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Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, Establish the Compensation Fund

Regular readers of this site (and my other venues) know that I’ve written and thought a lot (too much?) about compensation funds. Well, I’m about to propose two more: One for the poor actors and stunt people injured in the lavish, doomed production of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, and — based on this review in the New York Times — one for the audience-goers. They should surely be entitled to some kind of mental distress recovery.

The Times’ theater critic, Ben Brantley, cheerfully violated one of the firm rules of theater review: Wait until the play formally opens before reviewing it. Previews are intended to massage the work into shape, and it’s understood that the finished product will differ from what’s on display before then. Brantley’s excuse? There’s no reason to think that the play will ever open, given how often its opening has been put off. And anyway, he adds, there’s no point in waiting any longer to review it because: “from what I saw on Saturday night, “Spider-Man” is so grievously broken in every respect that it is beyond repair.”

The review is about as ravenous an evisceration of a work as I’ve seen. Read the whole thing to capture Brantley’s delighted horror at the spectacle he was sitting through. A few highlights:

[S]ignature [Julie] Taymor [the director]  touches like airborne puppets, elaborate masks and perspective-skewing sets…are all on hand. But they never connect into a comprehensible story with any momentum. Often you feel as if you were watching the installation of Christmas windows at a fancy department store.

The sheer ineptitude of this show, inspired by the Spider-Man comic books, loses its shock value early. After 15 or 20 minutes, the central question you keep asking yourself is likely to change from “How can $65 million look so cheap?” to “How long before I’m out of here?”

[T]here are lots of flat, cardboardish sets, which could easily be recycled for high school productions of “Grease” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying[.]”

The songs by Bono and the Edge are rarely allowed to take full, attention-capturing form. Mostly they blur into a sustained electronic twang of varying volume, increasing and decreasing in intensity, like a persistent headache. A loud ballad of existential angst has been written for Peter, who rasps dejectedly, “I’d be myself if I knew who I’d become.” That might well be the official theme song of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

Will this play even make it out of previews after this review? I don’t know. But I surely won’t be seeing it, comic book devotee though I am. On the rare chances I have to get to New York, I’d rather spend my time and money on this or this — or even this!

$65 million, circling a drain that not even Spidey’s web can gunk up.

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