Monday, July 7, 2008
The critic critiques himself
I’m constantly surprised that nobody ever questions my qualifications as a theater critic. So what are those qualifications? I can write. That’s about it.
I was working a temporary job as an assistant features editor at The News Tribune when I was asked to write the community theater column. My editors knew I could write because I had written feature articles and art reviews and book reviews. But never theater reviews.
Did I have any previous theater experience? Hardly.
In the first grade I played one of the seven dwarfs in “Snow White,” and sometime during elementary school my twin brother and I did a silly skit on stage singing “Brothers,” an adaptation of the old Rosemary Clooney hit “Sisters” from “White Christmas.” We were terrible singers, but we were cute.
In high school I joined the drama club because everybody had to be in some club and I had friends in that one. I was just in the club; I never took part in any dramatic production in any way. But years later when I got my first teaching job in a tiny town in Missouri, I listed the drama club on my resume, which was good enough for them to ask me to direct the school play. They offered me an extra $200, so I took it. The play that was handed to me was a horribly stupid comedy about a bunch of boys dressing as girls in order to crash a girls’ spend the night party. During rehearsals the kids started adlibbing like crazy, and a lot of their adlibs were funnier than anything in the script, so we kept them in, and the play was a big hit — mainly because as a director I pretty much let the cast do whatever the hell they wanted to do.
In New York in 1973-74 I had a good friend who worked in theater and I went to a lot of off-off Broadway shows with him, and a few cast parties, and even once went to dinner with a theater critic at the New York Times whose name I can’t remember. It was all fun, but I don’t think I learned anything about theater other than that actors surely know how to have a good time.
Finally, if I ever learned anything about theater before taking this job, it was what I picked up from watching and listening to my son. He started acting when he was 9 years old, and Gabi and I, of course, went to all of his plays — at least until he went off to college, and even a few at Western Washington University where he majored in acting. Now he works as a stagehand at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and since getting this gig I’ve started quizzing him a lot on technical stuff.
Truth be told, I was not at all qualified for this job when it fell in my lap. But I’ve learned a lot on the job from talking to directors and actors and from reviewing approximately 200 plays over the past four years. And by golly I believe I’m beginning to get the hang of it.