Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Love it or get out!

Years ago, Marc and I reviewed a play we didn't love at a theater in downtown Provo.
(The place has since gone out of business so it's safe to blog about what happened there, I think.)
We were invited to see this original production, something written by the guy who owned the place, always a little worrisome because when the writer is the director who is also the lead actor, there's some ego involved.
We, however, went in with open minds and willing hearts.
We gave up an evening of our lives to visit the place and see the show.
But we didn't like it much and I said so later in my review. I also offered some suggestions on how they might save the show; cut some songs, shorten some scenes, pick up the pace...
I remember apologizing for not liking it because contrary to popular belief, most drama critics, including me, feel badly when a production lacks.
We like theater. We like music. We like snappy dialogue and good plots. We like to see these kind of enterprises succeed.
I've actually yet to meet a drama critic who hates theater. Why go if you're going to be miserable every time? (And, in my case, why do it for more than 35 years?)
So I was taken aback when the owner of the theater reacted with serious heat.
He sent me and my editors emails accusing me (and my husband) of coming to the show intent on hating it.
He said he had us "on video" talking about our plans to sabotage the production and hasten the demise of good theater in Utah Valley.
He told me I had a serious problem and should get a new career that didn't involve reviewing plays.
He said if I was having a bad hair day that rather than come to a production I should stay away.
It was vitriolic and unfair.
I remember at the time feeling some serious indignation.
And now, decades later, I still think about that incident, especially when I review something that for one reason or another, warrants a negative report.
I know a bad review hurts sales. I know people don't like criticism.
I am aware that my opinion is not the only one that matters.
But I feel a real obligation to be honest.
Would people honestly prefer we sugar coat what is?
Would reviews then matter?

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