Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thoughts about criticism

I bumped into the actor Scott C. Brown and his fiancée, director, stage manager, costumer and all-around backstage magician Naarah McDonald, in the lobby of the Lakewood Playhouse. I’d never met either of them but had reviewed their work — sometimes in glowing reviews and sometimes in not-so-flattering commentary. The gratifying thing about our brief conversation was that they expressed thanks for both my kind words and my critical commentary. I, of course, am not surprised when actors and directors express appreciation when I praise their work. But what really boosts my ego is when they agree with my criticism.

A critic is supposed to expressed his or her opinion — ideally an informed and reasoned opinion. When I feel like I have to point out flaws in a performance, I try to do it as a good and compassionate teacher would so as to be helpful and not mean spirited.

As well as I can remember, I have twice picked Brown as Best Actor in a Drama for my Critic’s Choice award column: first for his role as Salieri in “Amadeus” and then as R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But I was less than flattering for his performance in “Holes,” and I was did not give that play a good review. I said “These fine actors are wasted in these roles,” referring to Brown and co-star Christie Flynn.

When I met Brown and McDonald, I did not remember that she had directed “Holes.” He reminded me, and she laughingly apologized for that play, which she acknowledged was not, shall we say, the best thing she has ever done. What is the best of her works that I have reviewed was “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which she directed. She’s also done the costumes for a whole slew of plays I’ve reviewed.
I do not get a lot of feedback from my reviews, so it is always nice to hear from people like Brown and McDonald.

By-the-way, I was at the theater to see “Lucky Stiff.” My review of it will be published in The News Tribune tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 12). Brown was there because he designed the lighting — and did a fine job of it, I might add (with one caveat, which you will find in my review).

1 comment:

Bev Sykes said...

There is only one theatre group that ever gives me feedback, and then it's only negative when I've said something negative. The frustrating thing is that I bend over backwards to be encouraging to this group. I use the "Thumper rule" (if you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all," so when a performance is abominable it becomes "Jane Doe played Aunt Edna" without comment. But if I make any negative comment at all, I know there will be a letter to the editor saying how unfair I've been.

Before I started critiquing this company, my predecessor raked them over the coals for a particularly bad opening night and the letter that followed it actually said she should have cut them some slack because it was opening night, they all had daytime jobs and they were tired on opening night.

That got me to write a follow-up letter asking the writer if they had charged the opening night audience less because they were going to be seeing a lesser quality show.

Argh...sometimes you can't win for losing!