Saturday, July 7, 2012

Hedwig, at the Boxcar

(The many Hedwigs of the Boxcar's Hedwig.)

Every time a critic walks into a show, he or she must want it to be good and believe that it has the potential to be good. This quality is so basic to criticism that it's easy to take for granted: Why would you want to be a theater critic if you dreaded seeing shows?

While hopefully all critics will tell you that they love the art form, I'm sure that most of them would also say they don't always walk into every single show exuding good will. I know I've occasionally caught myself harboring spite, even if it's almost unconscious: "Oh, I know this artist's work. He's not going to be any good. Bwahaha!"

Of course these thoughts are silly, but for all but the most angelic critics (and how many of those are there?), negativity inevitably crops up. The trick is to recognize it for what it is and talk yourself out of it: After all, there's no reward to spite and cynicism, aside from the possibility of being right and feeling superior. And for that to happen, you have to see a bad show. Is it really worth it? On the other hand, being open-minded and ready to absorb each show as a new work of art offers the possibility of seeing a good show, and also much more: It rewards your capacities to be surprised and to suspend your disbelief. It endows your criticism with integrity. And it humbles you.

I was delighted to write a laudatory review of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Boxcar for similar reasons. When I first started reviewing, the Boxcar was among my worst victims, and I don't use that word lightly. I was much harsher then, so much so that my erstwhile editor actually wouldn't print one of my Boxcar reviews. 

After that, I took a break from covering the company for a while and only started seeing Boxcar shows in earnest again this year. Two of them, A Lie of the Mind and now Hedwig, have been among my recent favorites. I wouldn't say I was surprised by my reaction because I think I took enough of a reprieve that I was able to approach the productions with fresh eyes.

This is not to say that I've vanquished my petty thoughts. On the contrary, my small-mindedness remains a worthy foe. But it's nice to know that, with time and perspective, the critical instinct can win out.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch continues through July 8; info here.

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