THEATRE REVIEW: WTF’s ‘Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow’ — Chekhov it ain’t

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By Monday, Jul 31 Arts & Entertainment  103 Comments
Daniel Rader
Rebecca Henderson as Olga, Cristin Milioti as Masha, and Tavi Gevinson as Irina in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of Halley Feiffer's 'Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.'

Editor’s Note: In response to the outrage expressed by many readers to Peter Bergman’s opening sentence in his review of Halley Feiffer’s play, we asked the reviewer to revise his opening paragraph. He also sent the following explanation:

To the public:

“The opening sentence of my review of Halley Feiffer’s play “Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow” was not intended to offend sensibilities and sensitivities. It was, in fact, a partial quote from other people’s writing about the use of existing material to create a radically different edition of the original work without bringing forth new ideas, concepts or setting new directions for the characters. I do apologize for the sentence. I myself, as a child, was a victim of sexual assault; as a boy it was not considered by authorities in 1956 to be actual rape, although it was and I am sensitive to that issue. So, I have drafted a new opening sentence for the review. Thank you for your understanding.”

*     *     *

Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow
By Halley Feiffer
Based on “The Three Sisters” by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Trip Cullman

“Do you think I would have been happy?”

Gene Jones as Ferapont and Thomas Sadoski as Andrey. Photo: Daniel Rader

Gene Jones as Ferapont and Thomas Sadoski as Andrey. Photo: Daniel Rader

When an author takes another author’s work and makes it her own, there should be something authentic and special about the result. Playwright Halley Feiffer has done the first part but has not made it to that finale with her new play, a WORLD PREMIERE commissioned by and being produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, “Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.” The classic being dragged through the food mill is Anton Chekhov’s “The Three Sisters.” A play filled with Russian despair and inspired humor, Chekhov’s original does it all, says it all. Feiffer’s new play based on this work repeats everything Chekhov said, only in a coarser, commoner, less theatrical and more contemporary manner. She has added to that original only a millenial sensibility in the language but she has not managed to illuminate any of the characters beyond, or with greater depth, the originals.

The three girls still long to return to Moscow but none of them makes the trip. Masha still longs for a fulfilling love; Irina still longs for something to fulfill her lack of purpose; Olga still longs to be as beautiful as her sisters. Nothing has changed. This commissioned play from the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s New Play Commissioning Program turns out to be a weak translation of a theatrical classic and little more. If there is anything new, it is the production style of director Trip Cullman. That is something to see, even though it is as trapped in the original script’s concept as the translation is also.

Micah Stock as Tuzenbach and Tavi Gevinson. Photo: Daniel Rader

Micah Stock as Tuzenbach and Tavi Gevinson. Photo: Daniel Rader

Perhaps we laugh a little bit more at the psychotic ramblings of Olga’s ranting about herself. Rebecca Henderson does such a beautiful job of telling us how hideously unattractive she is over and over again. She can be loving and supportive as well, but she is never as convincing as when she is self-deprecating.

Perhaps we laugh a little bit harder when Masha upends the best part of her life to mourn the loss of Moscow in her life. Cristin Milioti is delicious in this role that affords her a handsome, devoted husband, lovers and admirers. She flaunts her best qualities, exhibits her worst and, in her black-hatted costume, resembles the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz,” although her witch is self-centered and vain.

We certainly laugh at Irina, the beautiful baby of the group, when she complains about everything and mourns about having to marry into the aristocracy. Tavi Gevinson does all of that and more with gusto, verve and vigor. She is so physically into the role that nothing on the stage remains sacred and possible.

Thomas Sadoski plays their hopeless brother, Andrey. Hopelessly in love, he cannot see the tree for the forest that surrounds it. Not unlike Matt, his character on the TV series “Life in Pieces,” he primps and postures and finds himself lost in the compulsions of sex. His own despair takes years to accumulate and finally resonate.

Jeanine Serralles as Natasha and Glenn Davis as Solyony. Photo: Daniel Rader

Jeanine Serralles as Natasha and Glenn Davis as Solyony. Photo: Daniel Rader

It is Andrey’s favorite whore, Natasha, whom he marries and who, in turn, domesticates this man, who runs away with the new play (actually, she often does that in the original version, too). Jeanine Serralles is wonderful as Natasha, wearing the oddest Mondrian-based dress from an era not to appear for more than 50 years after the period of the play. She moves swiftly from sexual plaything to controlling virago and each appearance by Serralles upsets the tentatively balanced apple cart.

The men in this play are, as usual, ineffectual. They are drunk; they are complainers; they cannot manage to keep their women’s interest. They are not always funny in Feiffer’s play, but they are hard to take seriously at times. The sharp outlines provided by Chekhov are slightly blurred in Feiffer’s reconstruction, not nearly as clean and identifiable as the five women–I include the servant, Anfisa, played in a wig that shows age placed over real hair which sends up that image, played by Ako. She is both the most pathetic female creature on the stage and the funniest at the same time.

Sheaun McKinney as Vershinin and Cristin Milioti. Photo: Daniel Rader

Sheaun McKinney as Vershinin and Cristin Milioti. Photo: Daniel Rader

The closest we are allowed to a romantic hero is Vershinin, in love with Masha who loves him back in spite of her marriage. Sheaun McKinney plays the role with great sense of purpose, good strength and conviction. A married man himself, Vershinin pursues Masha like Romeo takes after Juliet. There is no innocence in their relationship, nor is lust the motivator here. Instead it is the calling of each to be enveloped in the warmth of the other.

Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual. The two of them are ardent and beautiful together, with Stock sometimes dominating in that image of beauty.

