February Letters: Confronting a Trump supporter….

Readers respond about confronting a Trump supporter, the Rizzo mural, 'Heisenberg' at Delaware Theatre Company, MJ Kaufman's 'Sensitive Guys' and trigger warnings, Stephen Karam's 'The Humans,' the Eichmann verdict, the Eagles championship, OperaPhiladelphia's 'Written On Skin,' Philadelphia Orchestra's 'St. Matthew Passion,' George Weymouth's paintings at Brandywine, 'Dial M For Murder,' sex harassment, the world's smartest man, and Kile Smith's 'Life is a Dream.'

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Rick Soisson

of East Falls/ Philadelphia, PA on February 14, 2018

While what you say is clearly true (to me), Dan, I honestly believe far too much ink and digital space has already been given to the Trump voter as though s/he is some sort of mystical mystery. Clearly, there was great sentiment in 2016 against the so-called "system" and a system candidate like Hillary Clinton. It's time to say she was simply not a good enough candidate. And perhaps it's time to interview Clinton supporters and ask what they want in '18 and '20 in order to win.

Gregory Anderson

of Balcones Heights, TX on February 14, 2018

Putting someone in office because he isn't a part of the system, when he is a billionaire? What "against the system" was that? I'm also not amazed that educated Republicans voted for Trump, even if they thought it was a joke. Apparently many voters have not been seriously involved in the processes that led up to the national elections but consider themselves to have the greatest opinions. Amazing that in a post-truth culture we have folks who deny there is truth and then confess "the truth" about their voting and admitting they are merely joking and uneducated about reality. I'm not stunned; I'm ashamed for our country.

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Don Roose

of Germantown, MD on February 14, 2018

I ran a neighborhood house in Chester, PA in the 1960s and was active in Saul Alinsky-type community organizing when the cops (all white) and white mayor loved and imitated Philly Police Chief Rizzo (seven miles up the road) as he called for roughing up blacks, whom he pretty much always referred to as "niggers" and worse. Rizzo was an evil man then and sure as hell a terrible Philly part of history to be memorialized. Take the mural down and place it where it belongs: in the town hall basement closet for mops and pails. Color me white, blue-eyed, and age 81.

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John Koch

of Wilmington, on February 12, 2018

This play was a disappointment and Bud Martin was wrongly cast, by none other than himself. I am not sure what the long-term viability of the Delaware Theatre Company is that the executive director has to take on one of only two roles in the play.

Gail Obenreder

of Wilmington, DE on February 13, 2018

Cameron and I are on opposite sides about almost everything on this one. I reviewed the Delaware Theatre Company production for the Wilmington News Journal. But as always, I love seeing what this cogent critic thinks and feels.Thanks.

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Chris Braak

of Conshohocken, PA on January 31, 2018

"Yet it's also apparently so incendiary the company created a curtained-off safe space in the lobby for anyone upset by the play's content." I expect creating a safe space in the lobby for people upset by a play's content is just good policy, regardless of how likely you think it is that people will need it.

Author's Response

Imagine the trigger warning list for Hamlet: 

murder of father 
murder by uncle
implied mother-son incest
best friend's death 
scary ghost
dark castle at night
over 30 and still in college 
poisoning of mother
poisoning of uncle
poisoning of king (not related to him) 
poisoning of queen (not related to him)
sudden deaths of all of country's leaders 
ass-kissing (Osric, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern) 
deranged singing 
guy hiding behind arras in bedroom 
unwanted parental advice 
hand-to-hand combat
hand-to-hand combat in girlfriend's grave
hand-to-hand combat in sister's grave 
marriage of mother to uncle
marriage of mother to uncle who's a murderer
body left in the lobby 
rival upstart from Norway with big army
the body of a king passing through the guts of a beggar
confusing words like "fardel" 
passed over for rightful crown 
possible exposure to over-acting by visiting players

Joe Paprzycki

of North Truro, MA on January 31, 2018

Gimmicks like a "safe space" have no place in serious theater. It seems to me that this show needed a boost to get attention, but this seems like a cheap way of trying to sell tickets. I also find it "coincidental" that this controversy again involves MJ Kaufman. Having to have a designated space in the lobby for audience members who are upset by the material either looks down upon the audience as needy children or is trying to con them.

