Friday, February 19, 2010

Is Miami ArtZine going down the Toilet?

If you consider a paper's theatre review as a sort of "canary in the mineshaft," the ArtZine is in trouble.

Mary Damiano recently left the ArtZine to become arts editor at the South Florida Gay News. When I heard this news, I shrugged, and wondered who they'd find to replace her. Maybe there was a hint of anticipation that we'd have a fresh new voice, with a background in theatre review.

Those hopes have been dashed. Instead of a step up, or at least a new perspective, theatre review in South Florida has hit a new low. Instead of an insightful reviewer who offers thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis, we have James Cubby.

On the positive side, the latest play review in the online magazine is brief. In fact, it's comprised of exactly FIVE SENTENCES. But that's the only positive note we can offer. One has to wonder what other shows James Cubby has seen. Why do I say that? Because of this sentence, which comprises a substantial portion of his review of The Cocktail Hour:
The Edge Rep production offers an excellent version of this play.
Who wouldn't be suspicious? The words "Edge Rep" and "excellent" in the same sentence is not a common occurrence. I'm not saying that it couldn't happen. Wouldn't it be great that after years of some of the worst productions in South Florida, the team at Edge had an epiphany that brought them to new heights? Sure it would. But if that's happened, that should be included in the review.

How did they do this turnaround (if it has occurred)? Well, according to Cubby:
The cast... all give stellar performances deserving of a much larger space than the small stage at The Literary Café.
So much for a well-written, insightful review.

And who is James Cubby, who wrote this five sentence review? He seems to have appeared full-blown from under a cabbage leaf. The results of a Google search indicate that he wrote a book that is "about to be published," and he did a low-budget film, once. What does not show up is a single theatre review prior to this one.

The problem we are left with is this: how IS the show at the Edge Rep? Is Cocktail Hour any good? It's possible. It's directed by Jerry Jensen, who has had some modest successes. Members of the cast have worked in professional theatres all over South Florida. So it is entirely possible that it is as good as Cubby claims. But since we have no idea if he's ever seen anything good, we can't tell. If he'd written a proper review, we might be able to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he didn't, so we can't.

Hopefully, someone will do a proper review of The Cocktail Hour. And when they do, we'll create the usual review page. In the meantime, Miami Artzine is on probation: I won't waste my time on it if this is what they consider quality writing on the arts.


  1. You are 100% correct! I read this review and could not believe that Miami Artzine even called this crap a review. However you bring up a bigger issue that must be discussed. What are the qualifications of ALL of our theatre critics?

    Jan Sjostrom
    John LaRiviere
    Hap Erstein
    Christine Dolen
    Mary Damiano
    Brandon K Thorpe

    What real theatre education do these people have? Some are very good writers but why should their opinions matter anymore than this new guy you write about? I have looked for the qualifications of some of these critics and have found very little. Is being an actor’s daughter or a failed playwright really enough to qualify you to review theatre in this town?

    btw- I am not the nasty Anonymous person who leaves bad comments. I am just a coward who still wants these critics to give her a good review.

  2. However you bring up a bigger issue that must be discussed. What are the qualifications of ALL of our theatre critics?

    You left out Bill Hirschman.

    That is probably a subject that deserves an entire blog post, but suffice to say that most of them have demonstrated through their reviews that they do know something about theatre, or at least enough to write a credible critique of what they've seen.

    What real theatre education do these people have? Some are very good writers but why should their opinions matter anymore than this new guy you write about?

    That's a fair question. Mostly, because after reading their reviews of shows I've seen and shows I've worked on, I can see a correlation between what they actually saw and what they wrote about it. I don't always agree with their perceptions of the plays they review, but I understand how they got there, at least in most cases.

    The thing that separates a real review from the crap Cubby wrote is that a good critic isn't simply telling you if they liked or disliked a show. Ultimately, that's a matter of taste and preference. If you prefer comedies to drama, you can't go around panning every drama you see.

    In a proper review, the critic must suspend their preferences and analyze all the elements of a production. And yes, this is where they need to understand acting technique, staging, and the various disciplines of the design elements.

    For example, while the entire production is built on the foundation outlined in the script, it is important to understand where the script begins and the specific choices of the production begin. Every theatre company in the world works from the same script, but each production is different, and we need to know if this production succeeds in telling the story, or fails.

