(Freakin-A! Photo by Kevin Berne.)
I don't think I said enough in my review of Troublemaker, or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright, at Berkeley Rep, about how much I appreciated the way this show deals with its main character's transformation. Playwright Dan LeFranc and director Lila Neugebauer shortchange nothing. A bildungsroman about problem child Bradley (Gabriel King), the play never "establishes" that Bradley is a troubled kid. It lets him stew in his trouble; it lets him get worse before he gets better, so much worse that I wondered whether he could get better. And when he does start to clear up his prideful adolescent myopia, the play does 't subject us to a bunch of well-made-play bullshit that ties up every little loose end. It takes a lovely, unexpected turn into the surreal that quickly gets us to the good stuff: a halting but by no means perfect new start.
I'm concerned that my review conveys my enthusiasm by giving too much away.
The other day, I read Alessandra Stanley's NYT review of season 2 of Girls. Later, when I watched the first episode of the new season, I was dismayed to find that Stanley had given away all the episode's best jokes. I still enjoyed the episode, of course, but at each already revealed punch line, I found myself unfavorably comparing the actor's delivery with the way I'd imagined the line and then disappointed and frustrated that I hadn't experienced the moments as they were meant to be experienced.
This made me think about spoilers in my own reviews. I've typically thought that avoiding spoilers meant not giving away the "who" in the whodunit, or sharing a show's main reveal or surprise, or in general allowing my plot summary to cover the later scenes of a play. But I wonder now if "spoilers" can apply to many other and smaller aspects of a show. Should I not have mentioned the neon glove? I ruled in favor of it because the press photo (see above) shared it. But I didn't mention (spoiler alert!) the goons' matching outfits, even though that choice could be gleaned from photos as well, because I thought it was just too delightful a surprise, and I'd already written a ton (well, for me) about the costumes.
It's hard to discern what a "spoiler" is because giving away any part of a show could "spoil" that aspect of it. Is there always a huge difference between a spoiler and an evocative detail? I don't want to inspire delight in my reader by robbing those delights directly from a show; at the same time, it's my task as a critic to make my reader feel what I feel. So where's the line? I guess I'll stick with the above rule of thumb but also use a kind of strict scrutiny for jokes or moments of theater magic.
Or instead I could just write better.
Troublemaker continues through Feb. 3 at Berkeley Rep; info here.