Friday, September 16, 2011



I appreciate you taking the time to respond with your clearly stated and rational comments (as opposed to “Humble Opinionator’s” self-important and ridiculous ramblings…but I’ll get to that in a second…) I don’t agree with the bulk of your perspective, however, and I think you hold theater critics to an impractical standard. I remember when reality TV first became a big thing, I read plenty of stories by plenty of TV reviewers whose message was (either explicit or implicit): “god, I can’t wait for this reality TV fad to pass.” Then at some point they all seemed to heave a collective sigh and realize that it wasn’t going to pass and so now they grit their teeth and do their best. You can still read the same kind of bias in reviews of “torture porn” movies like the “Saw” franchise, a reviewer saying, “this stuff is generally crap but this is how this crap rates against all of the other crap.” For a more immediate and local example, Daniel Neman used to call out almost every movie that had some “daddy issue” at it’s foundation. He had obviously tired of those kinds of movies, but he went on reviewing them.

Should editors hire a specific reality TV critic to just cover that beat because every other critic hates the genre? A specific “torture porn” critic to cover those movies? A specific stage farce critic to cover “Lend Me a Tenor?” That would be impractical and that’s why no one does it.

There are three points I think are worth making: first, a theater critic has a job to do. At your job are you often given the liberty to “pass on assignments” that don’t endanger you or aren’t morally reprehensible but are simply not your favorite thing? If you do, I want your job.

Second, yes, I absolutely agree that if a critic has a passionate distaste for a specific genre, they should not review shows in that genre. But if their distaste is so passionate that it impairs their ability to deliver a coherent review, he or she shouldn’t really be a critic at all. Say what you will about Susie’s review, but it is well written and coherent, reflecting careful consideration of technical elements, direction and performance. You may not like the way she did her job but you can’t argue that she didn’t do it. I, like Susie, rank farce near or at the bottom of the genres of theater that I enjoy. That doesn’t mean I (and I expect Susie) prefer being poked in the eye to seeing a farce. I don’t want to be taken off the “farce beat” because farces aren’t my favorite. Why? Because I love theater in general and so an evening spent at even a mediocre “Lend Me a Tenor” (which Barksdale’s production isn’t) would be more enjoyable for me than a night watching, for instance, the best “torture porn” movie in existence.

Third, part of the artistic experience involves surprise. How many men are dragged to a romantic comedy with their wives or girlfriends and actually end up, against every expectation, enjoying the experience? If you asked such a guy afterwards, his summary might be “You know, I don’t generally like these kinds of movies, but this one was pretty good.” I know as a critic I go into a farce bracing myself for the worst. And whether I state it explicitly or not, my review will reflect an underlying attitude of “you know, I wasn’t expecting to love this but I did.” On the converse side of things, I love “Godspell” and “Les Mis” and plenty of other shows and there are times I’ve come out of certain productions feeling “you know, I generally love ‘Les Mis,’ but this production just didn’t measure up to my expectations.” These kinds of reactions are an inescapable aspect of the subjective artistic experience and they can’t be extricated from it, no matter who the audience member is, critic or non-critic.

As far as “Humble’s” extended tirade goes, there are so many ways I could respond that I’m a little at a loss at where to start. Perhaps with: as good a writer as you may be, HO, you’re an awful reader. You title your rant, “An Answer to Some of Dave’s Questions About Subjectivity and the Function of Critics.” I wrote exactly one sentence in my post that could be construed as a question, which was “how exactly [is] a critic…supposed to review a play “for what it is,” in other words, in some completely objective manner.” In all your extended spewing, you didn’t come close to answering that question.

What you essentially did was take the opportunity to randomly and anonymously bash all of Richmond’s critics while taking broad swipes at the local artistic community as well. Bravo! Quite a feat, that!

I would give some credence to some of your comments if they didn’t start from a foundation that undermines everything that follows. You say, “I have seen exactly zero truly critical reviews written with the aesthetic and mastery that is the standard for critique. Very loosely defined, a critic is someone who writes for a publication or blog about what they see.”

By applying some ridiculous standard that nullifies everything I’ve ever written, you have lost my interest in anything you have to say. If I am not a critic by your standards, why should any supposed insight you have about critics apply to me? And furthermore, by misunderstanding the basic idea of a “strictly-defined” critic – that is, someone who is a paid journalist doing a job for their employer, who strictly-speaking only has to answer to that employer and not every idiot with grandiose ideas – your succeeding assertions are essentially worthless. Thanks for playing, though, and as strong as your opinions are, I hope you take a step out from behind your cowardly anonymity and try being a critic yourself some day. I’m sure my fellows in the RTCC could gain a lot of backbone under your guidance.

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