Ed. note: A longer version of this piece, with links and everything, originally ran on the SLO Little Theatre’s blog (slolittletheatre.blogspot.com) on April 18. It’s reprinted here by permission.
Reviews are important. From live theater to classical music, gallery openings, books, and film, the art of criticism has played an important role in the ongoing dialogue about great, and not so great, art for centuries.
So, what happens when something you’ve really enjoyed gets panned? That happened to my husband and me with Ishtar. Yes, Ishtar. That remarkable 1980s film written by Elaine May and starring Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman. Ishtar the movie was universally panned by absolutely everyone. But we LOVED it. We laughed till our sides hurt and went out of the theater humming the tune to “If you admit that you play the accordion, no one will hire you in a rock ’n’ roll band.” I smile just thinking about it. We knew nothing about the film going in, and it wasn’t until later that we learned we should have hated it. It’s actually one of our favorite stories to tell. And now, believe it or not, a few folks are coming around to OUR way of thinking!
There’s no denying the pain of a bad review for the artists involved. Negative reviews can hurt. They can hurt at the box office, they can hurt feelings, damage morale, and make people angry. But the idea that a bad review comes out of malice or cruelty or perhaps some sort of vendetta is usually (if not always) wrong. In the same way, a good review is not generally the result of nepotism or bribery, right? I mean, if you’re going to trust the good reviews, you have to have a few bad ones thrown in, at least occasionally. Otherwise, what’s the point? Lively debate and differences of opinion on art are GOOD things! There was a great “Theater Talkback” in the New York Times a while back that says it much better than I can. Take this quote: “I would rather live in a theater culture where discussions about plays can get as contentious (and occasionally rude) as those about politics.”
The truth is that a review is just one person’s opinion. Truly. Hopefully that person is literate and informed and responsible with their opinions and their choice of words. And I am happy to say that is usually the case here in the happiest city in America. We are very lucky.
The really sad thing is that the art of criticism is dying. Large and small newspapers across the United States have eliminated reviews entirely. It’s hard to blame them given all the financial issues newspapers are dealing with these days. Still, it’s sad to see it go. The Tribune recently decided that they will no longer review the SLO Symphony or any other “one-night-only” concerts in the county. New Times hasn’t reviewed a one-night-only musical event in many years. Local theaters are fortunate in that we have multiple weekends of performances and therefore multiple opportunities to be seen and therefore we get reviewed. At least for now. But with the popularity of online public opinion forums like Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and multiple blogs, some people wonder whether critics are even necessary any more.
I think they are. I really appreciate the fact that our local papers continue to write stories and send their writers to review our productions. We appreciate that they care enough to report the good, the bad, and the ugly of live theater, and we hope they will continue to do so.
A review of Enchanted April by Anna Weltner was printed in New Times on April 18. She liked some of it, she didn’t like some of it. That’s the way it goes sometimes. We don’t always agree, but we still appreciate that she took the time to attend and share her opinion.
As for me … I LOVED Enchanted April. I cared about the characters, appreciated the lovely set and fine acting, and I laughed a lot. And I left the theater a little happier than when I came in, with a huge smile on my face. And after the recent weeks in the world at large, that’s worth a lot.
But don’t just listen to me. After all, I liked Ishtar. And I’m really just one person’s opinion. ∆
Patty Thayer is communications and development director at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre. Send comments to the executive editor at newtimesslo.com.