The confusion of costume style and periods, that odd thrust of millennial involvement, is provided by designer Paloma Young. Ben Stanton’s lighting does exactly what is should do, providing a sense of place, time and purpose. Mark Wendland’s innovative set works to the advantage of this odd play. The director, Trip Cullman, has woven a spell of sorts with this work. It is certainly never dull. However it never provides a new idea or thought, a new concept of any sort, a spontaneous feeling, nor does it leave us feeling that we have experienced a new work, but only a second-rate version of something we have known for eons. Feiffer’s play is still 117 years old. It just sounds a bit Midwestern instead of Russian.

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Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow plays on the Nikos Stage at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Aug. 6. For tickets and information, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (413) 458-3253 or go online to wtfestival.org.


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103 Comments   Add Comment

  1. S says:

    Excuse me? Are you kidding me with this nonsense? “If you are going to rape a classic, you should commit to getting it pregnant”????!!!!!
    How foolish, how unaware, how absolutely uncaring do you have to be to publish such trash?? A rape analogy??? Are you kidding me? Anyone who was involved in the publishing of this review should be mightily ashamed. There is a way to employ critical generosity in the work you publish. There is a way to disagree with the art or the artists. This not it, friends.

    1. crud says:

      seriously, rape jokes are not cool. apparently some people haven’t gotten the memo yet? get your head out of junior high. like i know this is called the berkshire *edge* but maybe don’t.

  2. Max Sparber says:

    What possible failure of reason produced your lede sentence? What lack of writing, editing, and publishing sense conspired to produce this collossal failure of fundamental common sense? Good God. When did you all collectively decide to leave humanity? When did you decide that sexual violence was a good or meaningful metaphor? When did you decide the thing theater lacked was the voice of a bully?

  3. Peter Bergman says:

    Dear Max, Dear Crud, Dear S.
    a definition of rape: to seize and take away by force. What this author has done is to grab a classic play, one that has intrigued and interested audiences the world over for more than a century, and then replaced its language with the gutter verbiage of David Mamet without presenting a single new idea. The beauty of this play’s internal message has been ripped away and replaced with an exhausting amount of repetition and nonsense. The humanity and the heart of these women in their languid existence, feeling trapped by their circumstances when a walk to the nearest train station could solve at least one impulse / problem. Here, they just throw out the F-word, constantly mourn their situation to the point of exhaustion and remain trapped in their situation. At least Ms. Feiffer might have given them something new to do, think, feel, react to and revel in instead of merely repeating what Chekhov did so much better.
    Pregnant, a definition – abounding in fancy, wit, or resourcefulness : inventive. I would suggest to these negative and limited minds that they examine the possibilities of words, not limit themselves to harsh and inane critiques.
    JPB

    1. Mikel Matthews says:

      You’re spinning some quality bs there, Pete. Have the courage to stand behind what you wrote. I don’t believe for an instant you meant to use rape in any way but the standard. And if, for some kind-boggling reason, you did—-you need a better editor.

      1. Shannon says:

        Yes!

    2. Adrienne Pender says:

      Your attempt at spin by defining ‘rape’ in limited terms is sad and defensive. And you didn’t even address the second part of your analogy, “YOU SHOULD COMIT TO GETTING IT PREGNANT,” which is absolutely horrific and can have no other meaning, and makes your so-called justification of using the word ‘rape’ ridiculous.

      Shame on you for not even trying to grasp the issues with this. Shame on your editors for allowing it to be published.

      1. Facer says:

        Well rape ending in pregnancy makes it ok. Right?

    3. Avi Glickstein says:

      Try again. Not to sink to your level, but you left a word out of your definition of rape from Webster’s: “archaic”. But we’re not gonna argue over the definition of rape. You know what you wrote. When “seizing and taking away by force” one should commit to getting whatever you’ve seized “abounding in fancy, wit, or resourcefulness”? Uh huh. You meant rape and you meant pregnancy. Maybe, MAYBE, you meant both. But you can’t write “rape” and “pregnancy” and claim it’s something else. And you thought it was clever. Just own it.

      Either that or you thought even less about language than you claim Ms. Feiffer did.

    4. NYC says:

      At least own up to your tripe, Mr. Bergman. Regardless of definitions of words, when “rape” and “pregnant” are used together, the context implies a sexual rape leading to a literal pregnancy. Regardless, I don’t even see how the analogy applies. The author has taken an original text and adapted it to her own needs. Perhaps using imagery like kidnapping, pillaging, or deconstructing would have been more appropriate.

    5. Ben Ferber says:

      Hey Peter,

      Let’s be completely clear. In the context of the sentence you wrote, a metaphorical rape can result in pregnancy. You are, resolutely, NOT using an alternate, much-lesser-used, definition of that word. If you’re going to try to defend yourself using the rules of the English language, learn how they work first.

      The first sentence of this piece of writing is repugnant. Your ineffectual self defense does not change that. The rest of this review is damaging in other ways not as deep, but equally insidious.

      Imagine if you used the kind of language in your first sentence against a writer with rape trauma. How do you think accusing someone who has been raped of rape, in multiple terms clearly steeped in a context of sexual violence, would affect them?

      You are entitled to your opinions about this, and any, play. You are entitled to write about them. Bad reviews are vital for our community. However, this is not simply a bad review. You repeatedly use sexist, dismissive language towards women throughout this piece. You call Feiffer’s play a “weak translation,” and criticize her depth. You say she has “dragged [Three Sisters] through the food mill;” I find it telling that you’d coin a kitchen neologism for a female playwright. You give her credit only for the play’s “millennial sensibility” which you nonetheless use in an infantilizing context. Your highest compliments for the three sisters call them “psychotic,” “self-centered and vain,” and a “beautiful baby,” as if these are compliments. You attempt to compliment another actress by calling her a “pathetic female creature,” the most egregious example of the strange sexist dynamics in your review, and your interpretation of this play. You repeatedly compliment weakness in Chekhov’s/Feiffer’s female characters, and you disappointedly obsess over the male characters being “hard to take seriously;” you are upset with their lack of traditional masculinity. Your review, in short, seems to long for a play in which men dominate women, and expresses outrage over a having seen something else. I’d suggest that the sexual politics of the original Three Sisters don’t perpetuate that stereotype, and that your review’s desire for that betrays a deep misunderstanding of the source material.

