Friday, April 23, 2010

Neil LaBute Stays Classy

Many reasons to visit Time Out Chicago this week. The first is Kris Vire's review of Cabaret, which is remarkably similar to mine--great minds clearly think alike. The show has gotten a surprisingly mixed response (disappointingly including the Tribune), but it's good to have the validation that someone who's reviewed and seen way more plays than I have basically shares my opinion.

But even more awesome is Caitlin Montanye Parrish's review of Chicago Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. This version famously has a framing device written by well known contemporary scribe Neil LaBute, a playwright whose misogyny and misanthropy know few bounds, and whose movie career includes such classics as The Wicker Man. The response to the new material has been generally mixed to negative,  but for some reason LaBute (or someone claiming to be him), went on the warpath against Parrish. The initial comment was this:

"and the crazy thing is, ms. parrish, they PAID me to do it! i got to spew all that 'predictable bile' and they wrote me a check for the privilege. probably lots more than you got paid for your review. that hardly seems fair and yet there it is. the way of the world. you spew your bile, i spew mine, and may the best man (or whatever) win. "fuck this!" may not be a thesis or a revelation, but it's exactly what i was thinking when i read your sorry excuse for theatrical criticism."

And we were off to the races, with "LaBute" (we still have no proof whether it is really him) tossing nasty ad hominem attacks at Parrish (suggesting she see the show again and stop paying attention to the codpieces) and critics in general ("critics are the one element that is of little or no use to the creative process (and one of the very few who don't ever pay for a ticket!) even the audience lends some creative element to the experience of theater--the critic will always be reactive and parasitic. i didn't make it that way, it's just the way it goes.") and generally flinging vitriolic and nonsensical attacks at everyone. (Granted, people eventually started baiting him, because it was just so damn funny.)

Then this hilarious blog post was published by Eric Roach and Anderson Lawfer, and now LaBute has started attacking them as well ("Have fun being stuck in Chicago forever you talentless fucks," said he). So the joy will doubtless continue.

My main purpose here was to alert you all to the hilarity and assholery, but here are a few of my thoughts on this, for free.

1) Nice review, Caitlin. Clear, intelligent, made a persuasive case, fun to read.
2) Neil, do you really have nothing better to do? Really? If you got the "gigantic check" you said you did, why are you bothering yourself with this particular review? (And why didn't you attack the negative review in, say, the Tribune?) Why not just laugh all the way to the bank?
3) Are all critics parasites? Really? Even the ones who creamed their jeans over your early plays, and the ones who still do? Or just the ones who speak ill of your shows?
4) To end on a positive note: thank you for The Wicker Man. It is one of the most intensely entertaining movies I have ever seen. Granted, that is because it is howlingly misogynistic, ludicrously plotted, completely devoid of scares, and features Nicolas Cage at his looniest, but entertaining is entertaining.

Anyone else have a thought or two on this?


pengo said...

Why? I think you nailed it.

mpjedi2 said...

I'd say the odds that that's really Neil LaBute are about the same as my having sex with Angelina Jolie.

Of course, I'm wrong all the time...

Mr. K said...

So Neil LaBute's career path has been:
1. writing about emotionally stunted, vicious white men
2. writing about emotionally stunted, vicious white men who are writers
3. directing movies he wrote about... etc.
4. directing Nic Cage, in a movie about how white males are destroyed by women
5. directing movies about white men being victimized by black people
6. directing black people being black people & doing black things
7. writing about lesbians & Shakespeare

Can someone please do a power-point, because I think I missed a couple steps here.

Monica Reida said...

What very very little respect I had for Neil LaBute went out with his response.

Catilin's review was very clear and well-written. And I do agree with you, after the crazy response that critics had to his earlier reviews, if this is the real Neil LaBute, why is he caring about this?

After all, people will keep producing his works because of that.

If LaBute would like, I can introduce him to people at The Theatre School at DePaul University that think he's a feminist.

Erica said...

FTR: My sources at Shakes tell me that it is in fact LaBute himself. When I jumped into the comment thread, it was partially to defend Caitlin against what I thought was a really unfairly personal attack, and also to submit that whoever was impersonating Neil LaBute online was making the author himself look really bad.

As the comment thread became a flame-war, and he started insulting other commenters in addition to critics, I grew surer and surer - this is an internet troll. There's no way a playwright of note (however intensely I dislike his plays or his worldview) is spending this kind of time and vitriol on one critic. But no, as it turns out - Neil LaBute is His Own Troll.

As to why this review caused him to flip the fuck out and not other negative reviews? I can only assume that it was a combo of 1) Caitlin really hitting a nerve and 2) Caitlin being a woman. I think he thought he was lashing out at an easy target.

The winner in all of this so far? Caitlin Parrish, who wrote a clever review that both praised the production and cast while taking down the modern framework, and who has stayed gracefully above the fray - not feeling the need, as LaBute does, to defend her writing by tearing other people down.

Rob Kozlowski said...

I won't be convinced it's him till there's a truly verifiable confirmation. That being said, this still amuses me.

Kris Vire said...

I have off-the-record but credible confirmation today: It's the man himself.

Mr. K said...

It's really LaBute? Doesn't he have a mediocre movie to direct somewhere?

Rob Kozlowski said...

Really, Kris? That's too amazing. Then this guy needs some serious help.

Monica Reida said...

Mr. K: Ha!

Kris: I officially have lost respect for him.

JMS said...

Are you telling me that I actually went head to head with Neil LaBute himself?


Ryan Duke said...


Ryan Duke said...

Why would a person who has ever claimed to be a writer go off on other writers like that?

I mean, his disrespect for the struggles of those who create reveals an overall disrespect for the craft.

Anderson said...

Thnaks for bringing attention to this issue. I have offered to meet LaBute on nuetral grounds and split a McDouble to work this out. If you are in contact with him first, please let me know.
Anderson Lawfer

Anonymous said...

labute was acting like a petulant ass on the comment thread--showed a serious lack of maturity and his behavior is indefensible. that said, i think probably was set him off was that caitlin gave away the "end" of his little skit. that, and the fact that she's a woman.

Anonymous said...

I've always found it strange that ANY of his plays get done. But apparently he's a genius...if you're mentally retarded.

Zev Valancy said...

Wow, I should have jumped into the controversy pool sooner--writing about stuff that makes people angry greatly increases my page views!

My only question: Why hasn't Neil LaBute come and insulted me on my blog? I'm hurt! The bait is right here Neil. Please take it!

A few responses:

Pengo--Thanks. Particularly from you, that means a lot.

Robby/Mr. K--You win. You just win.

Kris--Have you gotten official confirmation yet?

Erica--You're absolutely right about Caitlin. I would not have had the same restraint.

Ryan--Yeah, that's one of many reasons it was nasty.

Anderson--Has he taken you up on it yet?