Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "Four Plays, No Reviews"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Thursday - Saturday, 1 - 10 October, '98: "Four Plays, No Reviews"

There are plays I see that don't get reviewed. Since I don't review plays I don't like --- unless I was shocked, shocked! that the company didn't live up to general expectations --- I usually try to send a note to the director explaining my own personal negative opinion. I do it that way because I didn't say " I don't review BAD shows," and my opinion is just that: one opinion. If what I say to the director makes the next production better, or just makes the company consider my objections, fine; if they disagree, also fine. But I'd rather a show closed because of my silence than because I shat all over it in public. I have sat in front of galloping horrors next to people who obviously loved that sow's ear, and since I couldn't share that enthusiasm, I kept silent. THEIR opinions might really be the right ones.

But I have been tripping over my own personal computers lately --- deprived by blown electrical circuits (or by my own stupidity) even of the ability to read or send e-mail, or even to compose and laser-print a snail-mail letter. (And my handwriting has always been incomprehensible, even to myself.) Some shows have gone by unnoticed, and not all deserved oblivion. So here are some non- review explanations of shows all you regular readers never heard of --- not from me, at least:

3 September: "Love Is Murder" ReveScape, at the BCA
Well, frankly, I didn't like the play.
I'm being very precise there, as I would have been in a letter. ReveScape is a new company, and they worked very hard all through the summer on a script that afforded them no possible chance of success.
The plot involved a "Queen of Romance Fiction" who was so obviously a Barbara Cartland like-a-look there was no room for real characterization. In fact all of these characters were so thin --- not cardboard, but tissue-paper --- no actor could have made them believable. The jokes were all at the expense of romance-novels, contemptuous and repetitious. That meant that nearly everyone in the cast was compelled to be laughed At rather than With. With no help from the author, the actors had to fall back on "indicating" as the only possible acting technique.
In other words, the company loaded the dice against themselves by choosing an impossible play, and ended up with a show only their relatives could love. And this was their debut production. They are pleasant, dedicated people, and many of the details were much better than the play deserved. I hope to see their next show.

11 September: "The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wilde" Quannapowitt Players
I discussed this at length with director Nancy Curran Willis. It was exactly the reverse: good play, ineffective production.
But here there was a personal problem: not only had I seen and loved the original Shubert Theatre production with Maureen Stapleton, I have been impressed by Willis' work in the past, and expected great things. On top of that, my equipment had let me down, and who knew when any review would see the light of day.
Twenty-five years ago, this play sent-up television and obsessive movie-madness by giving a slovenly housewife movie-like fantasy lives. Somehow, I expected Willis would re-create the original, with a community theater cast, so my fantasy expectations were doomed to be disappointed. Her one mistake --- one she was busily trying to correct when I finally wrote her --- was displaying the protagonist's favorite movies on a projection-screen, so that the actors competed with their film counterparts for audience attention, and of course they lost.
Perhaps I should have seen the show closing night and tried writing about the changes. But I couldn't review what I saw opening night.

26 September: "The Rainmaker" The Hovey Players
I saw this closing night. It was excellent, with a balance of detail and intelligent acting and direction that represents all the strengths and none of the failures of community theater.
But, let me repeat, I saw its final performance. But a review --- and I still maintain I am not a critic; I just review plays --- is supposed to tell people enough about the play so they can decide whether or not they should go see it. Joe Papp once answered when asked what he expected from critics "I want you to put asses on my seats." My aim as a reviewer is to put more asses on seats in front of good shows than might have been there without my reviews. But no matter how good this show was, what value is there in a review of a show that's already over?

2 October: "Marilyn Monroe in The Desert" Boston Playwrights' Theatre
This was a staged-reading, directed but not given a full production, and I was invited, by a participating actress who expected a feedback-session with the audience after. I don't review readings because they're still "becoming".
Of course, in this case I wouldn't review it anyway. Despite some very good work by the cast, I thought this script abominable. Much too much of Beckett's "Endgame" and not enough of Williams' "Camino Real" percolated drearily through endlessly unresolved repetitious confrontations the point of which were obscure.
I don't know what I could have said except "Throw this away and write a PLAY" --- but luckily I was spared even that. After I managed to stay awake through it all by concentrating on the acting rather than the words, the director suggested that anyone who really wanted to might find the unidentified author and register opinions face-to-face, but otherwise thanks for coming but clear the hall. I got to talk to the lady who invited me about her next show, but otherwise I thought the whole affair a tremendous waste of everybody's time.

And, of course, I returned home to a computer that functioned best only as a doorstop, so it was all academic anyway, wasn't it?


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