Monday, November 28, 2005

Reviewing versus Criticism

Larry Stark posts an essay about writing reviews of plays.

He includes, for reviewers, some instructions in theatre etiquette:

"And then, if you haven't already, learn to laugh.
That's another thing plays try to make you do, and performers expect, or at least hope for, laughter to let them know they're doing it right. I don't mean laugh emptily, but laugh when you see something is funny --- respond, naturally but honestly, don't sit there like an iceberg. Don't let the performers think you're going to come backstage later to say 'You were so funny I could hardly keep from smiling!'"

He also includes some tips on writing:

"A review should find most of its facts in the play on the stage, and things like previous plays or performances by these same people may be interesting, but they do take up space that could be better used. Such things should be mentioned if they are unavoidably relevant, but they're just distractions otherwise.
In that regard, beware The Press Packet!"

And some veiled suggestions for us theatre practitioners:

"There's an interesting quirk lurking in the cast-lists of a lot of plays: characters are named, but their functions aren't.....For the purposes of plot-summary, the character's Function is much more important than the name. And think what a nightmare it is sorting out all the work of specific soloists in A Chorus Line when all you're given in the program are twenty First Names!
I never said reviewing would be easy, did I?"

And he gives some very straightforward advice for aspiring reviewers:

"But I will say this: whatever you want to write about plays, it's a good idea to start by learning how to write straight, no-bullshit reviews of what you see --- almost as a craft. I learned that craft from a very gifted editor named Joe Hanlon, and I still treasure conversations in which we'd argue for half an hour over the wording of a single sentence. His point was that he himself hadn't seen the show, so everything I wrote had to be clear to him."

It is really worth reading in full. And Larry's Theatermirror is the largest on-line regional theatre website of which I know. So check it out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Batteries Not Included

Stephanie Zachareck has a pretty scathing review of the Rent movie on Salon. What is fascinating is that she has never seen the stage play. I have never thought of Rent as the defining theatrical event that many believe it is, but I still don't think it deserves the spite she gives it.

However, while initially put off by the review I caught on to one of her observations:

What's most disheartening about "Rent" is watching all these performers work so hard, for so little payoff: It's frustrating to have an ensemble of young actors who can sing and dance (among them the eminently likable Rosario Dawson, and Taye Diggs, who's wasted here), and to realize that this is the best material anyone has to offer them.

Rent always relied on the incredible energy and boundless talent of its exuberant young cast.

I remember seeing the stage show around 1996 and watching skeptically. It was a weird experience. The plot seemed contrived and trite and the songs were a little too pop-ish. But it was hard not to have been won over by the 10,000 Watt performance of these young thespians who could, (unusual for musicals) ACT, as well as sing and dance.

I have not seen the movie, but on one point I agree with Ms. Zachareck. I had exactly the same reaction at that time.... Is this the best that our country's theatre can offer them?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Will Ed Seigel Be Reviewing Coconut Grove Playhouse Productions?

Mark Jurkowitz's Media Log Column on the Phoenix has a juicy little gossip item about which Boston Globe employees are applying for buyouts.

Take a look at the list:

"But among those confirmed buyout applicants are Travel editor Wendy Fox, pop culture writer Renee Graham, feature writer Jack Thomas, op-ed page editor Nick King, editorial writer Susan Trausch, obit writer Tom Long, theater critic Ed Siegel, business writer Charlie Stein, and music writer Steve Morse."

Emphasis is mine.

What is the theatre page going to look like if Ed Seigel leaves? What is the critical landscape going to look like? If a drama critic takes an early buyout in the middle of a forest and.... well, you know what I am saying.

What will Mr. Seigel do? Will it be Florida or perhaps a some seasons enjoying the festivities at LaJolla Playhouse?. Arizona is nice too.

Though some may cheer, overall it could be another measure in the constant and continuous dirge of death knells for arts journalism. Bill Marx's lamentations of shrinking column space will probably fall on deaf ears, but his latest column (last week) has added prescience with this announcement of Seigel's application for buyout.