Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Secret Envies of Drama and Food Critics....

Brendan Kiley, theater critic for Seattle's Stranger, gets philosophical about being trapped in a bad theater experience:

Most people seem allergic to the idea of the theater critic bailing before the show's over: It's a critic's job to watch the play, no matter how bad, and he should see every last minute of it before rendering judgment. But why? Is the food critic who sits down to a plate of black, slimy lettuce required to eat the whole thing before she can authoritatively judge that salad unfit to eat? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous.

Some will object to the food-critic analogy on the grounds that it's remote. But only the theater critic and food critic have their consumption of the "product" publicly scrutinized. The book critic can privately skim a bad novel on his couch, the art critic can choose to look at an object for one minute or one hour, the rock critic can pop in and out of a show. The film critic with her stack of DVDs has the divine gift of fast-forward. (Screw invisibility and flight. As a theater critic, I want the superpower of fast-forward.) But the food critic will either finish her plate or not; the theater critic will either sit through the whole thing or bolt. And everybody who cares to know will find out.

Some will object to the food-critic analogy by arguing that rotten theater isn't as poisonous to the mind as rotten food is to the body. But those people are wrong. Bad theater is bad for you. Expert witness: Epictetus, writing sometime around A.D. 100.

1 comment:

Thomas Garvey said...

There's a pretty obvious difference between a dish at a restaurant and a play. A chef delivers (or is supposed to deliver) the whole experience at once; you can immediately appreciate how good or how bad it's going to be. But plays unfold over time - and many of them (even some great ones) have weak first acts, or even weak first halves. You'd have no idea where Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale" was going, for instance, if you bailed at intermission. I admit sometimes it's hard to stay till the end, and I myself haven't always managed to do so, but there's a clear argument why a critic should try to go the distance. Kiley should think it through next time.