Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Some things won’t die

I have been mulling over how to rejoin this conversation that I thought had pretty much petered out after dozens of comments last week. But just today, this very pointed comment showed up that sure helped me focus my thoughts:

“Please give me a break. Not one actor who has kissed up to the critics here has ever gotten a bad review - even when they were universally agreed upon as bad. As for credibility, read some of the previous comments here. Dave makes it fairly clear in his remarks that if make nice here, you are set. As for his own son being in an upcoming production, how can he or Mary even consider reviewing said production?”

My, so many things to say! I’ll take the simplest point first: you are absolutely right, Anon, I will not be reviewing the upcoming “A Christmas Story,” would not even think about it. There have only been two other occasions where members of my family have appeared in a play that was even an option for me to review and of course I didn’t review those either (though I did turn one of those into one of my favorite pieces of my own writing. Can I link to it again? I think I can!)

I think it’s interesting that you think if people “make nice” here, I’ll give them a pass. I’ve been blogging for a little over a year but reviewing for almost ten. This blog frankly has very little impact on how I judge a play or a performance. I put it out to generate conversation about theater; my hope was that fans would come and comment. As it has developed, theater people frequent it much more than I would have expected. Which is great and what I hope it does is give people a chance to judge my performance as a critic, not necessarily to kiss up to me. But by all means, give it a shot (I’m partial to chocolate and micro-brews, by the way). But if you stink up the stage, I will still probably mention it in a review, your nice comments notwithstanding.

What is much more likely to have an impact on my reviews than this silly blog are the personal relationships I’ve been able to find and foster through this critic gig. I am lucky to know some incredibly talented people, I have a great deal of respect for them, and many of them I am honored to call friend. But has that made me water down my reviews? I don’t know: you could ask Bruce Miller, someone I admire and enjoy talking to regularly, but who I’ve also knocked occasionally – most recently I think for one of the Hanover Tavern productions. Or (a few years ago), Rick St Peter who I think is fabulously talented and who I still correspond with, but who did some relatively dreadful thing at the Firehouse (“Marisol” was it? Synge, I think you were in that one…) before he left town that I remember putting down pretty distinctly. I know I’ve chided Scottie at least once for a performance I considered “one-note” and Larry Cook, who I have loved in many things, made some choices that I questioned on these very virtual pages not too long ago. I’m sure I’ve pissed Grant Mudge off with a review or three of mine, though he is always cordial to me and I always enjoy talking to him. A fellow Style writer, Ed Slipek, has done some great set design work for the Firehouse and some, well, not so great, in my opinion, which I mentioned specifically in my Style review. Ironically, a production that I did not particularly like in very recent memory was “Austin’s Bridge” at the Firehouse, which was produced by new pal and blogmate, Mary B.

I will certainly own up to one thing that might confuse some people like Anon: I don’t usually write negative reviews. As I said above: if you stink up the stage, I will PROBABLY mention it. I approach theater as a fan, not as someone hired to pick it apart. When faced with limited space in print, I tend toward highlighting the positive versus harping on the negative. But I think the examples above are evidence that this is not universal.

Is it harder to judge productions that involve friends and good acquaintances? Yes, without a doubt. What it does, though, is challenge me to be as specific and fair with my comments as possible. Because, not only is it likely that I may run into the object of my commentary at Ukrop’s or Smoothie King, it’s not unlikely that they’ll be over at my house for dinner or a holiday celebration some time.

This is not an unusual situation. Many reviewers are or have been connected to the world they review in some way or another. This includes some of the greats, people like Kenneth Tynan in theater or Roger Ebert (screenwriter) in film. The reality is that the people who are interested enough in an art form to write about it often and for frankly not much money often participate in the creation of that art form in some way. And even if you start out not very involved, you GET involved. I don’t just write reviews; like most other critics, I also write features, which means I regularly chat, meet and have lunch with people in the theater world. Even if a critic doesn’t start out knowing or liking anyone in the world they’re writing about, chances are they will make several good friends in the community before all is said and done. Does it make everything a little incestuous? Yeah, probably, but you know, life is like that, particularly in a town the size of Richmond. It makes it seem a little more like a family and my role in this particular family is to be the smart-ass little brother who delivers commentary on everybody. It’s not always been a happy little family but, for the most part, everyone I’ve dealt with understands that we each have our role to play.

I don’t consider this a negative. Sure, maybe some reviewers try to use their ironic distance to be funny or otherwise entertaining. Many of them fail. And I can’t help but think that some reviewers – movie critics in particular – might speak with a little more clarity if they were in danger of regularly running into George Lucas or Brad Pitt at the local Kroger.
OK, I’ve rambled off track here a bit but let me bring it back to Anon’s first and most perplexing comment. Performances that have been “universally agreed upon as bad?” Please point me to blog or chat room or coffee house where I can find out what the “universal” consensus is. I’d be really interested to know where such a consensus is developed and promulgated, just to know whether I’m consistent with the ‘in’ crowd or not.

12 comments:

Jacquie O. said...

I'm sorry Dave but I'm sure your children have alerted you to the fact that you are no longer in the "in" crowd...so you may never know the answer to your question.

Just like we may never know who that @$%#& Anon is!

On a happy note, I do know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop!

Le Synge Bleu said...

the rick st. peter production you're talking about (I thought it was pretty dreadful myself) was Marisol, done in dec of 99 or jan of 00, i forget. i was NOT in it though...i assistant directed for about 3 rehearsals until i realized that my talents lay elsewhere and that that ship was goin' down fast. no, my swan song of horrificness was a different show. i still laugh at and quote the unanimously bad reviews, they were well deserved.

