Thursday, June 5, 2008
You knew this was coming . . .
Yes, I've decided to "chart" the print theatre critics - after all, they're performers too, my friends. But much to my surprise, it turned out to be far more difficult rating them than it was rating productions, and I'm not sure I've really got it right. Part of the problem is the simple fact that none of them are all that great, but they're all bad in different ways (the theatre companies are marvels of consistency by comparison); and part of the problem is that there are almost too many hypothetical axes to judge them against. Louise Kennedy was pretty easy to rate - her writing is superb, or at least it's a superb rendition of the Globe's house format, but she's intellectually incurious, not particularly engaged with theatre, and views herself and her peer group as some kind of objective lens; obviously one would rate her high on style, but low on substance. Terry Byrne and Nick Dussault were even easier - since both are clearly weak on both counts (so it's no surprise these two birds of a feather flock together). Carolyn Clay is trickier, though - her writing is dry, often expository and impacted, but also highly witty - the trouble is that her perceptions can be wacky when she has no academic guidelines to steady her, and of course she's made very, very big bets that went utterly wrong (such as her cheerleading for Peter Sellars). So how "perceptive" is she, really? It seems to depend on the day. And even if she seems brighter than, say, Ed Siegel, isn't he a bit more reliable (I wound up rating him higher on perception due to this consistency)?
Then there's the problem of what the axes should be on the chart. Some of these folks are intuitively perceptive, but hardly logicians - they can't really argue their cases. Others (like Bill Marx, who's not on the chart, as he's no longer in print) can develop a line of thought, but are far from dependable intuitively, and clearly have emotional issues which occlude their judgment. Jenna Scherer was another problematic data point - obviously smart, and the funniest of the lot, but too immature and moody to be useful; her real forte would be critical stand-up, if such a form existed.
Before you say it - why am I not on the list? Well, first, I'm not a print reviewer. And though I certainly think I'm a solid stylist, when it comes to the "perceptive/unperceptive" access, I'm really off the chart, literally, simply because I don't really do what these people do - I don't write "reviews," per se, and I often open up whole avenues of free inquiry, which they're not allowed to do. So yeah, in my conceited, arrogant way I think I'm better than any of them - but on the other hand, I'm not sure how well they could do against me if they weren't shackled to their editors' demands; it's only fair to compare them against each other, not me.
Lastly, some might call me on unconscious sexism - my two "most perceptive" reviewers are men. That might, true, be due to sexism. But it also might just be the case.