Toronto\’s NOW Magazine, critical letters and the editorial process

February 14th, 2008 § 0 comments

I recently attended a performance of Canada Steel, and was horrified to read the following review in Toronto\’s NOW Magazine:

Theatre Reviews
Labour bored


CANADA STEEL By J. Karol Korczynski, directed by Graham Cozzubbo (Canada House Artistic Co-op).
At Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). To Feb 17. Pwyc-$25. 416-531-1827.

Rating: NN

Ever notice the industry-induced haze that hangs over Hamilton Harbour? Well, this same condition pervades Canada Steel, J. Karol Korczynski’s long-winded new play about a laid-off Hamilton factory worker and his family.

This second instalment of Korczynski’s sociopolitical Canada House trilogy opens with unionized steelworker Gus (a twitchy Daniel Kash) on sick leave due to mental illness. The plant closes down while he’s off, and Gus finds himself unemployed, destitute and distraught. When the union cancels his health benefits and withholds his pension, Gus snaps.

The play introduces many implausible subplots having to do with politics, sex, sports and art to explore the evils of industry and union bureaucracy.

Among them, the Leafs make the Stanley Cup playoffs, Gus’s wife, Rose (Alison Woolridge), finds a Pablo Serrano canvas and sells it to sleazy union official Les (Brian Marler), and Gus cultivates a telephone relationship with Bhopal (Pragna Desai), a poorly treated customer service phone rep based in Mumbai. Desai’s storyline and performance provide the show’s few dramatic highlights.

Many of these characters go on about using “synergy” to solve problems. However, there’s little evidence of that synergy in the play’s production values. Director Graham Cozzubbo’s staging looks cramped when more than two characters are onstage, and Brent Krysa’s cumbersome scenery leads to clunky set changes. With the trilogy’s final play yet to come, now might be the time to file a grievance.

So – I decided to write a letter to NOW, to try to teach that reviewer a lesson!

Re: \”Labour bored\”, the review of Canada Steel by Debbie Fein Goldbach.

Debbie Fein-Goldbach\’s review of J. Karol Korczynski\’s play \”Canada Steel\” was a thoroughly unflattering assessment of a play that I thought was wonderful, but that is not grounds to get me off my happily sedentary butt and write a letter. Her clever sniping and witty one-liners do little to mask the fact that she has written a lousy piece of journalism.

She spends over one third of her column disdaining the \”implausible subplots\” introduced by the play, but she neglects to do her homework. The first one she mentions, the Leafs making the Stanley Cup playoffs, must be her way of assuring us that her cleverness is still in full force? She then questions the likelihood of the character Rose finding a \”Pablo Serrano canvas\” and selling it to a sleazy union official. This isn\’t just implausible, it\’s impossible, since Pablo Serrano is a fictitious character who may be meant to suggest Diego Rivera. As far as Rose selling the painting to a union official, well, that\’s just false. The sale of the painting was discussed, but anyone who has seen the play would know that she never sold it, since she was physically unable to. The final scene of the play explicitly discusses the sale of the painting by another party, and not to said sleazy union official. This is not a small slip, this is a mangling of the plot.

A competent reviewer is not just a bon-mot vendor, and is most decidedly not someone who cannot remember basic details. An additional caveat to any aspiring theatre reviewers – fantastic things happen on stage, even more implausible than the Leafs making the playoffs or someone finding a painting and selling it. A good review should offer insight and, yes, opinion from someone who is able to see more clearly and truly than the norm. I\’m not convinced that Ms. Fein-Goldbach is this person, but regardless, I would encourage her take her own advice, and \”cut the cutesiness to find the heart.\”

What they ended up printing was this:


Wonderful Steel

Debbie Fein-Goldbach’s review of J. Karol Korczynski’s Canada Steel (NOW, February 7-13) was a thoroughly unflattering assessment of a play that I thought was wonderful.
But that’s not enough to get me off my happily sedentary butt to write a letter. Her clever sniping and witty one-liners do little to mask the fact her review is lousy journalism.

The Leafs making the Stanley Cup playoffs must be her way of assuring us that her cleverness is still in full force?

I encourage Fein-Goldbach to take her own advice and “cut the cutesiness to find the heart.”

I know they have to edit letters, and in retrospect I realize my letter should have been ruthlessly self-edited. Still, I feel like they tailored the editing in such a way that my main points were not made, and I sound like an incoherent and inarticulate theatre booster. My first thought was, \”Geez – I wanted to teach NOW a lesson, but boy did they end up learnin\’ me good!\” My second thought was, \”I should probably stop writing negative letters into NOW lest everyone consider me a blithering idiot.\”

Conclusion: In a war of rhetoric, it is folly to attack the one who ultimately decides what you will say.

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