In my teens, we went to movies like Mark of the Devil that advertised "barf bags" to get us in the door to see a bad "B" movie. We were teenagers looking for a Friday night thrill... not a live theater audience in search of the depth that great theater offers. It is disrespectful to thinking audiences that the writer of this play feels the need for the patrons of this play to be coddled. Many playwrights would love opportunities like this and would not resort to not having critics not review after receiving large grants (Destiny Estimate) and now this episode. These actions seem to be brought out by an extremely insecure writer who seems more interested in creating controversy than writing plays.

Maybe the artistic leaders who produce this writer should open their artistic windows a bit to new ideas, plays and different playwrights. But... like the Destiny Estimate argument, here we are talking about it. I hope this is not where theater is heading. It's much too valuable to all of us.

Chris Braak

of Conshohocken, PA on February 01, 2018

Gosh, I wonder what sort of attitude in the face of potentially difficult or aggravating or sensitive material a safe-space policy might be intended to shield people from.

Editor's Response

I think it's fine to offer a trigger warning so those with PTSD or other issues know what they're walking into. But once they've made the decision to see a show, the contract between audience, peformers, and playwright is sealed. I don't believe anyone should bail on a show halfway through, no matter how terrible, and I certainly don't believe audiences should be offered the option of fleeing in the middle of a performance because the material is too challenging. It's insulting to everyone, and contrary to the purpose of drama. But even worse, once again, this playwright is creating more discussion around what's happening offstage than what's presented onstage. That smacks of pure gimmickry, and considering the topics Kaufman attempts to confront, it's pretty appalling.

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Daniel Fredrick

of Philadelphia , PA on January 30, 2018

I have read several of Cameron Kelsall’s reviews on a number of different platforms and cannot for the life of me understand or determine his taste.

Author's Response

You probably didn't mean that as a compliment, but I took it as one.

Daniel Fredrick

of Philadelphia , on February 02, 2018

Well, that's your prerogative. But unless a critic's point of view is clear and consistent to a reader, nothing they write can be trusted as a guide for either audiences or theater makers.

Author's Response

I don't view criticism as merely a guidepost for how audiences should spend their dollars, and I don't assume that theater-makers take reviews into account when they're creating art. I view criticism as an honest reflection of of the art that's placed in front of the viewer, and I'm frankly skeptical of critics who only seem to praise (or deride) one kind of play. There are plenty of those. When you see as much theater as I do, at all professional levels, you quickly realize how facile the idea of "taste" as a fixed entity really is.

Daniel Fredrick

of Philadelphia , PA on February 02, 2018

That's a very reductive take on what I mean when I say "taste." To my mind, a critic's (or artist's) point of view has very little value to any meaningful discourse when what they appreciate and why is an obtuse moving target. Furthermore, what purpose is this honest reflection meant to serve?

I appreciate that you may well have seen a lot of theater. So too have I, as well as having actively read and studied theater history, dramatic literature, and theater criticism in college and in the nine subsequent years of working professionally in the field. I bristle at what seems to be an attempt to place the keenness of your insight above mine because of the quantity of theater you've seen as well as the suggestion that when one sees that much theater, one will inevitably reach a singular conclusion (yours).

Author's Response

I'm definitely not your man for consumer advice, and I'm not an artistic consultant. I'm skeptical of the idea of easily recognizable "taste" as a virtue, because even though we all bring our own biases and expectations with us to the art we consume, we should also try to meet each individual work on its own terms. I'm clearly not the writer you should look to for advice, and that's fine, since you're not my only reader.

Bruce S. Ticker

of Rhawnhurst/ Philadelphia, Pa on February 15, 2018

I think The Humans is a good little play fitting for off-Broadway and other independent theaters. But I wondered how it qualified for Broadway and a Tony. Unless the play's significance went over my head. Thanks for letting me know that I'm not alone in being underwhelmed.

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Andy Soutter

of Carmarthen, UK on February 15, 2018

I just came across this article in the course of editing a book on 20th century German philosophy which has a chapter on Arendt. I couldn't agree with you more. Revenge is a dish best left to go cold and then tossed onto the compost heap.

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Jessica Noel

of South Philadelphia, PA on February 07, 2018

This is great! I don't know much about football, but I know I love Philly. It's been a fun experience to witness. For sure!

Dan Rottenberg

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on February 07, 2018

Consider the similarities between football and ballet. Both involve choreography and extensive rehearsal. Both require performers who are in optimum physical condition but also possess a thorough knowledge of the repertoire (or playbook). Both appeal to us because they represent the ultimate combination of physical and mental challenge. The only real difference is that, in ballet, you don't have 11 opponents trying to kill you.

