Good guesses my friends! Those might have been my top 3 picks for the most powerful man on Broadway, if not for the incredible authority one man in our topsy, turvy, consistently weight shifting world of Broadway expressed this past weekend. Yes, I speak of none other than Chief Theater Critic for the New York Times, the one, the only: Ben Brantley.
This subtle, yet rocking display of muscle might have gone unnoticed by the average NYC theatergoer. However, my position as a part-time box office employee at the Duke on 42nd Street forced me to witness the hurricane forces that one man’s pen can employ.
Currently, Theater for a New Audience is producing Macbeth at the Duke on 42nd Street; starring John Douglas Thompson. Up until Saturday, ticket sales had been mediocre, buzz about the show humming softly around town, and our outsourcing of audience papering outlets necessary. Yet, with a few key strokes, and a calculated drop in a weekend issue of the Times, one man transformed mellow desire for another lengthy interpretation of the classic Shakespearean piece into a wave of fast and furious demand.
As I groggily strolled into the box office Saturday morning, I was nowhere near prepared for the battle that lay ahead. As I logged my phone on, the tide of calls ripped through the theater. Hang up, ring, hang up, ring, hang up ring…a phenomena that is extremely rare and continued on for hours. Finally, after learning from some callers that the Times review had dropped that morning, and it was a good one, I had to check it out.
And, well, it was good…I guess. It wasn’t a “rave”, it didn’t praise the show as the hottest new show in town, but Brantley didn’t say a bad word about the show – which I guess in turn makes is a good review. The calls continued to pour in throughout the day and by the end of it all, I had had a record sales setting day.
So what does it all mean? Well, it means everything. It means success, it means failure; it means, sadly, we have given one man so much influence that he can decide it for us. The fact that a company’s ticket sales could quadruple after one man’s thoughts on the piece is absurd. The thought that one man could make or break an actor’s career with just a few printed words is appalling. The thought that artistic companies are making major business decisions based on a critic’s review is embarrassing.
Dear Times Readers: Stop buying tickets based on what someone else thinks of the piece. Art is subjective and risky. Go buy a ticket, take a chance, and decide for yourself.
Brantley referred to this production of Macbeth as “Herculean”, and after my experience this weekend, I believe he has become the Achilles of the NY theater world.