Friday, September 15, 2006

We May Have Our Own Brendan Kiley

Though it may make those of us on the fringe cringe, there is a new voice in town that is straight from the hip and pulls absolutely no punches.

Jenna Sherer, writing for the Weekly Dig, reminds me of Brendan Kiley of The Stranger in Seattle. Love them or hate them, at least they take the fringe theatre companies up on their offers and promises.

Sherer goes to see the fringey productions with great hope, often to have it dashed right in front of our reading eyes.

She is horrible, but, in a sick way, surprisingly supportive. Anybody familiar with Kiley's quips about some of the Seattle productions he has seen, will immediately recognize the attitude. Here is Sherer reviewing a show this past summer:

Queer Soup’s production is symptomatic of a larger disease afflicting theatre today: mediocrity. It’s the reason no one under the age of 45 (save a few acting students and Broadway geeks) goes to the theatre anymore. Alas, My Yolanda Love, announced as an unorthodox new play by a ceiling-smashing up-and-comer, turns out to be just as shitty as the shit that was shitty a decade ago.

Yikes. It certainly lives up to some of Kiley's best quips:

"After pointing out the emergency exits and reminding us about cell phones, the dutiful curtain speaker always says, "If you liked the show, please tell your friends. Word of mouth is the best advertising." It is, at least, the most accurate. And a little more honesty in the marketing strategies ("A lackluster comedy—for friends of the cast only!") might improve the art form, restore some integrity, and woo back the confidence of an already wary public."


Shayna said...

I love the Weekly Dig specifically because I like to read Ms. Scherer's reviews! Glad to hear I'm not alone. I especially love that quote you added where she uses the word "shit" three times in a sentence. Now that's what I call reviewing!

YS said...

Hi Shayna,

Thanks for the comment. I believe it makes for a livelier theatre scene in general to have spirited reviewers, who, most importantly, take the fringe seriously.

However, I haven't seen the productions she has reviewed, so I really can't speak or comment on her taste or accuracy.

She is more of a reviewer than a critic, and we need both.

Thomas Garvey said...

So now you're praising a "critic" for calling a low-budget (I assume non-Equity) production "shitty" in print? Oh, sorry - for calling it "as shitty as the shit that was shitty a decade ago"? And at the same time you're upset about audiences daring to boo the ART? Hmmmm.

YS said...

Hi Thomas,

You're right. I plead guilty (pleasure.)

Actually, I am really not sure what I think of the booing.

My statement that "there is no excuse for such behaviour," I guess is a reaction to the description of audience members heckling the hapless actors of a poor production.

But as you can read from my post I am wondering how else an audience is supposed to react in such circumstances.

Though I hadn't seen it, I had heard similar stories to the ones you list about your experiences at Three Sisters. Nowhere, even in online reviews, did I see any mention of this. I actually nearly found myself purchasing a ticket so that I could write something about it.

In truth, one of the reasons I started this blog was because I was often perplexed at experiencing similar things at ART productions and then I would open the papers on Fridays to reviews that sounded as if they were written by the theatre's PR department. These responses, were generally across the board.

In fact, I think a review of your experience of the audience falling over each other to get out, would have been valuable at the time. Do you think anybody would have printed it?

What most surprised me is that the media here in town did not pick up on this. They were all full of stories about the ART heading off to Edinburg with this production, but after the Billington Column and other stories....crickets.

Thanks for keeping me check though.

Thomas Garvey said...

Well, I generally don't advocate booing innocent actors who are simply trapped in a bad concept (in particular actors who, by some accounts, had the sense to try to resist their director's pretensions in rehearsal). Still, the ART is a special case. How else can we hope to improve its quality, outside of throwing vegetables at the stage? What makes the Edinburgh debacle so delicious is that Edinburgh is known for WELCOMING avant-garde and fringe acts - yet even they could see through "Three Sisters."

How can we replicate that atmosphere here? In other words, how can we create an audience that's open to new work, but with a better bullshit-ometer? In the few years I was reviewing, I would have to say the most challenging pieces I saw were all on the fringe - pieces like Churchill's "Traps" at the Devanaughn or Barker's "The Possibilities" by Whistler in the Dark. But the mainstream press largely ignored these pieces - instead, they lavished praise on the pseudo-provocations of the ART, which constantly recycles the perspectives of the West Village from thirty years ago. Sure, the ART has its occasional successes - but most of these are imports. Homegrown successes are generally about five years apart - a ridiculously poor average.

Perhaps the answer is not to throw old lettuce at the actors (after all, who doesn't like ART troopers Karen MacDonald, Thomas Derrah and Will Lebow?) - perhaps it would be better if the DIRECTORS of these evenings were forced to remain onstage, to receive whatever produce might come their way.

YS said...

What makes the Edinburgh debacle so delicious is that Edinburgh is known for WELCOMING avant-garde and fringe acts - yet even they could see through "Three Sisters."

I couldn't agree more.

Hey, wasn't Lupa actually onstage, or close to it during these performances?

Playing the drums or something?