      Also: “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” I’ll give you a small benefit of the doubt for awkward wording here. However, as-written, I’m genuinely unsure how to take this comment other than as bald homophobia.

      I digress.

      I hope you’ll look at the reactions to this review and truly understand why you deserve them, why people are rightfully outraged at you and your publication, and why you are deeply wrong for having written this review in the manner you did.

      Most of all, I hope you’ll look at your use of language closely. And I hope when you see what you’ve done with it here, I hope you’ll feel deep, crushing shame.

      I demand you apologize.

      1. Chris Ketcham says:

        BRAVO TO ALL OF THIS. Indeed this entire review was impossible to stomach. So much bitter hatred for a young woman writing about young women. This sentence in particular is telling: “The men in this play are, as usual, ineffectual.” Poor men. Poor underdeveloped, unappreciated, marginalized men.

        Hilarious that this critic’s own words so aptly describe his “review”: “it never provides a new idea or thought, a new concept of any sort, a spontaneous feeling, nor does it leave us feeling that we have experienced a new work, but only a second-rate version of something we have known for eons.” What a perfect description of this amateur, sexist review, bemoaning the so-called “rape” of a dead, white man’s sacred text. This seething indictment of a young “millenial” woman, who has the audacity to receive a “commissioned,” “WORLD PREMIERE” production, would be laughable if it weren’t so unhinged.

        This is not theater criticism. This is nothing more than a hit piece from a resentful, never-was, whose biggest claim to fame was that he wrote his first garbage review when he was 15.

        The only reason this critic should keep churning out horribly sexist, horribly backwards, and horribly written reviews, is so that folks who want to experience great, cutting-edge theater, can go see the shows he so virulently despises.

    6. Internet Stranger says:

      At the very least this comments thread is turning out to be a good show.

      It’s too late to expect any reasonable discourse Peter, you’ve done a thought crime and this article is doomed to become another skirmish in the ongoing cultural proxy war. The theatre is no place for callous remarks or uncomfortable imagery, what were you thinking? The theatre must be a place where only the most universally accepted and sanitary cultural perspectives may be depicted and reinforced so that we can briefly forget the scary world outside its walls. I bet you voted for Drumpf too you big stupid meanie head.

      Seriously though I once saw Twelfth Night get railed so hard it must have got knocked up with twins.

      1. DL says:

        It’s not a thought crime.

        Do you hear people make offhand jokes about POWs and torture victims? Is it okay to offhandedly make metaphors to Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and other horrific crimes throughout history?

        Personally, I don’t hear jokes or offhand metaphors about these things and would be horrified to. Rape is horrifying. It is a very personal, destructive crime, and it leaves its victims with PTSD much like a soldier has PTSD. Just as I don’t go around making light of the horrors of war, I do not go around making light of rape.

        Cultural perspectives are great, uncomfortable imagery is great!

        NOTHING is accomplished by that first sentence except a poor metaphor shocking in its callousness towards rape survivors.

      2. Internet Stranger says:

        “Do you hear people make offhand jokes about POWs and torture victims?”

        Yes.

        “Is it okay to offhandedly make metaphors to Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and other horrific crimes throughout history?”

        Yes.

        “Personally, I don’t hear jokes or offhand metaphors about these things and would be horrified to.”

        Never read any Mamet, I see.

        “NOTHING is accomplished by that first sentence except a poor metaphor shocking in its callousness towards rape survivors.”

        It seems to have provoked quite a strong reaction, wouldn’t you agree?

      3. Chris Ketcham says:

        This critic can say whatever he wants. And he did. People can respond however they want. And we are. And he can respond again, and so can we, and back and forth we go. That is what “discourse” is. You of all people should know that, “Internet.”

    7. Craig Pospisil says:

      You’re free to not like the play, but your first sentence is a truly abhorrent metaphor. I suspect that you thought it was awfully clever – which is why you choose to defend yourself and lash out against your own critics here on the comments page – but the truth is it’s just awful. It is not a clever or witty way to make your point. It is hamfisted and beyond thoughtless. And you know it. Which is why you responded and tried to spin it to mean something different from what you wrote. What you wrote is as crude and as much of the gutter as what you profess to dislike in this play and the work of David Mamet. You should be ashamed of yourself, and the Berkshire Edge should be ashamed of printing that sentence.

    8. JD says:

      Offering up a couple of dictionary definitions isn’t a defense, nor do you even wrestle with the seriousness of the critiques. Do you think rape is the stuff of jokes? It’s not. Also, your “joke” is not funny. It’s mean spirited and lazy.

    9. Jon Foley Sherman says:

      I think what Peter meant to write was: “I am horribly, horribly sorry for the first line of my review. It makes light of sexual violence in a way that suggests it might be acceptable if the result is a pregnancy, which is an unspeakably disgusting proposition. I am also sorry for my pedantic and nonsensical rebuttal. I do not believe there is any defense for what I wrote and I apologize for making one. What I did was hideous and I hope I can earn your forgiveness.”

    10. Katie vachon says:

      No, your first sentence is problematic in any circumstance, no matter what comes after it. If you can’t see this you have a lot of self education to do. I’m guessing your editor won’t like the contact this publication’s advertisers will get until you take this down and apologize. And your apology better not be to “anyone who was offended.” This deserves a straight up apology and a promise that you will never write such a sentence ever again.

    11. Mike Labare says:

      You can call a tsunami a tidal wave but it does not make it a tidal wave. Your usage of the terminology is not save by the last wall of defense i.e. definitions. Stand up, admit an error and move on, else you might just as well try to hold back the tide.

    12. Scotch from Twitter says:

      “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual. ”

      Where’s your Webster’s entry to defend this bit of homophobia.

    13. G says:

      “…and then replaced its language with the gutter verbiage of David Mamet…”

      Have you, by any chance, read Mamet’s translations of Chekhov? The best out there by far, from an actor’s perspective.

      And you can’t claim this was the old usage of “rape” to mean “abduct” when the sentence goes on to refer to pregnancy. The analogy is as obvious as it is horrifying.

      I also think the scorn for all things youthful and feminine seems biased, but everyone’s entitled to their own taste.

    14. Nichole Gantshar says:

      Peter, We’re not saying that you used the word incorrectly. We are trying to share our feelings that your words cause harm and have hurt our feelings. A good legal standard is “would a reasonable man or woman” find something hostile. I would ask you to poll your friends, especially the women, and ask them if they find your words offensive. We understand you think this production is an affront to Three Sisters. That’s your right as a critic. It is not your right to use hateful speech. I’m not talking about being politically correct. I’m talking about being a human being who is kind and considers others. I think a critic can point out artistic flaws and still be human.

    15. Leogh Anne Dorman says:

      Then why the pregnancy add on? Your explanation is one of the most pitiful I’ve heard in years, and I run a rape crisis center. 🙁

    16. Shane Morgan says:

      You are a grotesquely horrible person. No amount of spin could ever justify your opener. And more fool this site for its poor editing.

  4. Have Some Basic Decency says:

    Fire this writer. That first line is an abomination.

  5. L says:

    This is absolutely disgusting and insulting! Who in their right mind agreed that this was OK?
    To alienate and insult any, if not all readers within the first line of this “review” seriously, what were you thinking? The Berkshire edge are just as bad as the writer for publishing this utter BOLLOCKS.

  6. todd akin says:

    seriously man, no matter the context, making a rape joke — and yeah, it’s a rape joke — is unbelievably offensive and in poor taste. That it comes as the lede in a play written by a woman, concerning women is doubly terrible.

    1. Spirited Away says:

      And you’d know, Todd.

  7. K says:

    This is inexcusably bad criticism – the first line alone overshadows any meaningful dialogue that could happen about the play and immediately discredits the critic as callous, out of touch, and misogynistic. Retract this, apologize, and maybe someone will take your criticism seriously in the future – not anyone with a brain, but maybe someone.

  8. JCA says:

    Uh, the rape metaphor opener is something to make the eyes widen for sure, but don’t forget about this gem:
    “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual”
    Wtf?
    Whew, good thing his sexuality was never confirmed cause if he was a homo no way he could be the play’s best character, right critic?
    I swear, outside the major city centers (and sometimes there too) I don’t know where they get you guys to review our country’s theatre. What’s your credentials? I’d try something else. Not your bag. If your opinions are often articulated as above, best to keep them to yourself- certainly not for publishing! This one was not only lame but offensive.

  9. Amelia M says:

    If your goal was to use a cruel and tone deaf rape joke to distract from a clunky and bizarrely positive review of a play you then said you didn’t like, you succeeded. public platforms come with responsibility to think about what one is saying. It added nothing to your review to include this and the fact that you are hiding behind a dictionary to justify your actions instead of apologizing shows your character. You should be ashamed.

  10. Katy says:

    This is truly unacceptable. The Berkshire Edge should issue a retraction and an apology to its readers. The reviewer’s response to these comments only compounds the problem.

  11. Molly says:

    I cannot believe this absolutely horrendously written review was published. Rape analogy?? What year is this? “He was the best character despite assertions that he may be homosexual?” Are you JOKING? Do everyone a favor and take your misogynistic, homophobic opinions out of the theatrical sphere.

  12. Dante says:

    The first line of this review is simply abhorrent. WTF indeed.

  13. Julian Sarria says:

    Enjoy the web traffic today as we all stop by to glare at this reprehensible excuse for writing. Whatever good you thought this shock value would add to your paper will diminish once you realize now no one will take your drivel seriously again.

    You are disgusting.

  14. Rance says:

    You absolutely have the right to an opinion (even if it’s shrouded behind pure and unbridled ignorance). What you don’t have is the right to open your review with a line that absolutely disgusting, insensitive, and downright insulting.

    This review is appalling.

  15. Jon says:

    This review is trash, and the author’s attempts to salvage it are embarrassing. Reviews should be critical, but this goes beyond the pale. And it’s not even funny, which is probably its principal crime.

  16. Jenna says:

    Fire this man and also probably fire his editor. I didn’t get past the first sentence and didn’t have to. Disgraceful.

  17. Jane says:

    The fact that this article was ever published is astounding, and tells me that the Berkshire Edge doea not value its female readers. In turn, I will not give it any more of my time.

  18. Mary says:

    I don’t know why you felt the need to begin a theatre review of a woman’s work with a rape joke, but you did, so here we go. One in five women are raped in the United States. You mention 5 women actors and a women playwright so before we even get to women designers and crew members you’ve got a probability of a rape survivor reading your review to have their trauma thrown in their face while also being told they’re art isn’t valid. While I can imagine your smug glee while thinking up what you thought to be a clever metaphor, I ask you to imagine the trauma you’ve inflicted on rape survivors who stumble across your “review.” And to be clear, it is not a clever metaphor. It is lazy, degrading, and would be humorous to only the most humorless 12 year old boy. Take it down.

  19. 😑 says:

    Couldn’t even make it past the first sentence without wanting to flip a table. Also, made me realize that anything further couldn’t be taken seriously and would be a complete waste of my time to read.

  20. Chris Baker says:

    Sexist, homophobic and confusing. All in one review. Remarkable!

