Thursday, March 1, 2012


If I weren't nearly 70, I would think that I was either pre-menstrual or menopausal.  But since all that is behind me, I guess I'm just a cranky old lady who can't let an issue drop.  I truly normally let stuff like this roll off my back and I consider the source, but maybe I didn't get enough sleep last night.

I must first apologize to all of you who don't live in this area and can't read between the lines.  For people who live in this area, you will probably know exactly what I'm talking about. And if I am talking about you, well, I hope you listen.

First of all, let me go back to the 1980s, when I was working for the Lamplighters.  I love the Lamplighters.  Probably moreso then than now, when I thought the sun rose and set on them.  I never saw a bad performance (well, hardly ever) and, as I worked on publicity for the company, I took it as a personal affront when either newspaper critics refused to come and review our shows, or when critics came with a lot of baggage and had already written their negative reviews before they even entered the theatre.

I remember overhearing a San Francisco Chronicle critic saying "Sigh...I suppose I'm going to have to see XX and XX."  These were the two current leading male and female actors, who, I thought, were absolutely fantastic. But the critic didn't like them even before he saw the production and inevitably his review was a major slam at the show in general and these two performers in particular.  He likened the woman to being as sexy as a wet toothbrush.  Her very worst review ever.

Whenever The Lamplighters got a bad review of a show that we thought was wonderful, we were always tempted to fire off a letter to the editor about the critic's comments, but we had the sense to realize that you never piss off a critic.   Once a review is posted, everyone has read it and you can't change what has been written.  Read the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam...

The moving finger writes
and having writ, moves on
nor all thy piety nor wit
shall lure it back to cancel half a line
nor all your tears wash out a word of it.

So with that introduction, let's talk about today. I reviewed a show recently.  I gave it a lukewarm review, and said that the members of the company needed a pep talk before Act 1 because the talent was obviously there but that the show just had no life to it.   (I never talk about the show while in the theater, so had not mentioned my feeling to Walt, who turned to me at intermission and said "this just has no energy to it!") 

I also mentioned, in my review, that the ensemble had great choreography and when they kept it together it looked good, but too often one or two members were out of step which made the whole thing look sloppy.  I commented that more than once the ensemble started musical numbers on the wrong note and it took a few notes for them to get with the orchestra.  And I said that I was sure these were all opening night problems and that they would improve with time.

Interestingly, I checked the last time I had reviewed this company doing this production.  There was a completely different cast, a different director and a different choreographer, but my overall impression was that the show lacked energy then too.

Now this could  be chalked up to this being community theater and not professional theater, but I also reviewed the show a couple of years ago at a different community theater and praised it to the skies.  The principal character, who need to carry the show, was incredible.  He had such electricity about him that he sizzled whenever he was on stage.  The actor in the current production did not sizzle, though he sang and danced well.  There was no electricity.

I cannot speak about subsequent performances, but the opening night performance was lacking in energy and I could not say otherwise.

Well, this being the company that it is, I naturally received complaints.  Only two so far.  None from the directors of the company.   They know better and I think they must cringe whenever someone in the company (or in their audience, perhaps) takes me to task for a review I have written. I appreciate that.

But people have to realize that when a critic writes something it is just her opinion.  You and I may sit side by side and we may see different things. The critic's problem is that she has to write what she sees.  If I were to write a rave review just to support a theater company, nobody would ever believe what I say because, let's face it, people aren't stupid!  If you have a kick line of dancers and three of them are out of step and you, as the critic, don't mention that but say that the dancing was incredible...who is going to believe you when you have a kick line that looks like the Rockettes?

I have had people tell me that of course energy is down on opening night because they are all amateurs and all work hard during the day and they just don't have their full energy until Saturday.  My come back is always "do you charge less for opening night tickets?  Do you let your audience know that they should not expect your best performance on opening night?"  Nobody said that this time, but if they did, I would point to that other show I saw a couple of years ago, another all amateur production with actors who work hard during the day, yet gave their all to give me an unforgettable performance on opening night.

I just wish that people would realize that to attack me for writing what was my truth of my vision of the performance I attended doesn't do one single thing but piss me off.  Fortunately, I have not yet used that against this company, though I have been attacked plenty in the past 12 years.  I was even attacked for one negative sentence I wrote in an otherwise glowing review. I'm not going to write a follow-up review that says "Oh gee.  Sorry.  I actually thought the show was great. My bad," even the paper would print it, which it would not.

My advice for members of this company (or members of the audience who feel it necessary to attack me), is to remember that I can stop giving the company the benefit of the doubt and just be brutally honest and ignore the good things or the feeling I have that as opening night jitters wear off, things will be better.  I get angry with critics who feel that because they are called "critics" their job is to "criticize" and find nothing positive about anything.  I don't want to be that kind of critic.

By the same token, I'm not going to say something is good when it is not.  And if there are problems, I'm going to point them out so that maybe they can be fixed in subsequent performances.

And now I have that out of my system.  Unless someone else decides to write another letter to the editor!


Lise said...

My curiosity got the better of me so I went looking for the review, and the subsequent comments. Those complaining appear to be barely literate, and I think the first and third comments were written by the same person - most probably a teenager. Golly, who *would* go to opening night to review a show? Whoever heard of such a silly idea? I don't know if those comments are what you are referring to, but I found them too silly to take seriously.

Judging by the photos, though, the costumes, hair, and makeup deserved a bad review of their own. It appears that the baseball players are wearing. . . black leather dress shoes. You are far kinder than I would have been.

Harriet said...

I haven't been to the theater in so long, I don't relate to much of this. I recognize that there are jerks all over, and there's nothing you can do about it.

But your little "hardly ever," reminded me of something else. I repeated that in a conversation where it really fit, and no one got it. (They probably never heard of Gilbert and Sullivan, either.) I repeated the story many times before someone actually laughed and said, "H.M.S. Pinafore, right?"

Cultural literacy is pretty well dead and gone. You are a hero for trying to keep it going.