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There’s drama pinballing through the theater blogs this week, people! In a recent letter to subscribers, Carolyn Cantor, the director of Adam Rapp’s play Essential Self-Defense, took issue with Charles Isherwood’s “scathing” review in the Times. Isherwood has become something of a punching bag among theater bloggers for his perceived stodginess, and the review is, at times, unnecessarily ad hominem: “A self-conscious exercise in stagy attitudinizing, it could almost have been composed by a computer. Well, maybe a computer that spends a lot of time posing in funky bars in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.” [Disclosure: we once caught a nasty virus from a computer we picked up in a funky Williamsburg bar. Never again.]

Cantor’s letter went on to name other critics who “embraced” the show, emphasizing more “adventurous” theater bloggers. (We interviewed Rapp, who we like, and reviewed Essential Self-Defense, which we didn’t.) That’s when Culturebot, a great performance art group blog – don’t call it a P.S. 122 blog – edited by P.S. 122’s Andy Horowitz, dipped its oar in by suggesting that those bloggers were essentially part of a viral marketing campaign fueled by free tickets (accurate) and complimentary beer (inaccurate). Bloggers took umbrage! Perhaps the best insight came from Parabasis, who detected a whiff of “our show is just too experimental for the Man!” in Cantor’s letter, possibly prompting the P.S. 122/Culturebot crowd to go, “Hmm. Experimental, eh?” [Paraphrasing ours.]

Whew! All this in the same week that Time Out New York’s Spring theater issue cautioned readers to beware of certain unnamed theater blogs because “marketing departments have offered drama bloggers free seats…” There seem to be two distinct questions here: How does the theater community counterbalance the New York Times, which, like it or not, is a near-monolithic critical force? And if the Rise of Theater Blogging is the answer to the first question, can complimentary tickets yield favorable reviews when there’s no editor monitoring ethical standards? Anyone know of any verifiable instances of bloggers hyping a show they didn't like in exchange for comps?

(Photo by Richard Termine.)