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Off-Stage Drama Surrounding A Catered Affair, Both Starring Harvey Fierstein

Harvey Fierstein

There's something of a theater world brouhaha stirring around Harvey Fierstein's Old Globe production of A Catered Affair . While early reviews have generally been good, Charles McNulty, theater critic at the LA Times , panned the show last week . A Catered Affair is a musical that Fierstein adapted from the 1952 Paddy Chayefsky film of the same name. McNulty writes in his review:

Should we really be trawling for such mediocre source material without a sharp revitalizing vision? Chayefsky's expiration date passed long ago, yet Fierstein serves up the saga as though it were fresh milk. But let's return to the show without further ado -- this is a story line that's peculiarly vulnerable to being switched off during commercial breaks.

Ouch.

Fierstein apparently felt the critical sting and has since shot back at McNulty on his blog :

The man begins his piece by telling us that he hates the original film, hates the original teleplay, has no respect or even like for the work of Paddy Chayefsky, dislikes social drama in general, and downright loathes me. He then wastes the rest of his newspaper's space trying to justify his loathsome opinion. I'm sorry, friends, that's not reviewing, that's simply proselytizing.

I do love the word "loathe". It's so... dramatic. Note that Fierstein uses it twice, opting for "loathsome" the second go-around. Nice. Anyway, Fierstein goes on to call McNulty a bully:

But bullies don't play fair, do they? He dismissed our show before ever entering the theater. I think his newspaper should do likewise with his contract. Such open hostility for the art of creation does no one, least of all the LA Times readership, any service.

Fierstein is certainly influential on Broadway and has apparently been emailing some heavy hitters to complain about McNulty. Michael Riedel at the New York Post asks, is there really anything to be gained by going after critics? I'm not sure there is.

McNulty has a role in our culture, as do all critics, and it's a role that I value. I think the bigger question is whether or not today's criticism has somehow become too mean-spirited, resorting to snark and snide to keep up with the tone of the blogosphere and its reigning cool kids .

Personally, I didn't find McNulty's review mean-spirited. He clearly didn't like the play, but he was hardly showing "open hostility for the art of creation" - something he writes and thinks about for a living. Sure, McNulty reserved his most biting comments for Fierstein, but Fierstein's presence, and many adoring fan would say talent, is bigger than some small countries. Surely he can take a hit from McNulty without getting bruised and crying about it.

This kerfuffle will all blow over in no time and A Catered Affair will end up on Broadway, despite McNulty's vote. I have yet to see the play, but I'd love to hear from those who have - does the play feel dated? Is it funny? Touching and tender, as described by the Union-Tribune ? Did you like the score? Let me know your thoughts.

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