My attention is torn between watching Al Pacino on Netflix doing Richard III in the brilliant movie, “Looking for Richard” and wanting to comment on the link, which has been making its way around Facebook for awhile. The old story; to create or be entertained? Well, let’s see if I can entertain you, my loyal readers, for awhile (but after reading this, you should immediately open your Netflix and watch this movie).
Should Community Theatre be reviewed “honestly?” The key word is honestly. Honestly. Well, the alternative would be dishonestly. That doesn’t sound like a good idea. Imagine reading a review that begins like this: “I orgasmed three times while watching this play.” Or, “Last night, the actor playing Richard III was suddenly swept into hell midway through the second act when the stage opened up and Beelzebub grabbed him by the Adam’s apple and dragged him into blue flames which consumed him up to his thighs before he disappeared, to wild applause from the aggrieved and vengeful crowd.”
I take it back, dishonest reviews sound like much more fun.
But, drat the luck, I have presented myself, honestly or dishonestly, as someone who has values. (It’s on the web, so it has to be true.) So, honesty makes a comeback, and now must be defined.
I just finished directing a play, Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them. I could review the play, which is obviously silly since I’m completely prejudiced, but nevertheless my review would be honest. Prejudiced, but honest. (I won’t bore you, but honestly I liked the play. I think you should have seen it. It was well directed. I loved the actors, each and every one of them. I could go on.)
What good would honesty be in that circumstance?
And yet . . . and yet that’s all we have. Honesty is the best any of us can achieve, because objectivity is an illusion. Am I objective? No. Is anyone? No. Any reviewer will simply be writing out of his or her own subjectivity. Me, you, Jim Watts, Roger Ebert, or the guy who goes off on a rant on Facebook, we’re all just regurgitating our subjectivity. Well, Ebert’s dead, so maybe he’s more objective than most of us. Hard to say at this point. I’ll ask him next time I see him.
[Just as an aside, because it’s not the point of the article: If reviewers aren’t objective, what does he or she bring to the table that’s any different from my 5 year old grandson, who’s always honest about the plays he sees because he wouldn’t know how to be anything else? Answer—knowledge and taste. Some people know more about the art form than others. And some people have better, more mature or cultivated tastes. And this is good, while at the same time just another example of their subjectivity.]
So, now that I’ve subverted the whole idea of an “honest” review, what the hell am I trying to say here? Do I basically agree or disagree with the article? Okay, no more digressions. I disagree with the article, because I disagree with his definition of honesty. The writer seems to think it’s honest to compare every production to a professional, New York level production. How is this honest? No, seriously, how is this anything but bullshit, excuse my Okieism. (Where the freak did we get "Excuse my French"? I'm going out on a limb here and guess that you know a lot more Okie curse words than French ones.)
Let’s forget about the production of Death of a Salesman in Leakey, Texas, population 183 (you should’ve been there). Let’s talk Tulsa, OK. In fact, let’s talk August: Osage County. I saw the touring production a few years back, with Estelle Parsons in the lead. Mother of God, that was an amazing show. Perhaps the best piece of straight theatre I’ve ever seen. Compared to that, Theatre Pops version last year was potato soup. And yet . . . (God, I love those two words). And yet Liz and Craig’s opening scene was as thrilling and delicious as anything I’ve ever seen onstage, Angela Adams gave such a beautifully nuanced performance that it shamed the TATE’s for not having acting awards, the set was a freaking Tulsa miracle, our community was uplifted through the participation of actors from most of our local companies, and, oh yeah, it was about 1000% better than that crappy movie they with Julia Roberts. A great evening of theatre, deserving of a TATE award, embodying every virtue that theatre can embody. And yet . . . compared to Estelle Parsons . . . potato soup. Okay, now write the review, 500 words—go! Tell us how one of the best shows in Tulsa last year didn’t measure up. Be honest.
There are different things we can compare a show to. For example, if I’d rather be home watching TV than watching the play, well, that’s bad. Watching Hamlet while sitting on those torture devices in the Doenges has to compete against me lying on my comfy couch with a beer watching an episode of Breaking Bad. That’s a valid comparison. And a tough one to live up to. Because Hamlet doesn’t just have to be better, it has to be $30 better, if that’s the price of a ticket.
So it’s not like my standards are low. It’s just that they’re not always “Let’s compare this production of Sweeny Todd with the original Broadway cast.” I ask different questions. Am I impressed with the creative approach, is it a generous performance, does it acknowledge that performance always takes place within a community, is it honest? These are the questions I’m most interested in. And these are the same qualities we can look for in a review—honesty, yes, but also generosity, community, and creativity. I submit that these are the qualities that draw us to live theatre. They are related to professionalism, but not identical to it. Professionalism embodies these things, but ‘amateur’ productions can embody these qualities as well. A little like how punk music was a breath of fresh air compared to the polished, overly ‘professional’ rock music of the day, community theatre can sometimes touch deeper chords than a touring Broadway show does. Both can be valid. Reviews can, and should, reflect that.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre