Published the week of September 13-19, 2000

After almost dying two times myself before I hit the age of 3 at the hands of the Soviets, and not to mention the stories my mother has told me about the cruelties of the communist regime -- the sleepless nights she would cry through when they would pound villages to rubble, kidnap young boys for training to become communists, the murder and rape of civilians in drunken insanity by communist forces, the cruelty performed by Najibullah the puppet communist leader -- I can tell you that we are very grateful for escaping when we had the chance.
Wahid Amerkhail

When it became public that Schnucks might have to close some stores due to the increased cost of the new labor contract, I happened to be in the Hanley and Clayton store at about 6 a.m. In a joking way, I asked, "Are you gonna close this store?" A manager said, "In three years, when our lease is up." She then went on to say that two in the city "are gone (because) customers are stealing them blind."

If stealing is a problem -- and I'm sure it is in every store -- it can be dealt with. Carts could not be taken out of the store, a good reason to buy less and a good reason also to do less volume.
Noland Peskind

In response to Chris Jackson's recent letter deriding theater critic Sally Cragin ("Letters," RFT, Aug. 30), I would like to express my support and appreciation for her presence on your staff and in the journalistic and artistic environment of St. Louis at large. Cragin is the best thing to happen to St. Louis theater in years! She is honest, intelligent and eloquent, and her writing reveals that she possesses a strong aesthetic sense. And best of all, she is one of the only reviewers in recent memory to concentrate not on the literary history of the play or "that really great performance of it I saw in New York by the Royal Shakespeare Company 10 years ago" but on the performance at hand, here and now, noting the discernible highlights and flaws of the event. This results in less neutral writing and focuses the attention to the production itself rather than the critic. We are blessed to have a critic the caliber of those writing in Chicago, New York and LA in our midst, and we should do everything we can to keep her.

I have always found Cragin's reviews insightful and accurate. This isn't to say I've always agreed with her. Nor do I expect to always see eye-to-eye with her, or any critic, for that matter. So she's opinionated. So she has a preconceived notion of what quality theater is. Who cares? I thought that's what she was paid for. It is refreshing that a critic in St. Louis finally speaks her mind. Her candor raises the bar for companies to produce better work and to carefully consider the type of art they choose to present to the St. Louis public. And if Cragin's reviews stir up a little debate in the community, then that is a valuable side effect. It forces us to reconsider what we think is good art or not. The critic's job is not to say that everything in St. Louis theater is peachy keen. There is some godawful shit out there! And it's about time someone said so. In the past, I have seen too many critics kowtow to public opinion and "soften" their reviews to avoid any kind of controversy or letters such as Jackson's.

Also, I don't view Cragin's reviews as "attacks," as Jackson calls them, no matter how harsh they are. Read Frank Rich's or Bob Brustein's reviews, for God's sake! Jackson's comments are no less "nasty, catty, bitchy and cruel" than anything Cragin has written. By his own admission, he is uninformed about a play whose very premise, let alone its title, is saccharine enough to give Hansel and Gretel a toothache. Were a young Tennessee Williams to come along, I have faith that Sally Cragin would recognize his budding talent. Kitchy Kitchy Koo is hardly Not About Nightingales. In addition, the fact that Jackson sinks to immature gibes regarding her personal appearance ("ol' gray-haired Sally Cragin") only makes his "thick skin" more transparent.
Robert Neblett

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