Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reckless Rascality 5/19/09

No amount of dullness can safeguard a work against the determination of critics to find it fascinating.

Harold Rosenberg


Welcome, your table is ready.
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In Shakespeare's play "Twelfth Night" is the line "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage." I was curious to find the meaning behind the line. In Elizabethan England, when a felon was condemned to be hanged they would drive him through town in an open cart. The spinsters and widows came out to watch and if one of them wanted to she could claim him. So instead of being executed he had to become the husband of the one who claimed him, for good or ill (usually ill). But sometimes, considering the hag who was doing the claiming, hanging would be a preferred choice, Hence a good hanging could prevent a bad marriage.

There are probably almost as many jokes about critics as there are about lawyers. The difference is that critic-humor is usually true. Show business is full of funny stories about things critics have written. I have some of my own which I will save for another day.

While it is true that a critic with a good eye, a good ear and a good sense of theatre can put a bad play out of business and keep it from climbing up onto the world's stages like poison ivy, it is also true that the same sickle has been used on a worthy piece of theatre, chopping it to death with irresponsible reviews. But, as the Bible says, there is hope of a tree that if it is chopped down in my blossom again and live.

One of the masterpieces of 20th Century play writing is Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot." When it was performed in New York the critics panned it because it didn't make any sense to them. It was also performed at San Quentin Prison and the inmates there had no trouble understanding and appreciating it. Someone suggested that maybe the critics should spend some time in prison. I don't know but that might not be a bad idea on several levels.

Then there was Beethoven. The critics found his music noisy and chaotic and rarely gave him a good review. Beethoven.

As the composer Sibelius said, No one ever constructed a statue to a critic. My advice to any critic is to show up, pay attention, then go home, report what you saw and keep your opinions to yourself. Or better yet, don't show up at all. Let us write and publish our own reviews, as Richard Wagner did for one of his early operas,

But what is even worse, in some ways, is when the critics will see a hunk of junk that should never have been produced, has no theatrical merit, no possible shelf life, a "turkey" as we refer to it in show business and then go and write a fabulous review, praising it to the sky and thus letting it loose on an unsuspecting and unprepared public. The widow has claimed the felon who should have been hung. I think all actors have experienced being in a superficial, badly written and maladjusted piece of trash that some critic has raved over. It makes one shake one's stunned head in disbelief. There is a perfect example of that running the circuits of regional and college theatres, taking up time and space, right now. It shall remain nameless,

Don't read the review then go see the show. Reverse the process and you'll be astounded. My habit as an entertainer was if I got a good review, earned or not, I copied it and mailed it out. If I got a bad one I threw it in the trash can and got on with life.

The Vagabond
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Have a happy surprise today.
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4 comments:

Maria said...

I think your logic is very sound! Criticsm..hmm...Dale Carnegie said..don't criticize...good advice in my opinion....Ralph Smedley tells us not to whitewash...there is a compromise I guess. I think just reporting what you saw and felt and letting others decide is the best approach. There's no accounting for taste...now writing one's own reviews seems a bit much but hey, if it works to get the ball rolling on a positive foot that might not be so bad after all! I've been absent for awhile but am back now...enjoyed your entry, DB!

Anne said...

I think the same could be said for reporters on the evening needs. Just report and don't offer opinions. People are intelligent to make their own minds up. I remember decades ago on a New Years Eve; going to see a movie that Warren Beatty was involved in. It was called Reds and it was 4hrs. long. It got great reviews but I have never forgiven myself for wasting 4 hrs of my precious time. By the way, have you ever heard of Actors Theater in Lousivlle, KY. John Jorry was the head of it. In the spring they have a new play series. Some of the most exciting works have come from there. They ask the audience to rate the plays they see. It's a most wonderful experience. So many have gone on to Broadway. Anne

Beth said...

While I rarely go to plays, I adapt the same philosophy for movies. I tend to know what I like, and don't pay much attention to reviews. I have very weird tastes, and love all kind of horror movies and B-movies, which are sometimes fun just in their badness. Everyone should just watch what they enjoy. After all, the critic isn't paying for your ticket, are they? :) Hugs, Beth

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Death or a hag-wife. Such a tough choice. Glad I only had to worry about the wife part :o)