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Sun-Times Theatre Critic Hedy Weiss Under Fire For 'Racism' & 'Bigotry' [Updated]

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 14, 2017 8:51PM

Steppenwolf's 'Pass Over' / Photo: Michael Brosilow

Update, Thursday:

In a Facebook post on behalf of the company, Steppenwolf's Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro and Executive Director David Schmitz wrote that Weiss' comments "revealed a deep seated bigotry."

They wrote in part:

"We denounce the viewpoints expressed in some of these reviews as they fail to acknowledge the very systemic racism that PASS OVER addresses directly. Particularly egregious are the comments from Sun Times critic Hedy Weiss, whose critical contribution has, once again, revealed a deep seated bigotry and a painful lack of understanding of this country’s historic racism. Her contribution is actively working against the kind of theater we are striving to be."

The full post can be read here. It states that "an official institutional response to Ms. Weiss" is forthcoming.

Veteran Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss is generating some stern, serious criticism of her own. In the wake of her controversial review of Steppenwolf's production of Pass Over, an online petition urging companies to stop inviting Weiss to their productions has emerged.

The petition, which has more than 2,300 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon, urges theater companies to not provide free tickets to Weiss because, according to the petition, she has engaged in "inappropriate language" and "prejudice." A group called Chicago Theater Accountability Coalition, who created the petition wrote, "She has proven this repeatedly with the racism, homophobia, and body shaming found in her reviews. She has proven this by never, not once, apologizing to a party injured by her words."

“To be clear, we are not calling for a ban on Ms. Weiss attending performances,” the Coalition adds. “We are simply requesting that she not be given a ticket for free. If she wishes to present her damaging views, we ask that she pay for the privilege."

Hedy Weiss / Twitter
A piece published on theatre blog The Hawk Chicago called out a very long host of Weiss' past controversies. It also takes the critic to task for the following passage in her review of Pass Over, a "Waiting for Godot" riff in which two African-American characters hang out on a street corner and are interrupted by a bigoted cop:
"But, for all the many and varied causes we know so well, much of the lion’s share of the violence is perpetrated within the community itself. Nwandu’s simplistic, wholly generic characterization of a racist white cop (clearly meant to indict all white cops) is wrong-headed and self-defeating. Just look at news reports about recent shootings (on the lakefront, on the new River Walk, in Woodlawn) and you will see the look of relief when the police arrive on the scene. And the playwright’s final scenes — including a speech by the clueless white aristocrat who appears earlier in the story — and who could not be more condescending to Steppenwolf’s largely white “liberal” audience — further rob the play of its potential impact."

A post on PerformInk chastised the same passage (among some other critics' responses), as well. "How do you know she meant to “indict all white cops” and not just the systemic racism that allows the bad ones to carry a badge?" Jason Epperson wrote in response in his post.

Jason Zagoren, Artistic Director at WildClaw Theatre, posted the following partial catalog of Weiss controversies—which includes the infamous time she wrote that playwright Tony Kushner (Angels in America) exhibited "the classic style of a self-loathing Jew."

Weiss did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, when asked to comment about the latest controversy by Broadway World, Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones defended his colleague Weiss, who has served as critic at the Sun-Times since 1984. He said in part:

"Whether you agree with her or not (and few artists or critics are perfect) Hedy is one of Chicago's grand tradition of potent, formidable women critics. And the nastiest stuff online has been penned by men who use the rhetoric of demanding diversity. A critic's primary responsibility is to the reader; it is our readers who judge us. And believe me, they let us know how we are doing and how much use they have for us"