  21. JPW says:

    Just a suggestion: Maybe not the best idea to open with a rape analogy when you’re already throwing around casual misogyny and homophobia. Probably not the best idea to double down on it and dismiss the criticisms as harsh and inane, when the review itself is harsh and inane. There’s a way to write a negative review, and this is definitely not it.

  22. Olivia Henderson says:

    This review is totally disgusting, offensive and inappropriate. J. Peter Bergman claims he’s been a “paid theater critic since he was 15?” Not even a 15-year-old would write this kind of garbage. You are an insult to the theater community at large, bro. Hope I don’t see your name ever again.

  23. Elizabeth says:

    Let me guess, this is just “locker room talk”, right? Absolutely disgusting and totally unacceptable.

  24. Aimee says:

    People need to be fired over this review. No writer above the age of 14 should think that opening line is clever or witty, and no editor should have approved it.

    But in our justified outrage over a rape joke as an opening (and no, your silly “definition” defense doesn’t hold water), we’re missing the other bits of absolute trash floating in this cesspool of a “review.”

    Just look at the SECOND sentence: “If you are going to rape a classic, you should commit to getting it pregnant. Playwright Halley Feiffer has done the first part but has not made it to that finale with her new play…” THE FINALE? Forcibly impregnating a woman is THE FINALE? I guess we should be grateful he didn’t use the word “climax.”

    Diagram this nonsensical sentence: “That is something to see, even though it is as trapped in the original script’s concept as the translation is also.” Did someone get paid for this word salad? Did someone get paid to approve it?

    “Perhaps we laugh a little bit harder when Masha upends the best part of her life to mourn the loss of Moscow in her life.” This is just terrible structure… her life… her life… It makes one doubt the writer’s claim to being a “professional.”

    “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” Can a homosexual not be the best character in the play, or are the parts with the most depth by definition heterosexual?

    These major lapses in judgement don’t even begin to dip a toe into the casual misogyny revealed in the word choices (“beautiful baby,” “his favorite whore,” “psychotic”) or in the praise heaped upon the men involved in the production while tearing down the women.

    Any theater professional should recognize that in a production, but especially new productions, the workload cannot be divided cleanly. If certain things work, it’s impossible to say it’s because of a man’s involvement, and if something doesn’t work, it cannot be said it’s the fault of the women, which is what this writer, consciously or not, has done. The writer and costume designer are both women and both described as “millennial” while the men involved in the production are “innovative,” effective and weave spells with their work without mention of age. (Again, was there no editor to catch the repeated work usage?)

    As many people have pointed out, this writer need to do some serious listening to what people are telling him, and some deep soul searching to come to terms with his own biases. Or as the Millennial’s say, he “needs to take a seat.” But for the good of this art form, that seat should NOT be in a theater.

    1. John Patrick Bray says:

      ^This.

  25. Leigh Anne Dorman says:

    Yours is the most pitiful explanation of rape I’ve ever heard, and I run a rape crisis center. :(.

  26. R Keybeck says:

    Fuck you and that horribly disgusting opening line. As a rape survivor, let me be the first to say, GO GET YOURSELF FUCKED.

  27. Sally says:

    Let’s be a little more artistic and classy than drawing metaphors with rape.

  28. Peter says:

    Dear R Keybeck.

    I find your comment to be much more offensive than my original opening, which has been changed due to the overwhelming response to it. I am also a rape survivor and didn’t use the word as you, and so many others, believe I did. As for those of you who take offense at my “homophobia” let me just say this. It is in this version of the play, it is not my opinion of the character or the actor. It is in Feiffer’s version of the play and more than once. As a homosexual, open and out since 1963 and active in the community, believe this: I am not homophobic..

    1. R Keybeck says:

      Cute. “I’m not homophobic”, “I am also a rape survivor”; what’s next, “My best friends are black”? If you think “go get yourself fucked” is more offensive than your gross opening line, go clutch your little pearls elsewhere.

    2. ZO says:

      If you’re not homophobic then what the hell do you mean by this: “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” Why would an assertion of homosexuality make him a worse character? Is Tuzenbach only a good character when he’s straight? Why? That’s honestly a pretty homophobic attitude. And I don’t care if you’re gay, this sentence as written is still an insult to homosexuals, and you’re the one who wrote it.

  29. John Patrick Bray says:

    Disgraceful. Simply put – shame on you and shame on your editor. Neither of you have any place in theatre criticism or journalism.

  30. Austin Jennings says:

    I think I’m probably one of the few theatre lovers who will stand behind a critic. I appreciate criticism and know being honest is a difficult job. That being said, there are words used in this review that are highly problematic if not completely tone-deaf.

    Your job, sir, is to look at a story and evaluate how it was told. And while you’ve definitely made your point as to why you didn’t like this production, this particular review is riddled with personal beliefs (I assume) that make me question whether or not you’re able to review a piece of theatre unbiasedly.

    “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.”

    Why is Tuzenbach the best “in spite” of the fact that he may or may not be gay? I hope you can think about that statement in the future and realize how damaging and narrow-minded it is… how it perpetuates the idea that a gay man is somehow less than a straight one, undeserving of participating in the story.

    I do not know if Feiffer or Cullman intended for Tuzenbach to be gay. If they did, kudos to them for reflecting a truth that’s far too common but often ignored. A repressed gay man in a relationship with a woman?! Unfathomable! That would never happen! *rolls eyes*

    Theatre, like humanity, is supposed to be bold, inventive, and perfectly imperfect. Anything else is just, pardon my french, fucking boring.

  31. B says:

    A male critic ripping a part a female playwright’s work and using a violent sexual metaphor to do it? How Trunp of him and very, very sad….

