Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Odyssey on Angel Island, by the We Players, and Demanding Bellies

(The We Players' production, with Ross Travis, Nathaniel Justiniano and Julie Douglas, had some of the world's best scene design. Photo by Tracy Martin.)

It's a truism of criticism that you should never take a single unenthusiastic review too seriously because you never know how the critic feels when she walks into the theater. Maybe she just got bad news. Maybe she's having a crappy day. Even worse, maybe her last meal didn't agree with her!

The latter accounts for part of my review of the We Players' The Odyssey on Angel Island -- but not in the way that you think. Meals are a part of the all-day site-specific theater adventure. Or, at least they should be. For a couple of hours during our trek around the island, I found myself thinking, "Surely they're about to let us sit down and eat. They couldn't go much longer without giving us a few minutes' break." And then, when that longed-for lunch bell never rang, light-headed and already spitefully planning to note my hunger in my review (which I did), I realized I had no choice but to scarf down my sandwich while I scampered along, trying to keep up with the actors and make notes all at the same time. 

In one sense, my resentment is terrifically silly. Come on, you well-fed Californian! Do you really need to be pampered as if you were in a tourist group? WOULD ODYSSEUS HAVE TAKEN A LUNCH BREAK? Get in the spirit of the adventure a little! And even if you feel a little hot and bothered for being denied your preferred digestive conditions, do you really need to convey that feeling in a theater review? Get over it! Be a professional! Talk about the acting, the directing, and the costuming -- not your tummy's rumbling and roaring!

But in another sense, I don't think I'm entirely off-base. With any other show, if the logistics, the timing and organization of the performance event, went awry, I'd have no problem saying so in my review: "Scene change x went on so long that the spirit of the show dissolved," or, "Lighting cue y was so poorly timed that it only served to call attention to itself and take me out of the moment." If it's a meal, or lack thereof, that distracts me from the show, is saying so really so different from making similar observations about more "traditional" theatrical elements? What's more, I'm a relatively young and theoretically healthy theatergoer, so I was definitely not the only one who felt this way: Both my companions were clearly in the mood to eat, and some of the other audience members even made remarks to the performers. If hunger is a significant part of my and others' experiences, then surely the event could have been planned slightly differently, and it's a critic's job to call that out.

I did talk about other stuff in my article -- such as, you know, theater. And with each scene I didn't like, I of course asked myself, "Am I feeling this way solely because I'm hungry and distracted, or should the artistry of this moment really be refined?" In other words, there was definitely a solid stab at not letting my stomach write the entire thing. My brain and heart were in there, too! I like to think that what resulted was a review mostly defined by analysis but with a little more acknowledgment of my baser appetites than I would usually allow.

The Odyssey on Angel Island continues through July 1; info here.

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