To the Editor:
Bob Roth, the [former] publisher of the Reader, told me once, when I was reviewing, that a review is an art form; that many people read reviews for pleasure, not because they are looking for a consumer's guide; and that a review should convey authority from the beginning. That's good advice for Jack Helbig, whose little review of Once in a Lifetime [October 14] had too absentminded a beginning to impress me with his authority. (For the record, "Funny, it ain't" was a better place for him to start.)
In his opening, Helbig compared Charles Newell, the new Court artistic director, to Nicholas Rudall, the former artistic director, as a director of comedy. He based his comparison on one play from Newell and one play from Rudall. His conclusion: Rudall is a better director of comedy than Newell because What the Butler Saw, which the reviewer said (wrongly) Rudall had directed, seemed so much funnier to him, Helbig, than Newell's Once in a Lifetime had seemed. Rather geriatric reasoning, that.
Helbig also served up a slice of Limburger triteness when he wrote that Rudall's direction of Butler (which, again, Rudall had not directed) revealed to Helbig that Rudall has the "heart of a clown" beneath his "gruff, professorial exterior."
Although Rudall did not direct What the Butler Saw at Court Theatre in the 1990-'91 season--Jacques Cartier of New York City did--he has directed many Court comedies, such as The Importance of Being Earnest and Cloud Nine in the 1993-'94 season.
After writing "to be fair," Jack Helbig abandoned his rush to judgment about the two directors and settled on the real reason for the failure of Lifetime: the script.
While it is yet premature of Helbig to fault Newell as a director of comedy, he is right to imply that Newell was naive in his choice of the comedy with which to prove himself.
Jack Helbig replies:
Jacques Cartier did indeed direct What the Butler Saw, but I never said that he didn't. What I said was that when Nicholas Rudall was artistic director of the Court Theatre, you could count on its comedies being funny.