Friday, June 3, 2011

A Prodigal Return

Comprehensive exams and term papers now behind me, I am once again free to... write more about theater. But IN a BLOG!

For three weeks, as I was desperately trying to stretch a few decent thoughts into reams of double-spaced pages, I saw zero shows. The hiatus was restorative, and not just for my grades: It helped me remember that every show is a unique event, the product of hours of underpaid labor on the part of dedicated, creative minds -- not just a task on my personal to-do list.

My re-entry — with Care of Trees, a Shotgun Players production — was disappointing, but it did prompt an interesting question: I was concerned that the audience seemed to have a very different response to the show than I did (if the intensity of their applause is a reliable gauge). Should a critic ever take such discrepancy into account in her writing?

(Liz Sklar and Patrick Russell. Photo by Pak Han.)

My instinctual response is no. A review is inherently the opinion of one individual; no critic I know is so deluded as to think himself a voice of the masses.

Instead, perhaps a critic should seize such an occasion to (hooray! an excuse to mention my favorite talking point) deeply examine her reaction: "What, exactly, drives my contrary reaction? And can I empathize with others' seemingly opposite thoughts?"

In my case with Care of Trees, I think an age difference might explain part of the discrepancy -- I am often one of, if not the, youngest person seeing a show -- but perhaps what made Care of Trees different is that its only two characters are also young people, contemporary young people, perhaps making me more qualified to evaluate how realistic they are. Another explanation might be that I had previously seen both actors in other productions and admired their work, so maybe I had higher expectations and deeper disappointment when the writing didn't give them much of a chance to shine.

But I’m more optimistic about upcoming reviews of ACT’s Tales of the City and Berkeley Rep’s Let Me Down Easy.

In the meantime, I thought I’d close on a lighter note, with of my favorite gems from this semester's research. The following is from A General History of the Pyrates, written by Captain Charles Johnson in 1724, about Mary Read and Anne Bonny, the first known English female pirates (Read had disguised herself as a man to get the job, while Bonny was the mistress of the captain):

“[Mary Read’s] sex was not so much as suspected by any person on board, till Anne Bonny, who was not altogether so reserved in the point of chastity, took a particular liking to her; in short, Anne Bonny took her for a handsome young fellow, and for some reason best known to herself, first discovered her sex to Mary Read. Mary Read knowing what she would be at, and being very sensible for her own incapacity that way, was forced to come to a right understanding with her, and so to the great disappointment of Anne Bonny, she let her know she was a woman also.”

(Supposedly, "Mary Read revealing her true identity," though the source for this photo does not look credible, to say the least. Also, aren't those boots, like, totally in right now?)

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