By Steven Leigh Morris
Haven't been confronted much lately with the question of what qualifies one as a theater critic, other than in discussions among seething colleagues and on blog postings over the issue of Joe Public posting his/her own review on newspaper websites. That all changed yesterday with a phone call and follow-up emails requesting, pleading and demanding that I print a review in the L.A. Weekly that I had allegedly assigned (being the section editor) of a small-theater production in Hollywood called Reunion in Bartersville.
Questioning my own memory, and then my sanity, I struggled to recall ever assigning a critic to review this play, and whether or not I was guilty of gross administrative incompetence. My doubts were compounded with the tone of one email that came in: (The formatting is largely intact):
“This [the PR] was sent to you in enough Time.... So about this review, will it be in the Paper and also online? . . . . If this is correct Please contact me as to know what we should expect.
Thanks Mr. Morris
The “fondly” seemed a bit over the top, but I let it wash over, before replying that I had no recollection of ever assigning a reviewer to this production. Kirk fondly replied with a copy of a review. It came with with an L.A. Weekly logo embedded in one corner -- an unqualified rave of the production written by somebody named Rachel Stuart. I'd never heard of her.
Here's an excerpt from the review, again with formatting largely intact:
“So many laughs are stitched together seamlessly by the new Cambridge Players cast of professionals directed by the cleverly talented Sherrie Lofton a mentee of Ed Cambridge who was the founder of the original Cambridge Players. The original group included Academy Award nominee Juanita Moore (“Imitation of Life”) and Lynn Hamilton (“Sanford and Son”), Esther Rolle (“Good Times”) and others. . . . The remaining members include Thomas Anthony James, Aloma Wright ("Scubs"), and Amentha Dymally ("Gumbo Paribe"), whose performance especially at the end of the show recalls some of the best performances of Bette Davis.”
Kirk continued pursuing his agenda:
“Could you let us know as to when this will be in the paper. I owe you Big Time... You Rock !!!
Cambridge Players-Next Generation”
I wrote back saying that this was the first time I'd ever seen this review. An hour later, the author replied, hoping that I'd simply “green light” it for publication.
“Thank you for your email. We are independent of LAWEEKLY. I write freelance for 21stCenturyArtists.com. We simply post our reviews on LAWEEKLY's online site for general read. We also post our articles on a number of other sites for general pickup/review and print if a publisher so desires. These articles are then picked up by GOOGLE and other search engines and then we have no idea where they will end up. Our articles and reviews appear around the Internet and are free for publication for anyone, just as long as credit is given to the originator/author of the article. Thank you.
I know this is Old Business, but the L.A. Weekly has only recently installed a “Post Your Review!” on its website, an opportunity for Rachel S. to promote her cottage industry.
It all too clearly illustrates the frivolousness of mere opinions, and how the quality of criticism is determined by the larger frame that encloses those opinions, and gives them perspective. In a commerical culture, the battle, probably a losing one, is to keep distinguishing arts criticism from PR. And that distinction was the source of the clanging, fond missives among Kirk, Rachel and one perplexed theater editor.
Critix Corner: Part 2
Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick's Gotham-bound 9 to 5: The Musical opened over the weekend at the Ahmanson to mixed reviews. I missed it, being in Gotham myself for a few days. I'll catch up with it in the next week or two. Cautious responses came in from the L.A. Times' Charles McNulty and Variety's Bob Verini.
McNulty remarked that the musical “has only occasional success in switching on the old fluorescent-lit office magic,” while Verini qualified his reservations by acknowledging how the show “rides a swell of good will from the popular 1980 farce.” (He's referring to the movie, of course.) However, he added it substituted “a heavy hand (and considerable bad taste) for the movie's light heart. Judicious streamlining could determine whether this Gotham-bound celebration of workplace women breaks through the glass ceiling separating modest success from long-run hit.”
Much more enthusiasm from TheatrerMania.com and the L.A. Weekly's Neal Weaver, in a review to be posted on Wednesday night, Weaver gushes over Parton's “rollicking score”, Resnick's “clever and fast-paced script,” and Joe Mantello's “spectacular direction.”
Weaver told me that Parton took the stage to croon during a computer glitch involving the set. I'd heard the week before that exactly the same had occurred during a preview performance – a savvy form of suspending disbelief that might be dubbed “planned spontaneity.”
The show is slated to start previews on Broadway March 24.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By Steven Leigh Morris