I pulled up Mr. Griset’s review of “Arcadia” in this week’s Style, just expecting to grab the URL to link to. Little did I know there was a maelstrom of comments brewing. Nothing like a pan to get people’s dander up.
As I’ve mentioned at least a half-dozen times here before, I’m a big fan of Rick St. Peter’s work; productions he directed here before running off to Kentucky were among the best I’ve seen in Richmond. In the past he has been quick to call out sloppy or wrong-headed criticism (particularly when posted anonymously). And while I can understand his defense of Stoppard’s play, I take issue with some of his comments. First off, the quote of Stoppard’s he cites may be clever in its own way but I find it sorely lacking in truth, and in my experience, exactly wrong. I am regularly chastised for doing my job well -- that is, presenting valid concerns and criticisms about a play -- and very often no one seems to notice when I do my job badly -- that is, when I give a lackluster or subpar production a pass.
As for hating to be criticized, I don’t love it but I regularly solicit input simply by having this blog. The papers that print reviews – both Style and the T-D – allow people to comment online or write letters to the editor (that are often printed), thereby openly inviting criticism. I can’t speak for any other critic but, personally, I appreciate constructive criticism. But whether any critic loves or hates counter-criticism, they get it. And, if they want to continue to do the job, they have to learn to deal with it.
What I have a hard time with is people whose criticism is of the very act of criticism. Critics are paid to offer their insight – however flawed you may think that is – on a work of art. Criticizing a critic for doing his or her job is like yelling at a mail carrier for delivering the mail.
Having said that, I understand that people get annoyed and upset at the way a critic does his or her job – you don’t want your mailman scattering your letters all over the yard, for instance. That’s the kind of counter-criticism I welcome. Was I vague in what I wrote? Was I confusing? Did I miss something about the production that was obvious to you?
What I find bitterly ironic (to reuse a phrase I had reason to employ recently) is people whose criticism turns personal. “That critic is a fool!” “This critic must be angry at somebody.” “Joe Critic is just a frustrated actor who can’t get cast in town.” That is the level on which many people respond to critics. For all most people know, Mr. Griset could be a Nobel Prize winner with a Ph.D. in theater pedagogy, and yet they would question his credentials versus responding to his words. As I’ve also said before, if my criticism was on that level – for instance, “Joe Smith’s direction of this play shows that he obviously has delusions of grandeur and his narcissism gets in the way of any valid artistic statement he’s trying to make here” – I would be fired. Or I should be fired because that's criticizing the artist, not the art, and that's not my job.
I have not seen “Arcadia” so I can’t speak to the substance of Mr. Griset’s review. If I was just criticizing the writing, I might say that it’s a little laundry-listy for me. Still, he makes some refreshingly blunt observations that should be refuted on their merits. Mr. Griset does seem to be reflecting the attitudes of at least one patron, as noted by a commenter, and I know Ms. Haubenstock’s review of the play also indicated some issues.
Finally, I appreciate the endorsement of one of the commenters – it’s nice to have a fan, even if only one! However, as many folks associated with theater know, both my wife and son have been active in local theater making my personal connections in the scene pretty direct. I’ve tried my best to remain objective but certainly the argument exists that I am compromised just as much as or more than the unnamed female reviewer.
I may or may not be able to actually make it out to see “Arcadia” before it closes. But one positive side effect of this negative review – and the comments it elicited – is that I’m more motivated than ever to try and fit it in. That way, I can judge the work for myself, which I encourage everyone else to do as well.