By Frank Moher
I had an interesting conversation with the critic J. Kelly Nestruck recently, if an exchange on twitter can be called a conversation. I am in the habit, on September 11th of each year, of posting to facebook and twitter a message along the lines of:
The best way to honour the victims of 9/11 is to find out what really happened that day.
Pretty innocuous, it seems to me. This year I also included a link to Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, an organization of 2,000+ professionals who similarly think we don’t know everything we ought to about what happened on 9/11.
Not innocuous enough for Mr. Nestruck, however, who I am honoured to have among my followers on twitter (though I haven’t checked to see if that’s still so):
@frankmoher Oh no… Say it ain’t so, Frank.
— J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck) September 11, 2013
I pretty much knew what was coming, but inquired anyway:
@frankmoher I was hoping you’d been hacked.
— J. Kelly Nestruck (@nestruck) September 12, 2013
In other words, J. Kelly was concerned that I’d turned into his crazy uncle, the one with the conspiracy theories and bad neckties, which is touching, given that we don’t really know each other. I replied to say that if he’d looked into the matter extensively and come to a different conclusion than I, that was fine; if not, I suggested he check out the ae911 link. Nestruck seemed simply embarrassed by the whole thing. “I’m not going to unfollow you,” he tweeted back (phew!) “because I’ve long been a fan” — as I say, very nice — “but let’s never speak of this again” — which I’m pretty sure is a line from Act Two of Private Lives.
I don’t know what happened on 9/11 and neither does J. Kelly Nestruck, even if he thinks he does. We know that it’s not what we were told at the time (and if you think otherwise, you simply haven’t been paying attention), but beyond that, we don’t know. Now, it’s possible that Mr. Nestruck, like most people. simply wishes to be among the cool kids, and that explains his curled lip. Tinfoil-hat wearers are manifestly not among the cool kids. Or perhaps, like a lot of journalists, he finds it easier to accept the official explanation of 9/11, because that makes it easier to move along. But somehow I doubt it. That would be like receiving a press release from a theatre company that tells you its latest show is a masterpiece and duly reporting in your review that their latest show is a masterpiece, and I think Nestruck is a better critic than that.
He is, in fact, probably the best of the theatre critics working on the major Canadian dailies these days. Some of his value lies in the fact that when he expresses even the mildest of doubts about the work of Morris Panych, his reviews draw riotous and brilliant ripostes from the playwright and director. But Nestruck is a better writer and thinker than most of his colleagues, which is why it’s too bad to see him reflexively joining the herd on 9/11 (though his herd is getting thinner; according to recent figures from the polling firm YouGov, 38% of Americans have doubts about the official account of 9/11, 10% reject it outright and 12% are unsure. Mind you, that poll was conducted on behalf of that group of architects and engineers, so make of it what you will).
I tweeted Nestruck to say that I was going to write this article and that I began from the assumption that he hadn’t looked into 9/11 in any significant way. “Do whatever you want,” he replied, perhaps a bit sulkily. I’ll take that as confirmation. So, the interesting question for me becomes: Can a critic really be any good, even if he’s a good writer and thinker, if he’s also reflexively given to orthodoxy? I have zero interest in convincing Nestruck or anyone else about my views on 9/11; that’s a mug’s game. I am, though, interested in what makes for good criticism, especially in theatre.
More on that, and our boy from The Globe, in the next installment of “Kelly and Me.”