Theater Notes: Frustrating theater
Pity this poor theater critic. I had three plays to review in as many days. That’s not the issue. Oh, in the old Broadway years, I would see five plays on a weekend. A big one Friday night, an important one at a Saturday matinee, and then, two down in the Village, one at 7 p.m. and one at 10 p.m and a matinee on Sunday.
No, the pity is that now I’m in Florida and I have to review two plays I hated. They’re both at theaters I like, but, if I reviewed them, I would cut them to pieces. I don’t like doing that. So, I won’t even tell you where or what they were. Instead, of a review, I’ll tell you what I demand from theater that gets my attention.
My first requirement is that it be a play worthy of all the time, energy and talent you have to put into getting a production on the boards to show an audience. So, right off the top, I don’t go to, and I don’t review Farce. You might like the constant insults of farce. I like to laugh, but not at people using people, bathroom gags and anything that demeans women, sex or children. There are rich and deep comedies I do appreciate.
Now, a play for me, just has to have something to say. I like plays that confront, and compel you to look inside and come up sweating. Don’t be surprised when I tell you that “Death of a Salesman” is one of my all time powerful nights in the theater, and that “The Grapes of Wrath” is one of the most profound novels I’ve read, and a mighty fine play, too. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is a movie that meets those criteria for sure.
Then I always love seeing a play with solid acting, wise directing and innovative production values, as seen in how they did the sets, the lighting, and the sound. I think a theater critic should have more than some acting experience. At the risk of bragging, in my colorful life, I’ve been in at least 25 plays down through the years. It gives you an edge to watching. You look for and find moments of brilliance. They’re so enjoyable, and influence what I reward in my reviews. Incidentally, I get really sad seeing a brilliant actress hacking away in a play eight performances a week that is way below her gifts.
The plays I really push in my reviews have characters I care about. They face issues that matter in their chaotic and confusing lives, often some we find ourselves working on if we’re lifetime learners. The plots hold you, and make you want to come back after the intermission.
The season ahead has lots of thrilling theater waiting for all of us. I’ll do my best telling you how the plays worked for me. Above all, I hope we will all do our best to keep live theater alive, and to bring more and more of our adolescent grand kids to see live theater. For me, it’s an important part of the legacy I want to leave behind. I hope to see you at a Florida theater soon, at a play that touched us deeply.