Theater Notes: The life of a critic
Life as a critic isn’t just sitting there like a judge in a court case. Yes, you do have to make judgements and it requires years of theater going experience, but there is much more to it.
This critic first feels compelled to really weigh the redeeming value of the play. A good play is essential. I choose not to revue “Farce.” Then, I have to measure the cast and the production values, including what the director did to shape the play. None of that is unimportant.
I have to remember who my readers are. I’m not out to give them always what they want to hear. I often challenge them to go deeper to more than just “feel good theater.” Still, I am driven to do all I can to keep live theater alive and bring audiences into it, night after night.
Finally, I have to deal with a certain loyalty, built over the years, to a few theaters and their artistic directors whom I respect, admire, and want to support. This was easy this year with “Twelve Angry Men” at Florida Rep. I felt honored to give a strong review for “The Amish Project,” at FSW College. I loved “Camping With Henry and Tom,” at The Herb Strauss. That was also true for a courageous play “The Velocity of Autumn,” at The Theater Laboratory of Florida, and a lively musical at TheaterZone in Naples, “The Sweet Smell of Success.” One of the bravest was at the enlightened Gulfshore Playhouse production of “Informed Consent.”
Now sometimes it gets sweaty because I have to deal with some plays I didn’t really like at a theater I have long admired. There have been a few I just refused to turn in a review about, because deep down, I couldn’t recommend it to my readers. I have written a few where I said it wasn’t “my cup of tea,” but go see for yourself.
This brings us to the play on stage at Theatre Conspiracy. Bill Taylor, the fine artistic director, has built a whole season with plays by woman playwrights. This one is called “The Nether,” by the acclaimed Jennifer Haley. The publicity for it states: “An intricate crime drama and a haunting sci-fi thriller that explores the consequences of making dreams a reality. This new play is a daring examination of moral responsibility in a virtual world.”
That made me pretty excited when I read it, and I placed an order for tickets for opening night. It was a tender night, because the theater had promised some of the proceeds to celebrate one of the most important projects existing in SW Florida. “The Human Trafficking Project,” headed up by former Sanibel Mayor Nola Theiss.
So there began the dilemma. I didn’t like the play. The actors were fine. I kept feeling sad for them, caught in a play that I just didn’t buy. It seems to have been written for people who spend 16 hours a day on the internet. Virtual reality overran the thin plot. I couldn’t figure out what was real and what was a computer game. I did get the idea that virtual reality is a world where there are no consequences.
I kept wrestling as I sat there with the irony that the evening was dedicated to help fund The Human Trafficking Project and one of the major themes of the plot involved pedophiles and prostitution, but not in the real world, or was it? I kept hoping for a “Talk Back” after the play.
I couldn’t wait for it to be over. But, one man a few seats down stood up to a feeble standing ovation and said out loud, “This is the best play I have ever seen in this theater.”
So there you are. I’m sorry Bill Taylor. It just wasn’t my favorite. That doesn’t take away from your superb productions of “Kayak,” or “Bluest Eyes,” or “Good People” from last season. They were a real tribute to what Theatre Conspiracy has given your audiences over these many years. So dear readers, go see for yourself.