Sunday, May 04, 2008

Theatre Blogging - Playwright's Appeal?

This may be a first, or maybe not.

But Sinan Unel, the playwright who wrote Cry of the Reed, which premiered at the Huntington Theatre last month, started a blog that basically was created for the purpose of gathering audience feedback in defense of a bad review received from the Globe.

Here is the introduction from his blog:

My play, THE CRY OF THE REED, opened at The Huntington Theater in Boston on April 9th, 2008. Two days after the opening, a review, which can only be described as vicious and personal, appeared in the Boston Globe.

Audiences continue to fill the house. For the most part, they're enthralled by the play's intelligence, emotional range, and its compelling plot. Many of us are mystified by this review. Some ask: did this reviewer see the same play that I just saw? Others stop actors after a performance or on the street and talk about how frustrated they are by the media and how they discourage people from going to the theater. Two ladies told me: We read the review and almost didn't come - but we're so glad we did!

There is certainly a disconnect between the audience's experience and what these reviewers wrote.

The play is certainly controversial. It touches on some uncomfortable themes: religion, faith, atheism, mortality, sexuality. Perhaps it's not surprising that some are angered by it while others find it fascinating.

I've created this blog as a forum for audience members (or those who've read the script) to post their thoughts. An audience's reaction, after all, is much more significant than the narrow views of a few critics.

(Hat tip to Todd at the Huntington Blog.)


nick@ said...

Yes, definitely an interesting new reason to start a blog. I wrote the following comment there, hoping it might elicit a dialogue. So I hope he doesn't take it personally.

Dear Playwright,

You come off as desperate here. You appear to be trying to counter some truth that the review might have. Should we accept that the Globe review “can only be described as vicious and personal” without you showing us how? I read it. I guess you could describe it as vicious, maybe, but I see nothing personal in the review. Just for objectivity sake, shouldn’t the Globe review be here on your blog, or at the very least, a hyperlink to it?

BJ said...

Just yesterday I read this passage in The Conversion.

"Look, we all want our work to be loved unconditionally..."

"And when it's not?"

"There's always the next book."

Thomas Garvey said...

The dynamics of reviewing are definitely changing! It's interesting to see other people "fight back" against reviews they think are unfair. Of course it's always possible to simply write Unel's blog off as sour grapes or "desperation" (as anonymous posters did when I pointed out Terry Byrne's conflicts of interest in reviewing Blowing Whistles). As far as Cry of the Reed is concerned, Kennedy's review struck me as harsh, but at the same time, Unel's blog would be more compelling if it were less than 100% praise of the "It was AWESOME!" variety - or if, after reading it, I felt I understood the play, or the playwright's intentions, a little better.

nick@ said...

Of course the myth of the theatre review, and "objective journalism" itself, is that as a genre of writing it is somehow free of conflict of interest and/or prejudice, and thus a more perfect conveyor of truth.

Interesting that Unel's blog lists the reviews of his play as either good or bad. Is such a thumbs up/thumbs down simplistic classification of critiques something the reviewers intend, or something that the playwright (or every reader) imposes on the review mode?

Still interested in the intent of the blog. Is it to counter with positive PR for box office purposes the negative assessment of the Globe? Or is it to counter critical points that the negative review makes? An email from a person with no identity saying that the play was "enjoyable, thought provoking, emotional" does neither I think. Start with an obvious question, "Who is reading this newly published blog?" We are, but only as a curiosity within the new "dynamics of reviewing" that is developing.

Ian Thal said...

It seems to me that while a good play will tend to get good reviews and a bad play will tend to get bad reviews, a significant play will tend to get highly mixed reviews.

Eric said...

When we look back at the public reception of ground-breaking works that have been mixed, I'm sure that for every masterpiece that was misunderstood at first there are probably dozens of works that were just under (or over) developed. I myself didn't get to see "Cry of the Reed", but critical disagreement is hardly an isntant qualifiation for greatness.

Ian Thal said...

critical disagreement is hardly an isntant qualifiation for greatness.

I'm not making that claim-- the point I am making is that something universally praised is probably affirming contemporaneous values and thus, however well crafted, is of its time; something universally panned, is probably well deserving of the response. Something that receives passionately mixed reviews might be groundbreaking (though, I certainly agree, might also just be mediocre.)

Thomas Garvey said...

For what it's worth, the play treats a highly significant topic, which can also produce wildly polarized reviews, as people struggle with, or are surprised by, their reaction to the subject itself. Whether a play on such a topic is an artistic success is yet another question, on which opinions can vary, and which often gets lost in the clamor of that first response. Speaking for myself, I applauded Unel's tackling of a timely but tricky theme, but found the dramatic results a mixed bag.

Thomas Garvey said...

Just btw, I also posted the following comment to Unel's blog:

Hi Sinan -

I understand your reaction to the negative reviews you received, and I'm intrigued by your use of a blog to respond. But I'd be even more intrigued if you responded to the points made in the reviews, or described how the reviews have affected your view of the work. Now that the play has closed, will you be pondering any revisions? I'd be very interested to hear about that.


Tom Garvey
The Hub Review

I'll be interested to see if and how he replies.