I haven't had a chance to crack open my copy of the American Theatre Reader yet (mayhap I'll blog about it, an essay a day, in July), but I'm glad their new employee, Rob Weinert-Kendt was motivated by a recent comment about the book to crack out this oldie-but-a-goodie about criticism from Fintan O'Toole.
He talks about a few paragraphs on his site, and posts the whole thing here.
I'd like, especially in response to my earlier posts on this, excerpt a different piece:
Critics are for... refusing to take things on their own terms. They are for testing the claims that artists make for their work and that their press agents make on their behalf. They are, above all, for making connections--not just the obvious connection between artist and audience, but also the more angular, more arguable connections between art and society.This is actually one step further than I'd gone in my response to the wise Chris Caggiano, but it's a logical one. After all, if we have to accept that an artist's own terms are correct, then we really can't fault *any* of the choices s/he makes, because they can always be argued back to the author's purpose, a defense mechanism I myself am guilty of:
"You didn't get it? Oh. That's OK. I didn't want you to get it."
Where possible, I'm still going to praise the things that do work--for instance, actors from the anonymous mash-up of Bigger Than i, or some of the clever ways in which the "Interweb" has been musically arranged in Waterwell's latest play, #9 (which opens tonight). But I can't lie. If the show doesn't work for me, I have to acknowledge that, and do my best to figure out why. Is it, for instance, the over-reliance on multimedia that is killing young companies? (Projecting stuff onto a screen does not magically make your show better. And if you don't connect it to the center of your play, it's not really multimedia. It's just a play that's interrupted by video.) Or is it that terms like "I just wanted to entertain people" or "I really wanted to do something in the style of..." drive me absolutely crazy, because they show an utter lack of "self" in the theater, the one thing you sort of absolutely need?
Hopefully, if you're a regular reader of this site, you read each review as steps in a personal journey to find an ideal form of theater, or a flawless company. And regular readers will benefit most, in the long run, because they'll hopefully be taking that journey along with me, learning where their tastes match mine and where (and hopefully why) they diverge. Theater changes and develops because artists eventually refuse to operate under the limitations of the past. Why should a critic do anything less?