  32. Chris Ketcham says:

    I see you changed the first sentence of your misogynistic garbage review. Too bad the internet never forgets. Take your dinosaur, retrograde, worthless opinions elsewhere. If you’re very lucky, maybe you can review dinner-theater in the local Penny Saver.

  33. Anna Rogovoy says:

    This writer needs to be 1) fired, 2) banned from further reviewing) and 3) forced to sit down with a rape victim to explain face-to-face why he thought that lede was acceptable. I volunteer.

    1. R Keybeck says:

      I’ll be right there with you.

      1. Have Some Basic Decency says:

        glad that just because you think your words aren’t offensive, and you’re a rape victim, that your words are automatically not offensive or damaging to any other rape victim anywhere

    2. Paige Orloff says:

      Exactly. Thank you, Anna.

  34. CRP says:

    Hi for those new to the shit storm, here’s the original first sentence: “f you are going to rape a classic, you should commit to getting it pregnant. Playwright Halley Feiffer has done the first part but has not made it to that finale with her new play, a world premiere commissioned by and being produced by the Williamstown Theatre Festival, “Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.”

    Also, J. Peter Bergman, you don’t work with or are associated with Tupelo press, maybe don’t say you do to keep from tarnishing their reputation as well as your own–or what is even left of it.

    Kisses. See you in hell.

    1. Peter says:

      Dear CRP – Who the je;;; are you? At least my name is out there – yours is not. Anonymity helps a lot, I guess.

      1. CRP says:

        BAHAHAHA. Nice try, sweetie. Good luck out there, you’re going to really need it. Your name is only “out there” because of what a disgusting person you’ve portrayed yourself as. Mine is–and it’s connected to bringing assholes like you down.

      2. CRP says:

        P.S. Millennials keep screenshots and receipts. Just because there has been a change, everyone will know your original, disturbing opening line. God bless!

  35. Matt says:

    The author retracted the first line of his review, but another abhorrent line still remains: “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” Why are the author and editor not addressing such an obvious homophobic comment?

  36. Howard Sherman says:

    I posted the following on my Facebook page this morning, and even though the review has been edited subsequently, I stand by it:

    To be clear from the start: critics have every right to write as they see fit, within the defined parameters of their publication. They’re guaranteed that right by the first amendment.

    But that said, we all have the right, when we feel the need, to ask “why” about what they have written. That’s case with J. Peter Bergman’s The Berkshire Edge review of Halley Feiffer’s play MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW. He disliked the play, he found it an insult to Chekhov and insufficiently transformative. But why did he need to start his review of a play by a female playwright and about literature’s most famous three sisters, as follows: “If you are going to rape a classic, you should commit to getting it pregnant.”
    After people began to question Bergman in the comments section of the original review, as well as in various places on Facebook, for language that seems violent and misogynistic, he responded with selected dictionary definitions of the words “rape” and “pregnant,” avoiding the most common uses of the words and the effect of joining them in a single sentence. “I would suggest to these negative and limited minds that they examine the possibilities of words,” wrote Bergman, as if the crime of rape and the biological definition “pregnant” never entered his mind. He decried “harsh and inane critiques.”

    His readers who take umbrage with the construction are wrong, it seems, and therefore only Bergman is right, because we do not pull out the dictionary when confronted with an apparently obvious and to many distasteful statement. Perhaps either of those words alone might be interpreted for one of their alternate meanings; taken together, they are hard to construe in any other way than the most common usage, which in this case suggests sexual violence leading to childbirth from that crime.

    It’s worth noting that only four days earlier, in a review of Alan Ayckbourn’s TAKING STEPS, Bergman wrote, “The photos of the production on the main stage at Barrington Stage Company by Daniel Rader seemed to paint a picture of something less than farce, something closer to rape and disappointment …” How did he mean “rape” in that case? Or are we narrow-minded readers again at fault, because we fail to discern which meaning of a loaded word he, a writer who as he proudly notes in his bio, “has been a paid theater critic since he was 15 years old,” has chosen to employ.

    And what are we to make of the phrase, “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” Is Bergman taking issue with the portrayal of Tuzenbach as possibly gay, contrary to the standard interpretation, or is he troubled that he likes the character so even though said character may be gay? Does his question emanate from the text, or the production? This is not a case of misconstruing the words, but the construction. Either way I read it, it’s very problematic.

    Again, Bergman has every right to his opinion and his words, but if he is widely misinterpreted, as he claims, is it the fault of readers or of how he expresses himself? In the meantime, if he is so dedicated to protecting classics, I hope he is spared to the indignity of being forced to review any new versions of Chekhov, though they are legion, whether (to name but a few) Andrew Upton’s THE PRESENT, Michael Frayn’s WILD HONEY, Ayckbourn’s DEAR UNCLE, or Aaron Posner’s STUPID FUCKING BIRD.

    1. Peter says:

      Hi Howard. Please read my review of “Minor Character,” a remarkable new version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” which opened the season at the Sharon Playhouse this summer.

      Peter

      1. JB says:

        Why not respond to anything else addressed by Mr. Sherman other than his final paragraph? Or are you choosing to pick and choose the way you do definitions of words?

        Your defensiveness of this comments thread and on Facebook are pathetic.

        If you were truly remorseful you would remove the offensive language from your own website Berkshire Bright Focus where the original article remains in tact.

  37. Nichole Gantshar says:

    Thank you for changing it!

  38. Repulsed says:

    How are we to take seriously the criticisms of the women artists you evaluate when your judgment is so clearly sexist?

    Readers, please note the female creative team members were taken to task and the male creative team members all lauded.

    Also, I’m sorry for your traumatic childhood experience, but that does NOT mean you can bandy around the word rape in such a manner! It is manipulative to try to rally your readers sympathy in that way, rather than owning what you said, and the full implications of it. Bringing your own trauma into this is inappropriate.

