Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Talking about my colleagues

My original goal for tonight was to write a little about Plaza Suite that I saw the Lansing Civic Players perform last Sunday. I'll do that, but not quite in the way I had planned. Instead, I want to talk about what some of my colleagues are saying about last weekend's shows.

Mary Cusak at the City Pulse reviewed Plaza Suite. It's the first time that I've read one of her reviews and I'm quite impressed. Regardless of whether I agree with her or not (and I do on many, though not all, points), I like the way she writes. It's an excellently constructed review that is both interesting and fair. She supports each point with details and puts the show in a context that is relevant to people outside the theater community.

I look forward to reading more reviews by her--I hope she writes often.

Jim Fordyce also does an excellent job of getting out to see most of the shows in town and on providing some commentary on them. This is no small task. I found myself respectfully disagreeing with his comments this week on Scenes from an American Life, specifically with his criticism of the script. He wrote: "While the scenes are loosely tied together, this play is a little disjointed and while some scenes are compelling and/or funny. Others are confusing and pointless. "

While I would agree that the show is purposefully disjointed and that it is a matter of personal opinion what is compelling or confusing, I disagree that any of the scenes are pointless. One of the things that I found particularly compelling about the show as a whole was the way each and every scene underlined the overall theme. It wasn't always apparent immediately how they fit into the theme, but by the end of the play you could step back and see that each individual puzzle piece did indeed form a full picture, one whose effectiveness relied on the audience not getting the pictures in order.

I'd be curious how others feel about this who are familiar with the work.


Anonymous said...

I, too, was quite impressed with the Pulse reviewer. And I will take your side in the Gurney debate. With all due respect to Fordyce, the thing I find pointless is about 90% of what he writes in a review.

Bridgette Redman said...

I sometimes wish that there was a forum in which critics could get together and discuss each other's work--because I'm pretty sure we'd often have passionate disagreements. (Heck, perhaps we need to do that in a coffee shop somewhere--I'm not sure anyone else would necessarily be interested in our disagreements.) I happen to think those disagreements are healthy things--they can encourage debate and discussion. Part of the role of a critic is to encourage discussion. Ideally, a review is a launching pad for a discussion, not the final (or even penultimate) word on a show.

So even when I disagree with a colleague, I find value in that disagreement. (Does this mean I'm really a far more contrarian soul than I let on? Perhaps.)

I know you saw the Gurney show--did you think any of the scenes were pointless? Did Gurney fail in his ability to make clear by the end how the scenes fit in?

I thought there was a certain beautiful elegance to them. For example, there was the scene in which the man called up his buddy, the judge, to get a ticket taken care of. Gurney is showing us how things get to where they are in the end--that those who were in power and possessed the ability to do something about governmental abuses didn't because they could pull strings not to be inconvenienced by them. Later, in the scene between the district commander and the ex-bank VP, we see it now inconveniencing the wealthy and powerful, but it is too late to do anything about it.

Maybe I should borrow a script, but I think it might be interesting to do an almost scene-by-scene analysis of how each one supports the overall theme--a theme which Gurney was writing about far more than any one character.

A friend of mine was saying that he doesn't care much for Gurney because his plays tend to be actor playgrounds and that he doesn't create characters that the audience can connect with. I think with this show, I'd almost disagree. It's not necessarily an actor's play because you don't get much chance to create characters. Instead, it's a play that is social and political commentary. It's a play that demands a lot of thoughtfulness because he isn't going to spoon-feed you anything.

Sorry--I'm rambling now when I should be writing my entries on Plaza Suite and The Full Monty.

Anonymous said...

Ha, the contrarian was always the underlying element I suspected about you--my instincts are rarely wrong! Actually, it's not so much that I find myself in disagreement so much with Mr. F, but it's the lack of intellectual support, much like what you complimented Mary on. "Gee whiz it's good" doesn't quite do it for me. Now with Scenes, I did feel a bit of disconnect, but I don't think it was the fault of the playwright. That's the type of show I need to see a couple of times to really "get it." The impression is that the overall theme shines through loud and clear, and the humor used in serious situations is usually a successful tool to aid the viewer to remember what they've seen. Gurney does this well and the a lesser director and cast could've easily destroyed the whole thing. I'm glad they didn't!

Bridgette Redman said...

It's an interesting point you touch on and one I've been thinking about blogging more about. I agree with you about the "gee whiz, it's good" approach being problematic. It's also what I struggle with the most. It always feels impolite to point out the failings in a show, and yet that is exactly what the job of a critic is. I do it, but I always agonize over it far more than I should.

Yet, if the honesty isn't there, then there is no credibility to the review and it fails to be compelling to its audiences.

So how can you be credible and compelling without destroying the egos of the people you write about?

Anonymous said...

Speaking for myself (and yes, I have an ego), I have no problem with a "Hicks' character did not capture the essence of the piece" or "seemed lost" or "lacked energy" (see, I don't forget what you've written about me lol), because it seems an honest, objective opinion, and I'm not the best judge of me when I'm in the moment. But it is the mean spirited "he doesn't deserve to be on stage" stuff that I object to.

Bridgette Redman said...

You know, there's something that is always in the back of my head when I write a review: the knowledge that the people I'm writing about will never forget the exact phrases that I use. It's a strange sensation as most of what I write I don't expect people to remember. However, I've been an actor and I live with an actor. I can still quote the review that was written about Richard's first show 10 years ago.

It often scares the bejeebus out of me, but I think that's a good thing. It keeps me aware of the responsibility that I'm undertaking and, I hope, keeps me honest. People can see through false praise. They can see through faint praise. However, I think there is a way to deliver criticism that is balanced and fair while not being cruel.

Of course, some of it is philosophical. I think it is far better that someone try and fall short than not to try at all. We all benefit when people take risks and try to stretch beyond what they've done before. I'd far rather as a reviewer say "stretch a little further, you didn't reach it yet" than "get off the stage."

(Sorry for the delay in publishing the comment. I've been home sick without Internet connection.)