The Kindest Critic

If you do theatre, you face critics.

How do you feel about that? How do you feel about how you feel about that?

If you do one play, you soar or you crash. A good review and you are Icarus unbounded – 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 experience a Carl Sandberg-like dialogue with yourself about the desirability and viability of ending it all. With any luck at all, you get up, face all the people in your life that didn’t even know you were in a play or that the paper actually reviewed plays, and reached the same conclusion about suicide that Sandburg did; it’s 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, the reviewer might be right. So what? Frankly, after opening night, their correct opinion doesn’t help you much. You and your cast mates are pretty well committed to the path chosen by opening night.

Please don’t misunderstand.

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. And if you prompt them, after a few drinks, reviews from 30 years ago may come tumbling out. But 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 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.

Ouch.

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 I will always be grateful for it.

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