The Kindest Critic

If you do theatre, you will face critics.

How do you feel about that?

If you do one play and one play only in your life, you either soar or you crash. A good review, and you are Icarus unbound – and we know how that turned out. A bad review (or even a lukewarm notice), and you wonder how you’ll ever be able to face any living being on the morrow, you are outraged by the vindictive cruelty of the reviewer (who you probably don’t even know), and you conduct a Carl Sandberg-ish dialogue with yourself about the desirability and logistics of ending it all. Eventually, you get up, you face all the people in your life (who didn’t even know you were in a play or that the paper actually reviewed plays), and you reach the same conclusion about suicide that Sandburg did; it’s overrated and way more trouble than it’s worth.

But if you do a lot of theatre, you have to reach some accommodation between yourself and published criticism. Who can live with roller-coasters of life-and-death repeated after every opening night?

Not this cowboy.

I think I was still in my teens when it occurred to me the foolishness of allowing one person’s opinion on one night validate or invalidate 6-10 weeks of my life. Hell, they might have had a tough day or a bad meal…you don’t know. Or, perish the thought, the reviewer might be right.

So what?

Frankly, after opening night, their correct or incorrect opinion doesn’t affect you much. You and your cast mates are pretty well committed to your chosen path by opening night. The show generally goes on.

Please understand.

A good review is still a boost and a bad review still stings, but the reviews don’t provide either a raison d’être or a raison not to d’être.

It’s interesting to me that most of the actors I know rarely quote their own reviews. Oh, they remember them…word for word. They squirrel them away in needy corners of their psyche and nurture them to cyclopean proportions (could that be the derivation of the phrase; “big head”? And if you prompt these outwardly modest thespians, after a few drinks, reviews from 30 years past may come tumbling out to the glee or utter boredom of others in the room. That’s a genetic flaw in the species and can surely be forgiven as it harms no one.

Yes, the reviews are remembered, especially the bad ones.

I have been reviewed favorably and unfavorably, cleverly, pointedly, accurately and inaccurately. Stephen Sondheim seems apt to quote at this moment; “I’m still here.”

I think the kindest bad published review I ever received was no review at all.

I was playing the key character in a drama. Six weeks of fine, engrossing rehearsal had us poised for a successful opening night, and it was. The review came out and it was enthusiastic about the production.

It didn’t mention that I was in the show at all.


I was bewildered…and then angry…………and then grateful.

Obviously the critic was unimpressed by my performance…no, make that bothered and possibly offended by my performance.

The critic could have put that in writing for the world of local newspaper readers to see.

But the critic didn’t.

The silence hurt.

I disagreed with the negative implication of the silence, but perhaps I should be grateful for it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s