The Boro Beat: So ... anybody know a good theater reviewer?

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Kent Mancuso has retired to Florida.

Or at least that is what the person writing the theater reviews under the pseudonym of Kent Mancuso has decided the fictitious reviewer should do.

In my debut column, I stood up for Mancuso’s reviews of Queens community theaters and noted the possibility that the writer may actually be an active member of the theater community.

I still stand by the decision to have Mancuso write reviews, although with hindsight, I now realize that there was a perception in some quarters that his reviews were biased — perhaps unfairly.

An anonymous e-mail sent to the paper recently claimed that there had been as many as 23 times over the span of Mancuso’s most recent 13 reviews in which the names of a handful of actors, a particular director and members of certain theater companies were repeatedly mentioned.

These references were made as a point of comparison, citing previous performances in which certain actors had excelled and noting their continued successes.

In speaking with a number of people in Queens community theater over the last month or so, I had come to realize that there was possibly a bias on Mancuso’s part.

I brought these concerns to Mancuso’s attention in a letter, citing specific points made to me by members of the theater community. In his reply, Mancuso wrote: “I have cited many people and many productions in each of my reviews. I bring up things from recent shows that have some bearing on the show I am reviewing — to place the review in context of a greater whole.”

He noted that although a certain circle of actors may get frequent mention, it is not undeserved. “That doesn’t mean I always praise them — it means I praise them when they deserve it,” Mancuso wrote. “That happens to be fairly often because they are in lots of productions and are among the finest actors this borough has to offer.”

There have also been a host of references to regular players in other productions that are outside the circle of actors that had been cited, he said.

But his references to past productions — no matter who was in them — had drawn the ire of actors, directors and theater heads throughout the borough.

An anonymous letter I received in the last week or so from what was described as a “great number of Queens community theater actors, directors, producers and audience members,” used very harsh words for Mancuso — some not fit for reprinting in a family newspaper.

What I can reprint is this: “Professional reviewers don’t get personal, take personal shots or compare everyone to their favorite actors or directors in their reviews. It just isn’t done.”

In outlining all of these concerns to Mancuso, I explained that there were two key issues at hand.

“First is the issue of ethics. We need to figure out how to keep the reviews balanced without seeming to favor certain actors, directors, theater companies, etc. Second, people think they know who you are, and they are angry about your hiding behind a pseudonym. The overwhelming majority of responses that I have heard is that if you are doing the theater reviews, you should be open about who you are, fair and balanced — or not do them at all.

“If we can resolve the first issue, our readers will be more accepting of solving the second one.”

But anonymity — as delicate as it has been for Mancuso since he began writing for the Qguide a year ago and set off widespread speculation in the theater community about his identity — is the breaking point.

“I can, of course, promise to refrain from mentioning myself or any of ‘my people’ in a review, but then 50 percent of the reviews I write would be empty,” he wrote. “I guess it’s time for good old Kent to head south to his retirement condo in Florida.”

And so, with egg on our faces and a better understanding of the wishes of members of the borough’s community theater groups added to our editorial knowledge, we bid a fond farewell to Kent Mancuso.

Despite what any of his detractors have said over the last year, the guy knows how to write, knows the players inside out and has been more involved — attending more productions — than any other reviewer I have personally known.

But most of all, we will miss the depth of his knowledge of the theater. Any other reviewer to come to our publication will have some big shoes to fill.

Which, naturally, leads me to the next subject. Who will replace Kent Mancuso?

The Qguide is embarking on a boroughwide search for a new theater reviewer. The requirements are many and the prospects are few.

What we are looking for is somebody who has a broad knowledge of theater in general, the ability to write concise reviews that are focused on the production at hand and a familiarity with Queens community theater.

Note that I said a familiarity. We do not want somebody who is, in any way, involved with Queens community theater. Actors, directors, producers, board members and groupies need not apply.

But we do not want to have reviews that are fluff pieces, heaping praise on actors simply because the curtain went up and the players wore costumes.

We want a person whose name we can use and whose photo we can run with the column. We also want any critics of the reviewer to show some mettle by identifying themselves.

So ... any ideas? Let me know. Zap me an e-mail: rafferty@timesledger.com.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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