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Bob Levin

of Berkeley, CA on February 08, 2018

Enjoyed your piece. At Friends Central School, in my day, our Barnard was Penn Charter. In eighth grade (105-pound football), they were the only team we beat. In ninth (120pounds.), having recruited from the PAL, they beat us by 40. We didn't beat them in anything until the last baseball game, senior year. My own career as a good-hit, no-field first baseman had ended two years earlier when I'd quit the JV team following an unfair benching (details upon request) — a move, I later recognized, which did not endear me to the team-first mentality of the athletic department but did not prevent me from celebrating at the still memorable keg party at Teardrop Lake that followed this win.

I liked the Bednarik quote, which I had not heard before. I've been struck by the great athletes, no matter how many championships they've won, who are still haunted by the ones that got away. Concrete Charlie expresses the wisdom expected of a Penn man.

Joseph Glantz

of Levittown, PA on February 08, 2018

Sports is that rare combination of "art" and "science" in which the subjective and objective are tested in every game. That's why many of the best writers wrote about sport: John Updike, John McPhee, Grantland Rice, Don Delillo, Roger Angell, David Foster Wallace, Red Smith, Ring Lardner, John Sayles, and William Trevor, to name a few. The replays and commentary are nice. But what would have capped the win and the parade (and have been even more satisfying as a day at a museum or a night at the symphony) would have been to read Bill Lyon's account of the game and the week in the papers. Now, that would have been truly sublime.

Jason Brando

of Mt. Hamilton, CA on February 10, 2018

Thanks, Dan, for this brilliant tribute to the Team of Beagles that won a Super Bowl but play in the shadow of our childhood memories and heroes like Bednarik, Van Brocklin, McDonald, and Retzlaff. Sports journalism would have been elevated if that was your chosen playing field.

Author's Response

I started out as a sportswriter. Two years of bats and balls left me hungry to move on.

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Margaret Darby

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on February 12, 2018

What a great review. And how many reviewers, may I ask, outside of someone like Alex Ross, would bother to study a DVD of a previous production and put in that much time to prepare for viewing a performance? Thanks, Cameron, for recognizing that the design is in the form of a book, which was fascinating visually, especially as it was unfolded like a pop-up. You also commended the use of mandolin, viola da gamba, and glass harmonica, which did indeed put us on a plane out of time.

From the uppermost level of the amphitheatre, the sound of Anthony Roth Costanzo's beautifully rounded countertenor voice sounded smooth as silk, but the supertitles were tough to read. My main disagreement with your take, though, was your comment that the 'jarringly discursive passages give way to sustained melodies with a clear harmonic purpose." I thought there was very little melody, apart from the writing for flutes and brass. Nevertheless, this review has inspired me to consider the work more deeply. Thank you.

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Helen Fleder

of Sarasota, FL on February 11, 2018

I played the Virgin Mary in the production of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1943.The Columbia Glee Club sang and Leopold Stowkowski conducted. My teacher, Balanchine, choreographed the “mime” performance. It was very exciting!

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David Schelat

of Wilmington, DE on February 07, 2018

Beautifully written review of an exhibition of an artist about whom I only knew a minimal amount. Makes me want to visit this museum and take a look.

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Gail Obenreder

of Wilmington , DE on January 31, 2018

I loved reading Mark's review — it's a dandy show. Unlike him, I thought the lights and music were a real treat and added a lot to the noir feel of the production. And he's right ... this chestnut really holds up as a stage drama. Thanks!

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Bob Ingram

of Cape May Court House, NJ on February 01, 2018

I look forward to Dan Rottenberg’s comments as clear and level-headed takes on whatever he takes on. His voice is a balm in these chaotic times. Keep punching, Dan!

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Maria T. Corley

of Lancaster, PA on February 01, 2018

I'm loving your continued takedown of Trump! Keep 'em coming!

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Dan Rottenberg

of Center City/ Philadelphia, PA on January 24, 2018

You say, "When I try to make it happen, it doesn’t. When I don’t, it comes." This is the essence of creativity: Ideas come to you when your mind is open and relaxed.
As a writer,  I find I get my best ideas when I'm walking, sleeping, or standing at a urinal in a men's room. That's why I carry a pocket notebook and a pen wherever I go. I want to jot those ideas down before they vanish amid the pressures of daily life.