Well, if you've read the comments section for Isaac's post about the Huntington's Michael Maso's request to have his audience rebut critic Louise Kennedy's review of Pirates!, then I guess I'm in deep trouble. I reviewed Brian Dykstra's A Play on Words a few weeks ago, coming up as one of the few outliers on Critic-O-Meter (I'd argue that Jenny Sandman's review is a bit lower than B+, but who gives a hang?). And, unlike Louise Kennedy--I didn't acknowledge that the audience "hooted and hollered." (Including my father, and he tends not to like comedy.) Instead, I argued for what I felt strongly in my gut--that the show was filled with cheap, unearned laughs, untethered to character or plot. From what I've read in the comments to Kennedy's review, that would mean that--although I didn't laugh--I must have some ulterior motive.
In fact, an anonymous responder over at Critic-O-Meter said as much about my review:
It didn't read like a review to me just an angry person venting for some reason. When I was at the play it seemed like everyone was having a great time laughing and laughing. It was so much fun being in the theatre that night that it is hard to imagine someone feeling so hostile about it. I can understand some people liking something and others not. That's cool.And you know what, I appreciate his/her honesty (I said as much there, too). When you really like something, it's hard to understand someone not liking it. It can make you imagine anger or hostility--or bring it out in your own responses, which is what I suspect happened to the readers egged on by Maso to respond. For
To have a critic form an opinion of a show while attending without the general public is one thing. But, to attend it with them and come away with total disregard for the audience's positive response to talent and performance brings to mind two words...'brain dead'.First off, I'm not exactly sure when exactly it is that this reader things a critic attends a show "without the general public." But nitpicking aside--and back to the main point, and title of this article--a critic should ignore the audience. If a critic's job is only to reflect the audience's opinion, then there is no point for criticism. In fact, there's no need for that critic to get any experience, because they can simply stand outside the theater, with their ear to the ground, and collect pull-quotes of their own--from the audience. Let's not pretend that criticism is anything other than what it has always and should always be: an opinion. Hopefully that voice is educated, hopefully it's not lazy, hopefully it's not asleep at the wheel. But let me correct this anonymous commenter: to attend a show, have a gut response, and then to totally disregard that in favor of the audience's response . . . that would be brain death.
The audience has an easy go of it: they get to see the show and either enjoy it, or not, and can then decide whether or not they want to continue thinking about it. The critic has to see the show, be receptive to having an honest response, and then actually figure out (often with a word count) how to explain why they felt that way. That, by the way, is not an ulterior motive. That's transparency (which, coincidentally, is something that David Cote is talking about w/r/t Terry Teachout). I didn't like A Play on Words for a specific reason: I found it to be fast-food theater--perhaps occasionally tasty in the short run, but long-term, unhealthy to the theater because it lowers the standards of playwrighting. So I got Michael Pollan on it, and tried to explain why it was a bad play. That's my job. Your job--especially if you don't agree--should be to try to convince me, with the same transparency, why it's good.
And that's why I need to jump back to one final thing Anonymous said (my Anonymous, the one who replied to A Play on Words). He said, "I just didn't realize that he was actually a reviewer," as if the value of my review was somehow weighted by whether or not I was an "official" reviewer or simply an "unofficial" blogger. As if the words themselves somehow magicked themselves to mean something different, depending on the circumstance. Folks, there is no difference. Any one of those people who replied to Kennedy's review could've been a critic. The only difference is that they didn't try to validate their opinion, or shore up their stance. They offered oceanic dissent--which is to say, the wave of their opinion rolled in and then, unanchored to anything real, washed back out again.
Those of you who have read this far--you know that I'm aching for conversation, that I'm open to dialogue, about each and every single one of the shows that I've reviewed. At pretty much any time. I have strong opinions because I have strong feelings about these shows, and I'll continue to write and fight for those opinions (and for those shows). Let's agree to disagree. Just let your disagreements be honest.