(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.