    Then we need to know why it succeeds or fails; did the director understand the script? Did he understand it, but his actors couldn't perform it? Did they fail because of their talent or training, or did technical elements interfere with their performance?

    I have seen critics give a good review to a show I know they didn't enjoy, and I've seen critics laughing at comedies they went on to pan. Because ultimately, it doesn't matter if the critic enjoyed it. We just want to know if the production is any good. And that is something a discerning critique can convey, at least in part.

  3. Did you notice he also wrote the review above one for the Cocktail Hour? It's a bit more lengthy, although not much more insightful.

  4. Thanks for the cordial welcome. As for the review, it was not intended to be a formal review but merely my impressions of the play closing night which was initially posted on the site's blog. As for my appearing out of nowhere, I've been covering the arts in South Florida for the past 15 years. Maybe you were looking in the wrong cabbage patch. As far as credits, here's a brief bio; James Cubby is a Miami Beach based writer/photographer who has had work published in Wire, Ocean Drive, D’Vox, Genre, SKIN, Contemporary Woman, Scoop, Groove, Fashion Times, Miami Metro, Where Magazine, LRM (Lincoln Road Magazine), SunPost, Closer Magazine, MAP (Music Art People), Public Magazine, Ego Trip Magazine, Miamigo, and the Miami Herald as well as websites like and Cubby was the editor of the national fashion/entertainment glossy ZED and the Virginia Arts publication V Magazine. Cubby is currently working on his second novel LAUREL AVENUE while waiting for his first novel SOUTH BEACH STAR to be published.

    Again, thanks for the welcome and the review.
    James Cubby

  5. James, it staggers the mind that anyone would pay you to review theatre. Your second review, while longer, is as poorly written as the first. All we get is that some guy we don't know thinks it's funny. I don't know what you were writing for 15 years; it wasn't incisive theatre review, that's for damn sure.

    The only thing I can recall about the vast majority of the magazines you say you've written for is that when I've picked up most of them, they read like sales catalogs. Maybe your complete lack of ability was an asset to a magazine that only had an inch or two of space between full color advertisements, but so far it's utterly degraded Miami Artzine.

    It's telling that the first of your three "favorite links" on your blog (which seems to mainly consist of short messages saying that you're writing) leads to your old blog and that it consists of only two posts; the first of which mentions that you'rr writing again, and referencing another blog you abandoned . The other post is a brief message saying that you're writing.

    I am completely unimpressed. Your true skill is obviously conning publishers into hiring you, because they sure as shit aren't hiring you for your writing.

  6. Miami ArtZine has been removed from the sidebar until the quality of their theatre stories improves.

  7. What are the qualifications of ALL of our theatre critics?

    That is probably a subject that deserves an entire blog post...

    I would LOVE an entire blog post about this subject. Because it seems that I'M qualified enough to write for the Miami ArtZine.

  8. Alexis, you have written some fine reviews, and I would be delighted if one of our local rags hired you. But I suppose we'll have to wait until you graduate high school.

  9. Frankly, a high school girl reviewing the productions here in South Florida would be absolutely appropriate. Although she may be overqualified.

  10. Just for the record, most (if not all) of the theater critics in this region have some kind of theater education and even some experience as a theater professional. Some of us majored or minored in theater in college, some of us have been actor-director-playwrights ourselves, some of us have attended the O'Neill Theater Center's National Critics Institute, and most of us have attended and continue to attend seminars and workshops about theater and/or criticism. I am not remotely offended by the question; it's quite a fair one. But I'm pretty comfortable with the informed status and professionalism of most of my colleagues. My concern is the proliferation nationwide of fans and bloggers who pass off their uninformed indiscriminate venting as criticism.

  11. Does this mean that the Fashion writer from the Sun-Sentinel is real a graduate from the Yale School of Drama?

  12. Nope. Bill did say "most (if NOT all)."
    Hagwood's bio,0,7422966.story

    He writes that he has " affinity for low-level blackmail..."

    See? Everything makes sense now.

  13. As a director of "some moderate success" - which is an accurate description - I hope that reviewers and readers of this blog will come to see CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at Main Street Players in Miami Lakes May 7-23. We have some excellent cast members, and this community theatre does work on a par with several small professional theaters in the area.