Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - "On Any Given Night..."

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Thursday, 30 September, 1999: "On Any Given Night..."

"On any given night, one sports team, or prize-fighter, or tennis player
can be, and will be, better than the competition.
It's always a crap-shoot."

A couple days ago a good friend, who saw "Torch Song Trilogy" at The Footlight Club opening night accused me of whitewashing a disaster with my review. Today an e-mail arrived accusing Alexander Wright of trashing an excellent show. Since I saw the same opening-night disaster that Mr. Wright did, I've got to say that I think --- elements of style, attitude, and emphasis aside --- both his review and mine of the very same production of the same show are, both, correct. On any given night, the same production of the same play can sing or can suck, and anyone who has ever worked in theater knows it. Talk to anyone at the Footlight Club who was there and they will tell you --- I think the entire cast of the show will tell you --- that it was the most disastrous opening night in living memory. But I chose to believe the members, and the curtain-speech, that said this was the first real tech run-through and the first dress, and I told people I'd come back. When I did I saw a whole new elephant, as reflected in my notice.
It's always a crap-shoot. Always.

Today I received via e-mail the first signed, for-publication letter complaining at the tone, style, and opinions in a review carried by The Theater Mirror. The letter is at the top of The GREENROOM right now, but if you missed it will be appended to the end of this Cricket's Notebook. Now that the disagreement is finally public, let me discuss the policy of The Theater Mirror about reviews.

The simplest way to state it is to tell you what I usually tell people who have sent me a review:
"Thank you for sending it. I just put it up and you can read it. Now I think I'll go read it myself."

Several people in conversations or in letters to me (all of them expressed Privately) have expressed annoyance at a writer's style, or tone, or attitude, or opinions. People have said, in effect
"[ ] has every right to his opinion ... SO LONG AS HE KEEPS THAT OPINION TO HIMSELF."

But I can't CENSOR reviewers.

I ask new reviewers if they want, or if they would mind, editorial suggestions. The first reviewer who said "yes" never sent me another thing after reading my comments. Todd Olson replied in outraged high dudgeon to my comments, but he did send more reviews. I sent lengthy comments to Alexander Wright, when he first sent in reviews, about style and word-choice. And, since Beverly Creasey sends me her reviews by snail-mail, when I re-type them I do change her punctuation --- we disagree about dashes, parentheses, and occasionally about commas. Don Gillis and I have talked about attitude, and understand one another's point of view.

But having expressed (privately) my opinions about tone, about style, about attitude, I cannot deny anyone willing to talk about theater a place in The Theater Mirror. I do try to Reflect live theater, and I think I do that best by including more voices, not stifling the thornier views.
The pages are open for disagreements. I am always glad to get a new review.

And I think if a reviewer Does "have every right to EXPRESS his opinion," Where, except in The Mirror, will he ever get the chance?
You may disagree with the style, the tone, and the opinions of Anne Marie Donahue, Arthur Freedman, or Bill Marx, but neither The GLOBE, The PHOENIX nor The HERALD will ever offer you equal space to air your own opinion to the same audience.

But I will.
I Do.

Why is it none of you ever take me up on that offer?
I keep trying every way I know to get more people to express their own personal opinions of shows right here in The Mirror, and you never do. Only once in the five years I've been doing this has anyone ever sent me an off-the-cuff opinion, however brief, of the show they just saw. That review went up before my own, and since mine was not the first but the second , mine was the "Minority Report" even though we both agreed about the show.
When I started this thing, I really believed that The Greenroom would be filled with briefly stated reviews, or mere quick opinions, from lots of other people who just liked to see plays and thought they'd share their thoughts.
You --- yes, YOU --- have always disappointed me on that score. No reviewers have ever been elected God, and the only way to make them doubt their ex cathedra infallibility is to disagree with them, Publicly.
I'm eager for such debates to start.

Believe it or not, I think you --- yes, YOU --- do The Theater Mirror and theater in this area a grave, insulting disservice

And don't weasel out by claiming anyone who Works in theater can't voice opinions. When I started reviewing, my by-line read "Charles Foster Ford" or "Charles K.C. Harvard" ("Charles Kendall Central Harvard") because I had for five years worked as an unpaid stagehand around Cambridge. I don't know "Angel's" name. Someone told me what it is, but she never did. And I don't use the return e-mail addresses of any of my reviewers. You want to send me reviews under the name "Stagehand" I will go to my grave refusing to tell Woodsteen and Birnbaum your real identity.

You might even get to enjoy it........

That's just a suggestion. You don't have to act on it. Just take it into the silent darkness of your inmost soul, and think about it.

===Sharp Elbows
( a k a Anon. )



Subject: A Reveiw of a Reviewer
Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 21:11:36 EDT

Dear Mr. Stark:
I have been a lover of theater all of my life. Whenever I get a chance I like to take in a community theater show and, when I can afford it, I will treat myself to one of the road shows that comes into Boston.

I found your website about two years ago and have, for the most part, enjoyed the reviews. There is one person, Alexander Wright, whose reviews I have found to be overly critical of community theater, but up until now I have simply passed them off as being written by someone who is an obvious theater snob, professional theater being the only REAL theater. He is bitchy and pretentious, expecting that the almost all volunteer organizations should provide him with the exact, same theater experience as the union paid professionals.

After his recent review of TORCHSONG TRILOGY, I can no longer ignore that you give this man an opportunity to be heard. Mr. Stark, I don't believe the first amendment includes slander as one of its freedoms. Mr. Wright's obvious personal maligning of the director was almost too personal to read. Did he audition and not get cast? Did he interview to direct the show and get turned down? His review was meaner, nastier, and crueler than anything I have ever read, even in the New York papers. Perhaps that is his goal, to out nasty the nastiest of professional reviewers who review professional theater. But, he is NOT a professional. A professional would have never made it personal.

I went to see the show after reading the review because I wanted to lend my support to America's oldest community theater. Though I wasn't expecting a very good show (I thought Mr. Wright must have had SOME truth in his review even though it was so poorly written), but what I got was an evening of enjoyable entertainment. Some of the performances were truly inspired and the rest were more than adequate. There were no glaring technical problems, no flubbed lines, no out of style costumes. The set was minimal, but certainly not the horror show portrayed in Mr. Wright's review. In a nutshell, Mr. Wright was WRONG.

But, I digress. The point of my writing to you, Mr. Stark, is this. You provide a wonderful service to the theater in the Boston area, especially community theater. In your own reviews, even when you are not thrilled with a production, you have always found a way to be constructively critical without being cruel. This man does NOT share your love of ALL theater. He does NOT want to see community theater thrive, he wants to wipe it off the face of the earth. Why do you give this man a forum for his vile, cancerous venom? It serves no purpose and he should not be allowed to hide behind the first amendment right to free speech. I don't mind contrary views, I don't mind a little controversy, but I DO mind character assassinations, especially when they are undeserved.

Please, Mr. Stark, I ask you as a fellow lover of all theater, to please stop giving this man a forum for his "reviews."

I thank you for your kind attention.
Most sincerely,
Still a Fan

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide