(There's nothing like a dangling naked bulb. Éva Magyar in the Kneehigh Theatre
production. Photo by Steve Tanner.)
My review of The Wild Bride, a magical Kneehigh Theatre production at Berkeley Rep, entered the fray only this morning—a little late to be considered "news."
By virtue of writing for a weekly, as opposed to a daily or a site, I'm used to the luxury of reflection time, up to a week's worth, and in turn never writing those exciting first reviews. But this time, my article appeared almost a whole month after other critics'. What a slowpoke!
Reading their glowing reviews was what made me want to see the production, but it was a little difficult to justify the free tickets I was requesting. I felt like an opportunist. The production had already been extended by three weeks (which is almost as successful as you can get in the Bay Area), and the night I wanted to attend was practically sold-out. Did the show really "need" another review? Economically, was it smart for Berkeley Rep to give me two free seats when somebody else would readily have bought them? And if all the other reviews were so glowing, would mine really contribute anything new and valuable?
My justification for my seats is not entirely selfish. If a show is successful enough to be important to the entire theater community, as this one might well be, a professional critic ought to see it, if only to be able to use it as a reference point. Also, theaters give out free tickets all the time—at least, much more than pre-critic Lily imagined they could afford to. I don't know exactly what the balance sheet looks like, but it's quite possible that my press seats weren't too high a marginal cost for Berkeley Rep.
On the other hand, I've also heard that a review that appears after the others—mid-way through the run, but still published significantly before the show closes—can be helpful. Essentially, it reminds potential audiences that the show exists, perhaps providing a small spike in ticket sales.
For me, of course, the more important function of later reviews is the sense of perspective they bring. I imagine it's rewarding to provide the first critical opinion anyone reads. But it's also fulfilling to track your opinion of a show as it evolves from a walking-out-of-the-theater kneejerk reaction to a balanced, thoughtful and contextualized piece of criticism.
My article did lodge a small concern, which was important to me because it was part of my honest reaction. But in the end, mostly it just emphasized slightly different aspects of the show than other writers did—precisely what a review usually does.
The Wild Bride continues through Jan. 22. Info here.