I have been giving a lot of thought this week to the subject of theatre criticism. This was sparked by Denver Post critic John Moore's most recent column titled "Death of Criticism? Careful What You Wish For."
Certainly, it is true that with the impending fall of the newspaper as a medium, the future of criticism in the theatre seems unclear. The blogosphere seems a natural new home, but who knows?
As I ponder the future of criticism, I find myself also looking at the current world of theatre criticism -- specifically the local world, here in the Denver area.
I find much of it dubious at best.
This is not to say that there isn't good criticism in Denver. There is. I find John Moore's reviews to be thoughtful, well-researched, seemingly free of agenda or unfair bias, and not given to grandstanding in a "look-at-what-a-prolific-writer-I-am" sort of way. This cannot be said as often of his counterparts at the other major papers. Of all of the elements that go into a production, John may spend a little more time focused on the script than I like, but I think that's forgivable. I suppose if I were a theatre critic (and, for the record, I am not), I would probably spend more time on the direction. To each his own.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of "reviewers" in town who do little to distinguish themselves as such.
I am tired of looking at reviews that read like book reports. I don't need a play-by-play, thank you. If you start more than one paragraph with the word "then," you're telling us more than we need to know. Also, it is only in a very rare circumstance (I can't think of one, but I won't rule it out) that you should give away the ending of the play or any plot twists that occur more than an hour into the show. Ridiculous as this may seem, I see it happen an awful lot.
Worse, though, than the "my visit to the theatre" essayists are the self-proclaimed critics who do little more than slobber over every production they "review" on their blogs in hope of being linked or (oh-boy-oh-boy!) copied and pasted into as many MySpace and Facebook pages as possible. These sycophantic cries for attention are the opposite of criticism, and do nothing (yes I said nothing) for the theatre community either in part or as a whole.
And before you say, "But Mr. Bad Wolf, sir . . .", yes, more than a few of my blog entries have been copied and pasted around the web. However, I do not claim to be a theatre critic. I have been approached a few times recently to become one, but I'm not interested. I do not write reviews. (Frankly, I think I'd be too mean.) If I see a good show that I think might have fallen under the radar, I recommend it and give a few additional reasons for the recommendation. I have no rating system. There are no Big Bad Wolf Awards. (Something else I keep getting approached about, oddly.) If I wrote about a show, I liked it. I am an appreciator, not a critic.
Those who do truly aspire to theatre criticism, though, I applaud you. It is a noble profession and, when done with thoughtfulness and integrity, it lifts the art form to new heights. The theatre improves through examination and comparison, particularly when that examination comes without an alternative agenda.
I leave you with a quote from Kenneth Tynan:
"A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening."