Los Angeles Post theater critic, Rose Desena, had a little dust up with one of her fellow “scrutinizers” – who she decided not to name – over the weekend and it caused her to do a little soul-searching. She asked if we might publish the resulting reflection. We agreed.
Walking back to my car on Sunday evening after a play, I started a conversation with another critic. An excellent, well-known, writer whose name I will not mention. We discussed the play that we had just attended. He was a little disturbed to discover there were things I liked about it. He hated every minute of it, while I saw some good.
After a bit of a heated discussion he asked a simple question that I didn’t think a lot about at that moment…until it bore its way into my thoughts later on.
If I saw that play in any of the cities, above mentioned, would I still see the good? After a pause I said no? It was an excellent question, and one I need to ask myself more often.
His argument being, do we expect less because it’s Los Angeles Theater? Are we settling for mediocrity? I have seen some excellent productions in our little black boxes as well as the larger venues. I have also seen some weak scripts and bad acting. Normal! Some good some bad, but do I settle when I decide to review a play with positive criticism? I wish there was a yes or no answer to the question but there isn’t. Not for me anyway.
Sometimes I take into consideration that many of our producers, directors, stage help and actors do this for love, and are paid nothing…or little enough to be irrelevant. In some shows the actors provide their own costumes and supply props from their homes. The budgets are often so small it’s pathetic and the monetary rewards do not always add up. I look at the cast and I notice at times they have little or no stage experience. Acting in a 6 week production is a big commitment, a month or more of rehearsing and then giving up your weekend evenings for the run of the play is a lot different then doing an 8 hour commercial or a walk-on for a TV show. I am amazed at the stage sets that are often built by a set designer whose resume reads like a history book and I realize he or she has to really love the theater to do this. Not all scripts are equal, you might plan a show and come to a conclusion you don’t have the right director and cast. It happens. I do make allowances and I try and see the good in all productions. The script might suck but the cast or director really hit the mark. I try to break down every part of the show. That being said, I do not expect mediocrity. But perhaps I am more lenient, or maybe more considerate of the craft and its struggles, than this other critic.
I can’t help but invest some emotions into the work I am seeing. At times something hits home and might affect me, though the overall piece is far from perfect. Critics are human after all…well, I am. Theater should leave an impression on you, move you. At one point, I was a ballet dancer, but unfortunately I was not good enough to find work with a big company. When I see a really good ballet I cry, it moves me that much. Does that mean I wouldn’t be a good dance critic? Why not? I know the positions, the moves and the right sequences. I know all the traditional Ballets. I can tell a good dancer from a great one, but just because I get emotional about the production does not change the fact that I can give it an honest review. However, I would not judge the LA Ballet the same way I do the NY Ballet, that’s just ridiculous. Heck I wouldn’t put the Russian ballet in any category, in quality it stands alone, but it does not mean a particular production is not without flaws. It may bring me to tears even though I can’t give it a good review. I usually cannot get behind musicals once they leave NYC, I have seen many at the large LA Theaters and there is always a bit of disappointment. It does not mean that they are bad but I just don’t have the same expectation. Though, there are times I am very surprised.
So after some good soul searching I answered my question, I do not expect mediocrity but I look at the whole picture and search out the good in it. I think being emotionally moved is ok even for a critic. I follow my rules. I look at the acting, the staging, and the script, just like most of you. But, I have a big heart and I see nothing wrong with that.