Just a few weeks ago, we had one of the old lions, retired New Yorker Critic John Lahr, assailing the younger generation of print critics. His hyperventilating turned out to be extraordinarily wheezy though.
This week, Howlround,( the online journal for the Theater Commons at Emerson,) has solicited some pieces from several critics and artists about criticism and journalism in the theater.
Rob Weinert-Kendt starts off with an essay about the parallel circumstances of the critic and the theater artist:
Wendy Rosenfield dispels the persistent myth that a critic couldn't possibly want to be a critic. And she proudly states that theater knows it needs critics:
Without that critical assessment, without critics going on record to champion a playwright, performer, or movement—or conversely, without critics opening up a can of whoop-ass on a show they despise and occasionally receiving a bigger one in return—would theater retain even its peripheral position in our culture? No way. Not even if it’s a review of your city’s 10,000th touring performance of Nunsense. It’s a critic’s job to compare and contrast, to examine the spaces in between those performances, to see where they intersect with our lives and where they diverge, and to keep this ephemeral living art form among us a little longer by recording what happened onstage, while challenging audience passivity in the bargain.
And yet criticism, which by now should have evolved from a one-sided conversation (and we critics all know colleagues who are so accustomed to spouting opinions unchallenged that every “conversation” becomes a monologue) to a full-fledged back-and-forth between audience and critic, still drags its knuckles.
Dominic Taylor, Associate Artistic Director of America-in-Play, points out that poor critics might not be able to accurately assess a work's primary goals: