Friday, December 02, 2011

Why I Like Critics

Sure, since becoming a critic myself, my opinion toward critics is much more empathetic than it might have been a dozen years or so ago. And since becoming friends with several critics who I think are pretty nice (and talented and interesting) people, I have developed an outright affection toward many of them.

But beyond the personal aspects of it, I also like critics for two significant reasons. First, they can be incredibly entertaining and smart writers. Sometimes a critic finds a particularly clever turn of phrase or a distinctly insightful observation that both is fun to read but also enhances my enjoyment or understanding of the piece they are writing about.

Second, often critics put into words certain thoughts or perceptions that were rattling around in my brain but that I couldn’t quite find the right verbiage for. After seeing a play or movie or TV show, I like reading reviews and having those “Yes - exactly!” moments where a phrase I read encapsulates just what I was thinking.

I had that kind of moment re-reading Rich Griset’s review of Firehouse’s “Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them” this morning. I saw the show last night (and didn’t text even once during the production…) and, while the production had some things I liked, I didn’t come away particularly liking it. In particular, there was something that bugged me about the attitude toward women I sensed in the show (still feeling echoes of dislike for the “My Fair Lady” attitude). The way Mr. Griset put it was “Durang's use of violence against women as a shallow metaphor for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is more offensive than illuminating.” Yes – exactly! Beyond being a little uncomfortable with the aggression and disdain voiced toward women by the father character and Zamir, I don’t feel like it was effective in illustrating anything. How much more interesting and complex would the character of Zamir been if he had been just as shady and unknowable but also had an outright affection toward women?

But that point to another problem with the play IMHO: it isn’t about the interaction of characters but of caricatures. I loved Irene Ziegler’s portrayal of the theater-obsessed mom but even she was trapped in a strictly two-dimensional construct. I think Arash Mokhtar is probably an excellent actor but I didn’t get enough shadings from this play to really know for sure. And I felt the worst for supporting players Lisa Kotula, Steve Organ and Stephan Ryan who are all talented but weren’t even given 2 full dimensions to play in this show. I came away most impressed with Eva DeVirgilis who, as Griset says, is very likeable in her role. That may seem like faint praise but, amidst oddities in this show that tend to push viewers away rather than make them empathize with anyone, it’s actually an exceptional achievement.

Another “yes” moment for me in rereading the Style review was the characterization of the set. The whole turntable design is actually very impressive. But I agree Griset when he says, “While the setup works brilliantly for scenes such as the parent's living room and kitchen, the apartment scenes and the conclusion at Hooters are on the homely side.” I think of the depth that Slipek brought to sets like the one he did for “Something Intangible.” He was able to do great things with some of the turntable thirds, but others were pretty bland.

I most enjoyed the last ¼ of the show, the meta-comic aspects of the story when Felicity starts and stops the action. There was actually some clever stuff in there. Unfortunately, this part came after much that just didn’t work for me (Hildegard’s underwear? Why?).

Of course, Mr. Maupin and the Firehouse deserve kudos for bringing a fairly whacky – and potentially controversial – work to the local stage. I certainly appreciate the effort, just didn’t love the results.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aside from the obvious subjective nature of reviews, especially for something like theatre, i completely agree with you. My only problem with reviews is when it feels like certain companies ONLY get rave reviews for every show, despite obvious flaws. There is no use reading a critique if it is going to be stellar every time, especially when you read it to perhaps properly put into words the aspects of the show that felt a little off.

I am sure people will disagree with me, but I know that certain newspapers and certain companies are continually receiving the same review for every show.