- An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Don Hall writes a post "Critique the Critique" where he criticizes Chicago Sun-Times theatre critic Hedy Weiss's review of A Child's History of Bombing. With me so far? I know that was a mangled string of refernces, but hyperlinks are replacing prepositions one-by-one these days and I'm not sure I ever learned how to use either of them. In short: Don takes issue with Hedy's emphasis on the subject of the play and maintains that her role as a critic is to appraise the sundry craftworks on display, not to contend with the ideas/themes/statements therein. As it happens, this play is about War, The Atomic Bomb, WWII, and Vietnam. Hedy thinks the Neo-Futurists have chosen the wrong war to advance an anti-war premise and Don thinks that makes her an Op-Ed columnist, not a theatre critic. Warp to North Carolina, where ...
- Theatre Ideas blogger Scott Walters has been trying to articulate his frustration with In-Yer-Face-Theatre and the legions of glib devil-children it seems to spawn. So his reaction to Don's reaction to Hedy's reaction to A Child's History of Bombing is something along the lines of: "Well, what did you expect?" He states:
"Artists can hand out the assaults, but scream like babies when they are assaulted themselves."I appreciate Scott's willingness to deflate Don's indignation, even if he's generalizing a bit in the larger analysis. Cue Allison Croggon of Melbourne, Australia ...
- Theatre Notes and Critic Watch -- two blogs maintained by Allison. They don't feature any posts about the current deabte, but they're wonderful to read in their own right. Allison comments regularly on both Scott Walter's and George Hunka's blog and she brings the expertise of a professional critic. She adds this dimension:
If you think an audience is part of the theatre, then a theatre critic - as a member of the audience, albeit a privileged one - is also part of the theatre. I have never had much time for the idea of the "objective" critic who hands out elephant stamps or black crosses and a mark out of ten - this is a fiction usually translated by media outlets into a consumer guide and by critics into an excuse for ignorance. And I know, first hand, how ignorant journalists can be. Personally, I'm all for theatre artists arguing back, even to me; most don't in fact because they fear being seen as whining complainers.
A true sense of commitment to theatre in an abstract sense sharpens the critical faculties. Of course critique should always be honest, or it's worthless: and it should also be informed. I don't always agree with things I consider fine criticism; that isn't the point. The point is the quality of response and expression, its ability to spark further thinking. It's probably worth remembering that the best critics, without exception, from Kenneth Tynan to Jann Kott, have always been advocates.
- Now, I wish to hone in on Allison's deeper point about general advocacy as a way to introduce what I consider to be a shameful little episode here in DC. Trey Graham of the Washington City Paper maintains the blog Theaterboy, which features the story of a fourth-string critic for The Washington Post: Tricia Oszlewski. Tricia writes for both publications; movie reviews for City Paper and theatre reviews for the Post. To judge by a recent mini-bio she wrote on her own personal blog MovieBabe, she would rather be writing for movies than theatre. She calls the DC theatre scene "pretentious" and makes a plea for deliverance from her blog audience so she can go back to reviewing just film. Trey judiciously outlines the whole story here -- followed by a growing list of comments from every corner of the DC theatre scene.
To me, it sounds like everyone's getting their bitter little wish -- but no one's wiser or happier for it. It's just sad that it came down to a throwaway joke on a personal blog when the real problem was the lack of "a true sense of commitment to theatre in the abstract." It doesn't take an accidental slip on a personal blog to discover this, nor should we go on our own hunches. Tricia's been with the Post for three years and apparently no one ever asked her if she enjoyed the work she was doing, nor did she have the time, resources, or inclination to expand her understanding of the craft or the circuit.
So now Tricia doesn't have to review pretentious theatre anymore and hopefully she'll continue to watch the companies she enjoyed. Smaller companies won't have to endure her reviews anymore, if that's really what upsets them. And until the Post introduces someone to fill her place, we'll get to chew on the mechanics of big-paper distribution and criticism ... all the while ignoring one scrumptious irony: the blog world, which provided evidence for Tricia's dismissal, also lets us parse our indignation while rendering that indignation moot.
More on this later -- I just wanted to offer everyone a chance to compare notes with different examples. If the T.O. story has DC bloggers reaching for some deeper articulation of the critic's place in the community -- check out Allison's blogs and her comments on Scott's recent post. If Scott, Allison, and Don are looking for another case-study in the critic-artist relationship, I'd invite you to weigh in on our most recent tiff.