Dave T said...

And while I'm busy re-stating all the bad things I ever said about people (smooth move, T-line)...
I may not have said it explicitly but I hope I implied that there was not nearly enough of Jacquie's cleavage in her last performance. I expect more next time...

Jacquie O. said...

See Anon...I know what it takes to get a good review in this town!

Anonymous said...

Ouch--no love for Marisol!! First and last time I ever directed a play as a favor to anyone...I thought it was interesting and I was trying to spread my artiste wings a bit...Dave, I personally happen to agree with every review of mine you ever wrote, except that one!!

Peace
Rick St. Peter

Anonymous said...

Ah what the hell, I'm not in Richmond theatre anymore...

I just read through all of the posts about Mary's "Advice to the Players" and I have a couple of quick thoughts:

1. In all honesty, I could care less about what a critic thinks about my work. I hope they like it, I never set out to do anything to make Roy Proctor hate something or Dave T like something...I set out to direct a show. Did I like it when they liked it? Of course I did, did I not like it when they didn't, of course I did...I still complain that I got ripped off with the Phoebe Awards over the Laramie Project (actually I am joking...sort of...no really I am...I think...I don't know ask me later)...My only thing about reviews is how they will impact the box office. It seemed in Richmond that good reviews didn't actually help much but bad reviews could kill you...of course, I haven't been there since 2003 so who knows. Here in lovely LexVegas, they don't even run the reviews in the daily paper till the week after you open, which is bizarro...

2. Any critic offering advice on acting/directing/playwrighting etc is as ridiculous to me as a sports columnist offering advice to Todd Helton on how to hit Josh Beckett (Wichmann will explain the reference for those of you who don't know)..."I took classes once, I produced something once, I see alot of plays..." who gives a crap? If you are interested in doing it, do it. If not, comment on it in your role as critic...I played baseball in college, I played in the same league Scotty does, I play in Louisville, I wouldn't dream of giving Todd Helton advice on how to get out of a slump...

Part of what drives me nuts about our business is that because of the proliferation of bad acting surrounding us everywhere...tv, film, community theatre, professional theatre etc...everyone thinks they can do it or thinks they know how to "fix" things. It ain't that easy...Yes it is annoying to see bad theatre, I see a ton of it, but no one sets out to do a bad show. I certainly didn't say, when starting Marisol, that I had had success with subUrbia and Stop Kiss, now it was time to suck!

3. Finally, and I will get off my soap box, sorry, but it's raining in Kentucky and I am a bit bored...SIGN YOUR NAME! If you want to take shots at people, sign your name, otherwise you are chicken shit and your opinion is crap. Anything that riles up Scotty's Buddhist sensiblity is hilarious to me but really, anonymity is the last refuge of the coward...

Love to all in Richmond, life is good in LexVegas...We just opened Hamlet here, I directed, the great Steve Koehler designed lights and Jack Parrish is getting rave reviews for his work as Polonius and the Grave Digger...check us out at www.actorsguildoflexington.org

Peace
Rick St. Peter

PS Yes I am still bitter about not getting the Phoebe for The Laramie Project...damn that Bruce Miller!! And Roy's review of my production of Shrew, that included a line like, "At the end of it all, it seems like someone left the backdoor of a professional theatre opened and a highschool production snuck in." gets funnier every year...

Frank Creasy said...

Rick makes some FANTASTIC points! Would like to have worked with you before you got to Can-Tuck-ee, but those are the breaks.

Really, though, I wanted to comment on whoever anonymously said that all the folks posting prior comments always had gotten great reviews...not sure who in particular anonymous was referring to, it sure wasn't ME. I've been ripped apart a few times (okay, not by Dave, but STILL)...and I sure as HELL don't walk out on stage thinking "Oh, Dave's reviewing this one, I'm GOLD!" No, no, no...all due respect to Dave, Mary and company, but while I LOVE good reviews (and die just a little at the bad ones), I do NOT perform for critics. If the people who pay to see the shows love my work, then I am a happy thespian. Because if they don't like what I do, I'll surely be posting comments on blogs as an unemployed actor.

Dave T said...

Hiya Rick,
So I'm thinking "Marisol" is like some magical summoning charm that brought you to this blog. If so, I'll have to invoke it more often because your comments are very much welcome. It raining here in Richmond too and it's glorious. Wish I could see your Hamlet; if the stage hands go out on strike maybe the lovely wife and I will go to LexVegas instead of NYC...Still remember your Shrew fondly.

Style just named Bruce and Phil among the local legends. See, if you had stayed here, maybe you'da been on that list too!

Stay dry,
Dave

JB said...

Style also said that Randy Strawderman was the Artistic Director of Barksdale. Who is doing the fact checking over there Dave??

Dave T said...

JB,
Yep, kinda big oops there. I am probably at least partially responsible since I recommended him for the list. Sorry about that one...

Jacquie O. said...

Yeah, I e-mailed Brandon about that this morning and he is putting a correction in a Style next week.

Anonymous said...

About the validity of anonymous posts,let's make the distinction: Anonymity may make one a coward, prudent, career-conscious, mysterious,insecure or even sad, but it does not invalidate one's comments, or mean one is being insincere. It may give one a convenient way to be MORE pointed, truthful or, in the case some of the posts, more insulting, but it does not equate to "less valid." And in the case of a small community, it is at least understandable. And in this case feeling compelled to disagree with a critic's generalization about the personal lives of actors, anonymity seems justified.