To the editors:
It is a strange event when someone involved in theater feels compelled to rise to the defense of a critic, but the discussion that has been swirling around in your letters section [March 29 and April 26] regarding Mary Shen Barnidge and her review of Make Yer Bed and Lie seems to have enough energy packed into it to warrant a comment. For all Ms. Barnidge's express frankness, she does reflect personal integrity within her reviews, and she can never be accused of equivocation, posturing, or insincerity in what she has to say about a performance or a play. Unlike the letter writers in question, she also generally refrains from personal attacks, even though she is far less kind to writers on the whole than she is to actors, whom she seems to genuinely support, in spite of whether a particular individual has or has not sought to "be polite to her."
The point is, I suppose, critics have their function and their jobs to perform, and everybody within the theater should accept that. As for the issue of sexual abuse and its being "overdone" as a subject, it would seem that the matter is more one of purpose of presentation than selection of topic. If the idea of a play is to teach the horrors of child abuse, it may be a valid point to observe that it's been done and that issues can and do get tired. That is clearly not the same thing as endorsing the activity.
For all that it's worth, we may not agree with what a critic has to say (and unless it's out-and-out praise, we seldom do), but we might as well acknowledge his/her right to say it. At least with regard to Mary Shen Barnidge you can be fairly certain that she won't flatter anyone unless she feels it's deserved. My God, look what she's said about Strindberg!
PS: The letter about Tom Valeo [April 26]--in all fairness--probably is true.