Critic as playwright: Research, anyone?

On Sunday, John Fleming's article accusing me of a conflict of interest was published in the St. Pete Times. I've already responded to these charges in earlier blogs. But Sunday's article upped the ante: John said that because my review of Tommy J and Sally came out in Creative Loafing a week before my review of Jobsite Theater's Picasso at the Lapin Agile, I could be suspected of showing favoritism to the Studio at the expense of Jobsite. This is nonsense. The fact is that Tommy J was only running for two weekends while Picasso was running for three, and therefore I had to get the Studio review published first if I were to review the show at all. Reason: For over a decade, Creative Loafing's policy has been only to publish reviews of shows that are still running when the review comes out. If I'd waited a week, the show would have closed before my review appeared — meaning no review at all. I was aware that Studio artistic director Bob Devin Jones had worked closely with author Mark Medoff on the play in the Washington D.C. area, and that Medoff was coming to St. Petersburg for the premiere. The production sounded important and I didn't want to miss a chance to weigh in on it. So I reviewed it first, and the next week reviewed the Jobsite show.

But as long as John Fleming has put my treatment of the Studio out there as possible evidence of favoritism, let's look at the two plays that premiered there before Tommy J . In early December, the Studio offered Circumference of a Squirrel — and I gave 90 percent of my column that week (Dec. 10-17) to Six Degrees of Separation at Gorillla Theatre, and a total of one paragraph at the end of the column to Circumference. Is this favoritism? The Studio show before that one was Terrible Jim Fitch (November 6-7). But because that was only running for one weekend, I didn't review it, preview it, or even mention it in my column at all. Is that favoritism? I only wish that John, in his phone conversation with me about the article he was contemplating, had asked me about the Tommy J review. Then he might have refrained from suggesting, to all the thousands of SPTimes readers that my integrity had been compromised. I've been theater critic for Creative Loafing for more than ten years, and this is the first time that anyone has suggested that my opinions have been influenced by any sort of favoritism for any sort of reason. I don't like it and I'm not going to sit back quietly while it happens.

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