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Playwright Christopher Shinn defends Julie Taymor's version of 'Spider-Man'

April 27, 2011 |  1:15 pm

Taymor It's easy to find damning critiques of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" -- just read the reviews. Much more difficult to locate are contrarian opinions in praise of the Broadway musical. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck counted himself a fan. And now we can add playwright (and strange bedfellow) Christopher Shinn to the modest list of supporters.

"I have to say I loved it, at least to start with," Shinn wrote in a blog essay for Britain's Guardian. The first half of the musical unfolded "with great visual and emotional energy," and the character of Arachne provided "a beautiful, terrifying maternal figure."

In the second act, Shinn wrote,"I started to feel alienated –- and at the same time more absorbed by Taymor's strange vision ... Peter Parker's being delivered over to the tempting, illusory promises of narcissism in the guise of Arachne was as startling a plot development, and penetrating an image, as I've ever seen in a Broadway musical."

Ultimately, the musical is "a critique of grandiosity -- a superhero musical that deconstructed superheroes."

No stranger himself to the caprices of New York theater critics, Shinn has received raves for his edgy and challenging plays -- including "Dying City" and the recent "Picked" -- as well as pans for some of his other efforts. His Broadway adaptation of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler," which opened in 2009 with Mary-Louise Parker, was widely dismissed as disappointing, flat and dead.

Shinn said he saw Taymor's version of "Spider-Man" in March, after reading the mostly negative reviews from critics. In his essay, he saved his harshest words for the producers behind the musical.

"That her producers decided to shut it down and strip it of her most original contributions says less about her directorial competence and more about our cultural mindset," he wrote. "Questioning American ambition, rather than exploiting our infantile belief in it, is not only something the market will not tolerate -– it's something the market must punish."

"Spider-Man" is currently on hiatus at the Foxwoods Theatre in New York so that a new creative team (minus Taymor) can revise the production in time for a new opening date, set for June 14.


Spider 'Broadway's "Spider-Man" sets new opening date for June 14

Theater review: "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

Critic's Notebook: "Spider-Man" caught in a web of its own making


 -- David Ng

Photo: Julie Taymor. Credit: Joan Marcus