Critic Ben Brantley's Anti-Bush Theatrics

I must have been out sick those days: "The days when criticism of Mr. Bush could be censured as unpatriotic may be long gone..."

"You're Welcome, America - A Final Night With George W. Bush," comedian Will Farrell's Broadway show mocking President Bush, is still in previews, but it's already packing the stalls in liberal Manhattan.

Chief theatre critic Ben Brantley's review, "The Comedy of Ineptitude, Political Division," took up the top half of the front page of Friday's Weekend Arts section. Brantley had some decent laughs but wasn't transported, although he says "anti-Bushites" will be entertained.

But Brantley also made a bizarre claim about how critics of Bush have been treated:

The 43rd president of the United States, who is known for his gift for instant nicknames, is generously sharing his talent these days with audiences at the Cort Theater, home to "You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush." Toward the end of this largely unsurprising, uh, celebration of one man's life and accomplishments, Mr. Bush, reincarnated by the comedian and movie star Will Ferrell, asks theatergoers to tell him their occupations, so he can give them the gift of his own pet names.

"Occupational therapist," called out one woman at the performance I attended. "Helen Keller," answered Mr. Ferrell as Mr. Bush, without pausing to think. "Bike messenger," said another person. "I'll call you Lance Armstrong," responded Mr. Ferrell. But the coup de grâce came when a voice (not mine) yelled, "Reviewer," and the man onstage answered, with the impact of a thrusting sword, "Obsolete profession."

Touché, Mr. President. Or more to the point: Touché, Mr. Ferrell. The days when criticism of Mr. Bush could be censured as unpatriotic may be long gone, but Mr. Ferrell arrives on Broadway armed with the deflector shield of his sky-high popularity.

Brantley certainly didn't seem to fear any kind of "censure" for his anti-Bush views in his September 2004 review of "Stuff Happens," a London theatre production excoriating the war in Iraq. An excerpt:

"Oh, sure, there are the expected, chuckle-drawing instances of slow-wittedness, confusion of facts and mangled sentences, many of them drawn from the public record. But an alarming, unyielding centeredness gradually reveals itself, suggesting that Mr. Bush has found in his born-again Christianity something akin to the divine right of kings....Adjoa Andoh's caustic Condoleezza Rice, Dermot Crowley's bull-terrierish Rumsfeld and Desmond Barrit's lizardlike Dick Cheney: they're all rendered as manipulative gargoyles. They're intermittently entertaining but not half as scary as the real thing."