The Playgoer: Critix Corner

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Critix Corner

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 !!!

Kirk Kelley-Kahn
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 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.

“Best wishes,

“Rachel S.”

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 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.


Anonymous said...

Wow, What a story. I favor the Kirk character for his aggressiveness and get it done attitude. Even if it seems that LA Weekly Dropped the Ball, what a history and legacy this theatre company has. Seems like an incredible missed opportunity to review such a great Hollywood Historical Event.

Anonymous said...

So is this an apology from the LA Weekly or an excuse for being overworked. I will see this show for sure.

Anonymous said...

This Kirk Guy was really trying huh? Go Kirk. I dont blame either party. All were trying. I do wonder about this show now.

Anonymous said...

How ironic, by coincidence, I saw the show last Friday night. I loved the production. It was a down home, lovely production with some noted African American actors. It was fun and very intimate. I recommend it to all!

Anonymous said...

Good for Kirk! What's the big deal. He was just trying to get attention for his play. You should go see it and review it. There are other plays in LA beyond those at the Ahmanson and the Taper!

Anonymous said...

Why punish him for trying to get PR for his play? I thought it was excellent and saw it twice - it was even better the second time. I thought it was charming with a wonderful cast. Congrats Kirk to you and all the Cambridge Players - Next Generation. Well done on your first venture, and I hope this is just the first of many more to come!