Look, I don't usually blow my own horn, but I got a few letters this week talking about reviews, saying things like:
"Thank you for the praise and the constructive criticism."
"Thank you for your obvious appreciation of good theatre."
"Thank you, Larry, for your kindness and support."
"Thanks for the kind words in your review!"
"Thanks for the mention in your generous review of Dolly!"
And lest you doubt me, I'll tack all those letters on to the end of this so you can read for yourselves.
I am of course pleased to get such feedback, and these are not unique examples --- the only complaint The Mirror ever received about a review was from a disgruntled playwright --- but I'm not quoting them just to bask in their glow. I quote them to wonder why anyone should feel it necessary to THANK me for "constructive criticism" for "appreciation" for "kindness" for "support" for "generosity"! Are they in such short supply these days?
But then, The Theater Mirror can't be unique, can it. Surely grateful theater people are calling the GLOBE and the HERALD and the PHOENIX and t-v stations to thank them for the support, the constructive criticism, the appreciation reflected in their reviewers' columns, aren't they? I mean, the free tickets that are given to reviewers are paid for out of the P/R budgets, after all. And who on earth would go to the theater every week --- or five times as I did last week --- determined to think up only Bad things to say about it?
I cannot believe anyone but a dyspeptic sadist would enjoy going about ruining actors' concentration with withering words, as though it were a critic's mission to root out bad theater and destroy it. I don't like DISliking plays. I do Like theater, and I really think a reviewer's job (I don't think I'm a "critic") is to tell people what's THERE in terms that will let Them decide whether they might like it or not. I don't review plays I don't like; I am an advocate for good work, though. My threshold might be low, but I think a reviewer's job is to find and point out, and yes to encourage good work wherever I can find it. That's much more important than killing the bad, isn't it?
Encouraging the good is very important, because the raw material of theater is People, and people who are on stage are in no position to know what works or what doesn't without the laughs or hisses or boos or sobs or applause from an audience. As a part of that audience, a reviewer's thoughtful assessments can reinforce a player's or a director's choices. But ill-considered blasts from a power-mad egotist can ruin a show, because actors are starved for feed-back, and devastated when it's destructive. Consider this quote:
"I was encouraged many years ago by my wise acting coach not to read reviews, and I don't read them most of the time. I do, however, value reviews as learning tools. I give them all to the aforementioned wise acting coach, and she uses the information to help me grow as an artist."
Crushing an actor's ego just for the fun of it, or out of some megalomaniac mission to "love theater to Death" is about as sporting a shooting fish in a barrel. And it takes about as much expertise. Besides, it's incredibly counter-productive to hound artists out of the business, to recommend to audiences that they stop spending money on plays, to loudly and repeatedly insist that there Is No GOOD Theater in Town; I mean, if the negative critic succeeds, what publisher in his right mind would employ a critic who had, by his own efforts, made certain there wasn't any theater left to talk about anymore?
Besides, who could you find to talk to about theater except other dyspeptic, sadistic critics? I spent five years working backstage with theater people, and I still like talking to them. I think of them as friends, and when I like things they do I like to tell them so. We're really all interested in good theater, after all, aren't we?
"I heard your laugh and it really gave the message that you are someone who wants small theatre to survive and thrive in Boston. Thank you."
No, I should thank you. And I do.
It was nice to see you at the BCA the other evening. I have been meaning to write and thank you so much for your incredibly kind words regarding Virginia Woolf in your Cricket's Notebook. I don't yet have the Internet, but the very talented Joe Zamparelli gave me a copy. Thank you also for your Critic's Circle nomination for my performance in V W. I was floored to say the least. I feel as if I am the luckiest woman in Boston most of the time just having a chance to do theatre with my talented friends, but an award nomination that is really something special. I appreciate it very much. I was so blessed to be around Joe, Fred, Alisha, Roy and our stage manager Cathy.
I also wanted to thank you for attending our production of "On The Verge." I heard your laugh and it really gave the message that you are someone who wants small theatre to survive and thrive in Boston. Thank you. I was encouraged many years ago by my wise acting coach not to read reviews, and I don't read them most of the time. I do, however, value reviews as learning tools. I give them all to the aforementioned wise acting coach, and she uses the information to help me grow as an artist. I did read your reviews of Verge and Virginia Woolf, however. It is interesting that you put into words how we all felt about those two shows. Thank you for the praise and the constructive criticism.
I hope you will continue to chart our progress as a company. We will probably be undertaking the American premiere of "Anna Weiss" by Mike Cullen in the fall. It won several awards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer. It is a very gritty drama about psychiatry and the use of recovered memory hypnosis. I saw the play performed at the fringe last summer, and it was amazing. We have been granted the rights, and it is just a matter of everyone agreeing that this risky play is right for now.
Thank you, Larry, for your kindness and support.
Subject: Forum Review
Date: Wed, 22 Jul 1998 11:24:37 -0400
From: laura hill firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your obvious appreciation of good theatre. Paul Farwell
put together a supreme cast and an outstanding set design. But of
course I am partial as this is my second production with him. Your
intuition is correct. We (the cast) work as an ensemble leaving our
egos at the door in order to present to the public a piece that doesn't
miss a beat. Much credit goes to our director, Paul. Thank you again.
(Panacea - Courtesan)
Thanks for the kind words in your review! Sorry I missed you after the show. I finally got a day off yesterday from rehearsing or doing a show, so I got to do my laundry and I feel much better now.
CRAZY FOR YOU at Reagle is that last show for me this summer, which will earn me my equity card (yea!), and then it's off to NYC to audition. It's kind of scary, but also very exciting. Hope all is well and I hope to see you at CRAZY FOR YOU!
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 1998 15:48:23 -0400
From: Lisa Greaves Taylor Lisa_Taylor@harvard.edu
Thanks for the mention in your generous review of Dolly! I feel terrible--please forgive me, but I didn't realize I met you in the craziness of selling tickets! I was looking forward to chatting with you, and wish I hadn't missed the opportunity! Hope to meet you and talk with you in the future.
Hope you are doing well, and thanks again for your review!