The comments continue to roll in, here and elsewhere, regarding the etiquette of critiquing and of critiquing critics. I'm most in line with Helen Shaw, of TONY, but I'm also struck dumb by an angry comment at Parabasis:
You know what critics? Your job is not to tell your readers if it's your thing and judge it based on your own feelings. Shocking I know. You are to approach a work on its own terms. If the writers' goal was to write a sitcom-level homage to G&S with songs chock full o' family fun, AND on those terms, you succeed and people in Boston are actually enjoying it (people in Boston showing joy?!? who knew that was possible!) then your review should reflect that.Now, I admit that there's a nugget of truth there, and I wrote about this subject back in 2007, when I was trying to define the rules of criticism (for myself). John Updike, speaking for book reviews, said:
Try to understand what the author wishes to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt . . . if the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?And I guess that's where the angry reader at Parabasis is coming from. However, that's taking a rather shallow reading of the situation, and of the goal of a critic. If I set out to write a play that offends the audience, and I successfully offend the audience, should I be praised? Perhaps, if you handle it like Peter Handke, and do something more than the sum of your intentions. But if I achieve that goal by writing the word "Fuck" for ten pages, and then scream and spit at audience members in "performance" of this play, should I still be lauded? (The "perhaps" here is another story, for masochists only.) No matter what you do, the critic must absolutely bring their own sensibilities to the forefront--to demand a "better" theater.
In fairness--and here's your compromise--the critic should be talented enough a writer to describe what the play was like (that is, what the author intended) and to explain why they didn't like it. Not to dismiss it, but to engage with it, to ask the big questions that, for better or worse, the play may have failed to ask. Note: this means that I'm still against bias. But let's clarify what bias is. Bias is the inability to explain why you don't like something, mainly because you can't give it a chance. If that's the case--i.e., you hate G&S--then you probably shouldn't volunteer or assign yourself to critique the show.
Again, Kennedy showed no bias, and she her review of the show covered the bases by describing what happened in it. And that's good for the theater--after all, if I describe a show as being a literal assault of "fuck" for ten minutes, that may actually convince someone to see it. They trust their own tastes more than mine, so as long as they can still sample the work--even if it's colored by my own experience--then it's a job well done. After all, I'm not trying to convince people not to go to the theater, even with a bad review. (Well, okay, maybe once or twice.) I'm just trying to make sure people know what they're getting in to. And you know what? That's a place I don't mind being in.