no different.

To this effect, I (and quite a few other people if the response I got is any indication) took the time to write the following letter to the editor of The Weekly Planet.

Mr. Warner,

I am writing in regards to the Mark Leib review of “March of the Kitefliers” that was printed in the August 10th, 2005 edition of The Weekly Planet. I should preface this by saying that I am a member of the Jobsite Theater Ensemble, and have been the subject of several reviews written by Mr. Leib. As such, you may very well see this complaint as being a biased one, and that is a perfectly rational assumption to make. Be that as it may, I am incensed over the fact that in this review Mr. Leib chose to reveal the major plot twist to “March of the Kitefliers.”

I was not involved in this show in any way, but I did audition for it. Over a year ago. At that time, I read an early draft of the play. I knew what the plot twist was, and I didn’t tell a soul. Not my friends. Not my family. Not even my fiancee. Why? Because it would have been cruel of me to do so. It would have taken away one of the magical moments of the show, and the climax of the first act. This reveal was not a minor one by any means of the imagination. Perhaps because it is “only local theater” Mr. Leib feels he is justified in exposing the twist, but in my opinion his decision to do so would be on par with revealing the secrets in the current Harry Potter book, Citizen Kane, The Empire Strikes Back, Fight Club, or The Sixth Sense. If, in his role as a critic, he felt that it was vital for him to make this revelation in order to review the play he should have, at the very least, given his readers warning that his review was going to spoil a plot point and given them the choice to make that discovery on their own.

What I find most appalling about this is that Mr. Leib chose to write his review in this manner after directly being asked NOT to do so by the producers. This goes beyond simple carelessness and crosses dangerously close to outright malice. I believe that his review was a disservice to the cast and crew of “Kitefliers,” the readers of The Weekly Planet, and the theater community of Tampa in general. Certainly one could make the argument that a playwright with new material may be reluctant to preview that material in the Bay area if he or she thought that the entire plot would be revealed in the course of a Weekly Planet review. We all know how “The Odd Couple” ends, but is that really what we want our theatrical diet limited to?

At this point I don’t see how anything can be done to reverse the damage in the print edition, but I implore you to at least put a disclaimer at the top of the online review. Let your readers decide how much or little they wish to know about this truly wonderful play before having that decision made for them by a thoughtless critic.

Thank You

You saw the response I got in my post yesterday.

As much as it loathes me to do, in the interest of “fair and balanced” reporting you can find the review itself here. Again, I implore you, if there is ANY chance you are going to see the show do NOT read the review. You’re really doing yourself a disservice if you do.

It looks as though this issue is going to be addressed, at least in some way. If you have seen Kitefliers and are equally as outraged as I am PLEASE let David Warner of The Weekly Planet know (david.warner@weeklyplanet.com). It’s important that they hear this from as many people as possible, especially people who AREN’T involved in Jobsite or local theater. My letter has an obvious bias – He’s reviewed just about every show I’ve been in (and, to tell the truth, has never said a bad thing about me). Your voice is much more powerful than mine. You are the reader. You are the patron. You’re the person who the review is supposed to be written for, and as a result you’re the one who their advertisers are trying to get their message to.

I won’t tell you what to say – I’ll only ask that you be as polite and concise as possible in doing so. Rudeness and huge rants (like the one you are reading here) will not help the situation.

And that’s it. You know now “our” side of the story (I put “our” in quotes because my involvement here is only as a member of the Ensemble – I had no direct involvement with this production. But these folks are my theatrical family. You fuck with them, you fuck with me. I do not, however, speak for anyone here but myself. I am not a representative of Jobsite or The March of the Kitefliers). I suspect we’ll hear his side of the story next week, and I will link to it if I can when that happens.

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