The recent elimination of Pia Toscano from “American Idol” was like pop culture catnip – it gave commentators far and wide (including me) the opportunity to postulate, conjecture, hypothesize and rant, which is kind of what we like to do. But I took notice of this article by the Entertainment Weekly movie critic, Owen Gleiberman because he seemed to be making a bigger point about the value of critics and criticism. This point of view is summed up in his conclusion: “[C]riticism, when it’s offered by people who know what they’re doing, isn’t evil. It’s a force that enriches, an aesthetic helping hand, a declaration of reality that helps the best artists prevail.”
I agree with the essential point of Mr. Gleiberman’s piece. After all, isn’t that the basis for so-called “constructive criticism?” Of course, a key phrase is “offered by people who know what they’re doing.” Hm. I expect there are few people who are willing to concede that most critics know what they’re doing. Heck, after a dozen years at it myself, I’m still figuring it out. Still, I will add the concept of “an aesthetic helping hand” to my pantheon of self-justifications just the same.
In a more practical and immediate sense, critics matter because of shows like “Circle Mirror Transformation” which is opening at the Barksdale this weekend. Personally, I have only the vaguest idea what this show is about. Such was the case with Barksdale’s last offering, “Legacy of Light,” and with any number of generically or obscurely titled shows this past season – “Home” at AART or “Something Intangible” at the Firehouse, even “Arcadia” by Richmond Shakespeare.
And how do people find out what a show is about? They read a review. Even more important, what will compell a person to overcome ignorance about a title or disinterest in a summary provided in marketing blurbs about a show? A positive review by a critic that a reader likes or trusts. It is in this simple function that I think critics matter most of all, particularly when it comes to theater. Movies spend as much to market the average movie as it costs to produce it, and can pretty near overwhelm the public with coersive and seductive messages. Most theater companies don’t have that option.
Nationally, news about the Tonys is starting to percolate, starting with the announcement of who is going to announce nominees on May 3rd. I’m glad Aniki Noni Rose will get a little notoriety from this – the song “Dig a Little Deeper” is in pretty regular rotation at Kids Place Live on XM Radio and her one little solo in that song (from the movie “Princess and the Frog”) is my favorite part.
But the bigger question is: who is going to host the show? I expect there’s no chance Neil Patrick Harris would do it again, though he was so awesome. Who do you think would be a good choice?