The four participants in last night's symposium on "The Role of Criticism in the American Theatre" managed to agree on two points: most critics are abysmal, and all symposiums are.
"I don't care about the critics," said Alan Schneider, director of Edward Albee's five Broadway-produced plays. "I think we're exaggerating them beyond all importance."
"An intelligent man wouldn't take a job like that," playwright Arthur Kopit '58 contended. "A critic," Kopit said, "should describe and not evaluate. He should be a reporter."
John Simon, drama critic for the Hudson Review, disagreed, insisting that "the function of a critic is to be a teacher and an artist."
"A review," said Simon, "should be written every bit as well as a play, and considering the present state of the theatre, even better." Simon characterized the New York theatre as "a cross between a country club, an undertaker's parlor, and a cesspool."
Jerome Weidman, author of the books to such musicals as Fiorello and I Can Get it for You Wholesale, admitted that "some of my best friends are critics" but went on to suggest that all newspaper and magazine reviewers be "abolished."
"If a man were a poet," said Weidman in response to Simon's conception of the good critic, "he wouldn't be a critic--he'd write a poem."
Walter Kerr came in for the lion's share of last night's discussion, pro and con -- most of it con. "Mr. Kerr happens to be at this moment Louis the Fourteenth," explained Kopit, who joined his fellow panelists in reluctantly confessing Kerr to be the best of the New York daily reviewers.
"Kerr is essentially a crowd-pleaser," Simon said. "I take my hat off to him." Then, as an afterthought, Simon conceded that "I never wear a hat."
Schneider told a story about how, when the New York newspapers were on strike, he saw Kerr jump up and leave the opening of Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen before curtain calls, as if Kerr had a review to write. "And he had nothing whatsoever to be rushing home for," Schneider said, "except Mrs. Kerr."