Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Lights Go Out on John Simon at New York magazine


When John Simon started his 37-year run as New York magazine's acidic theatre critic, Jeremy McCarter was a long way off from making his debut.
But now Simon's being pushed off the masthead to make way for the New York Sun theatre critic. All of 28, McCarter gets his chance to play on a bigger stage with his writing than his current perch at the conservative five-day-a-week daily that continues to amaze its critics by its continued existence.
Similar sentiments have been expressed about the tart-tongued Simon, never shy about spewing his venom at many a hapless actor, one of whom once dumped soup on Simon's head.
New York magazine editor Adam Moss, perhaps to make nice with Broadway or maybe just wanting his own guy on the aisle, fired the 79-year-old Simon, whose profile had grown more slight ever since Moss came over last year from The New York Times Magazine.

At times it was something of an event when Simon actually liked a production. Usually, though, he lobbed grenades toward the proscenium. When deserved, he could be wickedly funny. From a recent review of the revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" it was Kathleen Turner's turn to be raked over the coals:

She has a voice like a baritone sax issuing from an oil drum, and hams even with her silences. Your standard-issue college president’s daughter can only aspire to being such a foulmouthed fishwife, and no younger history teacher, however hell-bent on climbing the academic ladder, would have married this anti-sexual, castrating slattern.

But how do you really feel John?

In all fairness, something often in short supply in a Simon review, he could do more than muster enthusiasm for a show that met his approval. He could turn into a press agent's dream. Simon kept falling over himself conjuring up adjectives only he'd use in praise of a Lincoln Center production of Henry IV.

And how thaumaturgically Jack O’Brien has directed! Everywhere you attend there are masterly touches, ranging from the microscopic to the all-encompassing, such as you have never seen before, could not have imagined, and are magically caught up in.

Maybe Moss got tired of looking up words like thaumaturgically, the adverb form of thaumaturgy -- the working of miracles or magic feats (no, I didn't know what it meant either).

Suffice to say, McCarter, regardless of whatever enthusiasm, erudition or wit he brings to the job -- will have the Maestro of Mean's shadow hovering over him for some time to come. For now, you can still read Simon's archived reviews at www.nymetro.com.
If you want to see what to expect from McCarter, you'll have to subscribe. The always-slim Sun is parsimonious handing out freebies at www.nysun.com.

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