  39. Peter says:

    Dear Nichole. Thank you for saying that.
    By the way, if anyone else out there would like to publish their review (of the play, not of me) I’d like to read it.

    Peter

    1. CRP says:

      Dude, she wasn’t thanking you personally–she was thinking whoever got their head out of their ass to change your atrocious remark.

      1. CRP says:

        *thanking

      2. Cheryl says:

        The review was homophobic, misogynistic, and not good journalism. The comments following the review have been equally atrocious.

        I guess we’re not taking Michelle Obamas “when they go low, I go high” approach.

  40. Amanda Duarte says:

    It’s not the blessedly now-aborted rape pregnancy sentence that is most offensive about this “review.” It’s not even the sloppy, lazy dribbles of obtuse misogyny and homophobia that stain it throughout. The most offensive thing about this piece is the objectively terrible writing- its malformed sentences, Fisher-Price level language, and complete lack of cohesion. The writer’s pathetic, Trump-grade rejoinders to deserved criticism in the comments reveal him to be as immature and undeveloped a human being as he is a writer. How was this guy ever hired? I wouldn’t hire him to write captions for the weekly Price Chopper circular. Is the talent pool in the Berkshires really that small?

  41. Peter says:

    CRP = I changed it. No one else did. I changed it in the clearly futile hope of putting this all to rest.

    1. Matt says:

      Will you address your homophobic comment now?

    2. Mike Rafael says:

      Um…”Editor’s Note: In response to the outrage expressed by many readers to Peter Bergman’s opening sentence in his review of Halley Feiffer’s play, we asked the reviewer to revise his opening paragraph.”

      1. Matt says:

        That was the line about rape. The article also contained a homophobic comment, “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” Multiple people have asked about this line, which has not been removed or explained.

    3. ZO says:

      So you didn’t change it because you’re sorry, as you halfheartedly say in the note at the top. You changed it because you don’t want to hear what we have to say. And you still think you were the right one in the first place. Thanks for admitting your apology was a lie in an attempt to get us to shut up.

      I know it’s painful to read angry comments, but PLEASE, rather than defending yourself haggardly until we’ve all had our say, just go back and ACTUALLY read everything that everyone has had to say about you. About your repugnant rape joke. About your pervasive sexism throughout this article. About your casual, insidious dismissal of female artists, and characters. About your odd homophobic comment. About your confusing sentence structure. About your desperate clawing useless defenses of yourself in an attempt not to have to really be contrite. Read all of it.

      And then actually be sorry. Actually apologize. And never write something like this again. And not because you’re afraid of getting yelled at; but because you’ve actually learned how to value women, even when you personally dislike their work.

  42. CRP says:

    Hi Peter, you are trying to save yourself (that is admirable), but using your own history of sexual violence to defend yourself is total bullshit and you know it. If you’re going to say this: “a partial quote from other people’s writing about the use of existing material to create a radically different edition of the original work without bringing forth new ideas, concepts or setting new directions for the characters.” WHO ARE YOU PARTIALLY QUOTING? Sources, please.

  43. Chris Harcum says:

    Portraying yourself as a victim in defense of a tone deaf and insensitive lede is not a good look. Being abused does not give you license to abuse others with your reviews. Also, you need to take a dose of your own medicine. “It was, in fact, a partial quote from other people’s writing about the use of existing material to create a radically different edition of the original work…” You did NOT improve upon your source material, if it exists. Frank Rich you ain’t.

  44. Ali Benjamin says:

    For Peter:
    1.Your response to the earliest criticism was, “I would suggest to these negative and limited minds that they examine the possibilities of words, not limit themselves to harsh and inane critiques.” Can you not see how stunningly arrogant it is to respond by calling your critics limited and their critiques inane?
    2. You are the one who failed to see the possibilities of words — both your own, and others’.
    3.. Apologizing in hopes that your “sorry” puts the issue issue to rest isn’t actually apologizing.
    4. While I’m genuinely sorry you were assaulted, you seem to be holding that up as a shield against criticism.
    5. Here’s the good news: criticism is a terrific learning opportunity. So maybe try to learn something here? I promise: when you break on through to the other side, you’ll be okay.

    For the editor-in-chief, David Scribner:
    1. My issue with you is far bigger than it is with Peter.
    2. I wrote you earlier today about editorial standards. I asked you why you thought this review in its original form met your standards for our community. I pointed out numerous examples of rape that had happened in our community, to remind you that this discussion isn’t theoretical. Rape is a very real violent crime that happens to your neighbors. You didn’t respond to my email.
    3. Requesting a new opening sentence “in response to outrage” is not a response to the Qs I asked.
    4. Had there been no outrage, would the original lede have been fine? If so, why?

  45. dennis irvine says:

    Why isn’t the Edge responding to this? David? This is a lapse in judgment.

    1. Dennis: The Edge is responding by publishing the range of comments on this issue — 88 so far. And tomorrow we will publish the text of emails that we have received as well.

      1. Gabrielle Senza says:

        David –
        How about a self-reflective and thoughtfully written response admitting the poor-taste and bad judgement in your decision to publish Bergman’s review in it’s original, very offensive (and violent) form?
        A person – or publication – of integrity is able to publicly take responsibility and offer an honest apology for the mistake. I appreciate the thread of comments, but I’m still waiting to see you offer something more meaningful than that.

      2. Matt says:

        Simply publishing the comments of others is perhaps the most passive response you could do. It seems what readers would love is a heartfelt response of your own.

      3. ZO says:

        By a “range” of comments, do you mean the hundred or so people in unanimous agreement that you and your critic were wrong, and there should be punishment for both of you? There has been one supporter of your critic in this entire thread, a person calling themselves “Internet Stranger,” who is using language clearly fomented in the 4chan-fuelled belly of the far right. Do you really want to take that one person’s side? Or do you want to finally listen to the rest of us?

