Sunday, February 18, 2007

Critics and Theatre

Critics and artists are binary star systems, circling in tight orbit, one the other. In some creative fields a gravitational symmetry is struck, but it is in the theatre where the greatest unbalance and distance between the circling partners occurs. Reviewers are White Dwarfs using their exigence to diminish the Gas Giants of theatre people, seeking to occasionally shine more brightly than the artists they're covering. American Theatre does not suffer a lack of gifted artists or a lessened level of thoughtfulness or proceed with immature silliness. The Theatre is haunted by illiterate, apathetic, and unsupported criticism. To quote Robert Brustein,
I am not talking about boosterism or cheerleading; I am speaking of the kind of intelligent support that F. R. Leavis once gave to D. H. Lawrence, Edmund Wilson gave to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and George Jean Nathan gave to Eugene O’Neill, the intelligent mentoring that helped these writers to learn and to grow. What we have instead today is something I have come to call Himalaya criticism, after Danny Kaye’s famous rejoinder, when he was asked how he liked the Himalayas: "Loved him, hated her." In other words, thumbs up, thumbs down. Judgments based on ignorance, arrogance, and relentless opinionating.
We return then to the Colosseum where the Emperor’s mood, whim, or agenda on any given time and day determines worth. The focus is no longer on the performer, but rather on the celebrity nastiness, ego and attentional needs of the destroying angel – the White Dwarf – of the Reviewer. It becomes all about them and not about the art.


Sean said...

Spot on. They should be held to higher standards, but that requires the Higher Ups to recognize the difference. And someday we'll discuss the difference between a theatre reviewer and a theatre critic.

Anonymous said...

While it's true that criticism is a form dependent on the creative work of others, that doesn't necessarily make it a malign influence.

Your dismissive comments about critics, a collection of vague generalizations dressed up with a provocative metaphor ("gas giants" and "white dwarfs" for god's sake), is itself poor-quality criticism, a weary repetition of the claim that somehow if we'd just get rid of those darn critics, the artists would shine brightly. It's naive and frankly ridiculous.