Follow-up to the Defiance "review"

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I talked to Keely Enright, co-founder of the Village Playhouse, about the ersatz review of the company's production of Defiance that ran in the Post and Courier on Feb. 28.

Her thinking was straight forward: In order to counteract the negative City Paper review, she bought advertising space in the P&C's Preview section (page 19E) and filled it with a positive review published on Lowcountry Stages, a website maintained independently by the City Paper's theater critic, William Bryan.

In my previous post, I note how this advertisement is deceptive: It looks like a review when it's not. It also undermines Bryan's credibility (and by extension, the City Paper's credibility), because it appears that his opinion is for sale.

When I told Enright this, she said that this was not her intention. Her objective was to get people through the door, and to do that, she and her staff felt it was important to make people aware of Bryan's positive Lowcountry Stages review.

There's more: She was in route to Los Angeles when she arranged for the ad. So she did not see how it was going to be designed until she came back this past weekend. In other words, she didn't see how it looked like an article, not an ad.

I believe her when she says she didn't intend to deceive readers. I also think deception might be an unintended consequence. Her thinking was to solve a short-term problem: There's a lot riding on this show, a major production for a small theater company of a intimate drama by a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, so they needed to do what's necessary to boost ticket sales.

But by buying an ad, making copies of the ad, and then putting on display around the theater is deceptive. And that has me concerned about the long term for the Village Playhouse.

I saw Defiance on March 1 and saw that they do quality work. I agreed with much of what Will Bryan said in his City Paper review, but that didn't stop me from seeing the show. Why not let the play speak for itself? Why do something like buying a fake review and risk compromising one's integrity?

Keely told me that they are serious about theater, that she felt forced to buy the ad. Again, I believe her. But I don't think she's taking it seriously enough. Readers aren't stupid. They know when they are being sold something. And they know when someone's speaking the truth and when someone's not.

A serious theater company needs to keep that in mind. It's not enough to say the Playhouse wanted to get the word out about a positive review. It needs to understand the consequences, too. In this case, Defiance raised too much doubt.

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