In the midst of theater’s great pandemic shutdown, another era is coming to an end. Ben Brantley, who has served as the New York Times’ chief critic for 24 years, is leaving the paper. “This pandemic pause in the great, energizing party that is the theater seemed to me like a good moment to slip out the door,” Brantley said in a statement. “But when the theater returns, I hope to be there — as a writer, an audience member and, above all, the stark raving fan I have been since I was a child.” Brantley joined the Times in 1993 and became its chief critic three years later. He’ll continue in the position until October 15, leaving Jesse Green, who joined the paper in 2017 after serving as New York’s theater critic, as the paper’s sole chief theater critic.
During his tenure, as Broadway boomed and became more family-friendly in the 1990s and into the 2000s (thanks in large part to Disney), Brantley wielded significant influence as the most powerful theater critic in the country. In the process, he also pissed off more than a few movie stars who have decided to stop in on Broadway with increasing frequency. More recently, both Brantley and the Times have been criticized for their solidly older, white, male, cisgender perspectives, especially as many BIPOC artists in the theater industry have made demands for change in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s deaths over the summer. Before working as co-chief critic with Green, Brantley was the chief critic to Charles Isherwood’s second-string role, with Isherwood serving from 2004 to 2017, when he was fired amid a cloud of recrimination.
The Times has said that the paper will fill Brantley’s position, but will likely take some time to choose a successor, as most U.S. theaters are shutdown indefinitely. In the small world of theater, it’ll be a big deal to see who takes Brantley’s place, and given the pressure on the publication, it’s unlikely that another white man will be appointed. Regular Times contributors like Alexis Soloski, Laura Collins-Hughes, and Elisabeth Vincentelli are possible replacements, as the paper often likes to elevate from within — though it will likely look at outside candidates as well. Just don’t take one of our critics again, c’mon!
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