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Spider-Menace: Producers Profit From Performers' Pain

0208 spider-man
Then the levee broke. On Monday, the nation’s theater critics, tired of being treated like third-class citizens (they’ve become quite used to second-class treatment in the Web 2.0 era), unleashed their assessments of the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” No raves were to be found. The New York Post: “This erratic musical…[is] constantly seesawing between the galvanizing and the lame.” The Chicago Tribune: “There is a fundamental discomfort, and thus disconnect, between the material, the artists engaged in its interpretation, and the form of the Broadway musical.” Back Stage’s own David Sheward: “[Director Julie] Taymor and her book collaborator, Glen Berger, have taken threads from the comic book and all three of the ‘Spider-Man’ movies, spun a few of their own, and weaved them into an incomprehensible web that feels more like a sticky trap than a fun playhouse.”

Critics justified their decisions to break with the Broadway tradition of posting reviews on opening night by noting that opening night has been an ever-moving target since previews began Nov. 28. As Taymor and her team tinkered, the opening moved from Dec. 21 to Jan. 11 to Feb. 7 to, most recently, March 15. All the while, the show has played to large crowds, leading some to suspect that the producers were angling to dodge the impact that a storm of negative reviews might have on the box office.

So how has a show that has been the subject of scorn and mockery since well before the reviews rolled in become a financial hit? As Ben Brantley pointed out in his New York Times review, it probably has something to do with schadenfreude. The production has been plagued by technical glitches resulting in several injuries to actors—some quite serious. In Brantley’s review, he writes that the audience at the performance he attended expressed “genuine pleasure” at an announcement that mechanical problems had prompted a mid-scene delay. He then describes actor Patrick Page, who plays the villainous Green Goblin, ad-libbing a line to lead actor Reeve Carney: “You gotta be careful. You’re gonna fly over the heads of the audience, you know. I hear they dropped a few of them.”

Page, of course, was just making the best of a tough situation. But it’s astonishing how, as Taymor, songwriters Bono and the Edge and everyone else associated with “Turn Off the Dark” have become subjects of national mockery, the safety concerns faced by the actors involved have become a background issue. It is simply accepted that at any moment another performer may face the fate of 31-year-old Christopher Tierney, who at the Dec. 20 performance dove more than 20 feet from a platform and landed in Bellevue Hospital with a fractured spine. If Brantley’s assessment is to be believed, audience members have no interest in Taymor’s failed storytelling; they’re present in the hope that they will witness some real-life tragedy they can tweet about later. If that’s the case, then Taymor should be fired, and the show revised to feature no story at all. Producers can just stand on the stage at the Foxwoods Theatre and hit actors dressed like Spider-Man in the kneecaps with ball-peen hammers from 8 to 10:45 p.m. every night. Patrons can pay $300 a pop to come in and watch. A bundle will be made from physically endangering the people on stage—just as it is now.

Pictured: image from 'Spider-Man' No. 1, Marvel Entertainment, 1990

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Comments

Thank you for this. Keeping critics out can't silence people forever. It's a sad and sick thing if tickets are being sold to those hoping to see a catastrophe.

And the disregard for the actors' pain and permanent damage is disgusting. They even had poor Tierney, the original lead actor (probably still in shock, at least figuratively), come out and make a statement about how great they're treating him — but he's suffered permanent damage to his body, and is perhaps naive about how this damage will compromise him for the rest of his life.

To be entertained by the prospect of injury or death is verging on Roman Empire territory, and is a new low for the entertainment industry, which continues to neglect its birthright as mythmaker, in favor of pander of (other people's) pain.

Just one question... Patrick Page was making the best of a tough situation by making a joke about another actor's injury? That's an o.k. move as long as the audience laughed?

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