        And what do you mean by “publishing” the comments? Do you mean that you’re allowing them to appear on this page? That’s not publishing. And you’re going to “publish” emails too? What does that mean in this context? Are you gonna post them in the comments? Or are you going to write a real, sincere apology for what you’ve allowed your paper to publish?

        If you’re really sorry, you’ll get a new theater critic, fire this one, write a sincere apology that shows you understand why people are rightly furious with you, and you’ll never allow your paper to publish scum like this review again.

      4. Ali Benjamin says:

        David, people are asking for something specific from YOU, as editor-in-chief, and as guardian of the standards for this community news source. That specific thing depends on how, specifically, the review wound up published in the first place. There are three possibilities:

        1. The review in its original form meets your editorial standards for the Edge, and for our whole community. If so, people are asking you to explain your standards, and how this fits. Note: if you only asked for the change due to “outrage,” this is the scenario you’re still in.

        2. You thought at first it met your standards. Then you saw the responses, and you listened to other perspectives, and you thought a little more, and you realized there were things you hadn’t recognized, so you changed your mind retroactively about the degree to which it met your standards. If so, say this. That’s not terrible. That’s learning. That’s not what you’ve said above, though.

        3. It didn’t meet your standards, and there was some systemic flaw or unfortunate breakdown in the editorial process that allowed the review to slip through (and get tweeted out) without your having the chance to catch it. If this is the case, recognize the flaw/breakdown, acknowledge that the process led to your publishing something that was harmful, and tell people what are you going to do make sure this doesn’t happen again.

        Which one is it? Tell your readers, and respond accordingly. But please have the decency and courage to respond.

      5. Wendy Penner says:

        In your “about us” on the webpage, I read about the Berkshire Edge:

        “Our goal is to provide, regularly and in depth, content that truly reflects the life, interests and aspirations of this unusually rich and vibrant community.

        Guided by respected journalistic standards, the principle of fairness, the quest for truth, a commitment to social, economic and environmental justice, and an abiding admiration for the independent spirit of the Berkshires, The Berkshire Edge offers in-depth local news reports and features, perspectives on the arts, wide-ranging commentary, and a comprehensive calendar of events – all written, illustrated, and, in some cases performed, with wit, intelligence, insight and humor.”

        I admire this statement.

        The commitment to social justice was not served in publishing the rape metaphor and it not offering a full throated apology by both the writer and the paper. You need to commit to doing better.

  46. greensleeves says:

    Bravo to this deeply furious and provocative thread.
    In other WTF related matters, I had the pleasure of seeing both The Model American and the occasionally hilarious but mostly deflating Moscow x 6. I hadn’t seen Micah Stock on stage before and thought his portrayal of the closeted, whiny, entitled young man seeking answers to his sexuality an interesting take in the totally engaging TMA.. Seeing him again last week as Tuzenbach in Feiffer’s new adaptation offered him a serious and quick turnaround chance to show some range. Yet to my eyes and ears he pretty much replicated the same sad sack character in both physical and vocal choice making… Over the years I’ve never seen a gay or sexually confused Tuzenbach, and I’m not calling into question Feiffer’s decision to plant this seed. But both actor and director are to blame here…Surely there were other ways to embrace two distinct characters in an otherwise rich summer repertory. Seemed a seriously squandered opportunity.

    1. Gabrielle Senza says:

      Now that’s a legitimate, thoughtful and intelligent “review”.
      Thank you, greensleeves.

      1. greensleeves says:

        And speaking of range, you are an extraordinary and most worthy artist. Count me a fan. -R. Appleman

  47. Stephen Cohen says:

    The opening sentence was plain wrong. It was offensive in its references to rape and pregnancy. Only sexual intercourse can result in pregnancy, so no tortuous argument can reasonably be made for an alternative usage of the word rape. That said, I think the calls for firing staff, editors, writers etc. are also wrong. We should learn from our errors, and this awful sentence (and the sentiments conveyed therein), are apparently aberrational to the writer and the Edge and antithetical to their beliefs. A mistake was made, certainly egregious, but that does not require a death sentance. Free speech carries with it the potential for problems, we should accept the apologies offered and hope for more felicitous writing and editing.

    1. ZO says:

      We’re not calling for a death sentence. We’re calling for the dismissal of a theater critic who clearly does not have the most basic respect for theater artists that the job requires. (The unclear, awkward writing style should also certainly put his credentials under scrutiny.) Perhaps if he had actually apologized, rather than offering frantic self defense and a deflecting non-apology, we would be more amenable to him staying on. But this man has lost our trust as a theater critic, and this publication would be making a huge mistake keeping him on.

    2. Cynthia Wade says:

      Where is the apology from the EDGE, and from the Editor in Chief David Scribner? Silence from Mr. Scribner can only mean that he believes that a rape analogy to open a theater review fits in the EDGE’s editorial standards. Until Mr. Scribner and the EDGE makes a public statement on its stance on the rape analogy as a lede, the community can only surmise that this publication believes that it fit editorial standards.

  48. AJay says:

    Is everybody going to ignore his other statement that basically claims being gay is detrimental? “Irina’s lover, Tuzenbach, played with a genuine depth by Micah Stock, is the best character in spite of the assertion that he may be homosexual.” There are some serious mental issues with the reviewer.

  49. Michael N. Root says:

    This review has provoked as much controversy and discussion as the play. And for some of the same reasons. They were both poorly conceived, unevenly written, and sought to grab our attention with a vulgar and crude opening line. But it’s not the review that intrigues me. It’s the attempted justification of that opening line. In summary: I stole that line from others and, oh, by the way, I was also subject to the sexual abuse I trivialized. That explanation is one part admission of plagiarism and three parts non sequitor. The final thing that the play and review have in common: they both could have used a good editor.

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