Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When is a review not a review?

Everyone, please stop sending me that Ed Siegel review of Sleep No More. (It's here, if you really must.) I agree, I agree - it's as dumb as anything Louise Kennedy ever wrote. Maybe dumber. SO, unless I'm sexist or something, I have to give Siegel at least as much grief as I've always given Louise.

And you're right. Only the thing is, I don't really want to because the Siegel thing is actually more embarrassing than anything Kennedy ever wrote. I mean fer chrissakes - an actress "running her fingers through what's left of his hair"? He feels like "Tom Cruise searching for sensual pleasure"? "What if she took off her clothes???"

It's absolutely cringe-inducing, and more than a little sexist, but in some sort of unconscious, pants-down way that makes me want to avert my eyes. And frankly, the real problem is with the editing going on at the Globe, which could let this kind of thing get into print. For the last time, a personal response to a work - whether it be Ed's sex fantasies, or one of Louise's various griefs and grievances - is only interesting as a starting point for critical analysis. It is not a conclusion. "It made me cry" is not a review. "It made me horny" is also not a review. Globe editors, please, please take note.


  1. Well, Boston theater companies take note of Siegel's preferences. Cast redheads and you just might get yourself some good press.

    I think it's clear what he's trying to do with it--capture the subjectivity of the "experience." I wouldn't be surprised if the ART requested that the Globe do this. It's certainly in-line with all the stuff we've heard Paulus say lately. Here he's speaking objectively like Paulus would, as well as trying to convey something personal in the first person as Paulus would want him to.

    This, I think, is perfectly reasonable, especially since, for the Globe, this piece is something of a follow-up on the show. It's not unlike some the things you read on the Theatre Mirror, here and here. But of course, that's a website with a non-reviewing MO Stark's made clear, not a paper.

    But, yea, the whole thing is spoiled by dwelling on this one kiss interrupted. I wonder if it made Melia blush. But then again, she probably does the same thing to 10 balding patrons every night. I just can't believe he used the word "arousing." If Eyes Wide Shut came to mind, it's clear where his thoughts were.

    I'd hate to see what would happen if he went to a strip club--I don't know if he'd make it home alive. Maybe after this got printed, the guys from the strip club started showing up at Sleep No More. It's only the price of a lap dance.

  2. So you think Siegel's acting as Paulus's puppet makes this piece "perfectly reasonable"? Well, I beg to differ, although I suppose you're right that his article half-straddles the line between feature and review.

    And just btw, Ed Siegel got his hottie's ID wrong. According to a later correction, "Because of inaccurate information provided to the Globe, an essay in the Nov. 8 Globe Magazine about the production “Sleep No More’’ misidentified a character and actress. The character is The Second Mrs. de Winter, played by Poornima Kirby."

    This only makes hapless Ed's review all the more ridiculous - he was actually talking to someone from Rebecca, not Macbeth; he'd wandered into the "Hitchcock" side of Sleep No More without knowing it (or perceiving it). In that a central concern of "hypertheatre" is mimicking the interpenetrations of "hypertext," this is rather a large critical gaffe.

    Then again, none of the Boston critics pondering Sleep No More seems to have considered its hyper-textual aspects - although btw, Siegel may have missed a secondary piece of hyper-script in the performance he witnessed. While he was wondering about whether or not poor Poornima Kirby was going to take her clothes off, she was whispering to him a tale that sounds a lot like a scene from Büchner's Woyzeck. Not that Ed should have recognized that, after all he's only a professional drama critic . . .

    But perhaps if he hadn't gotten so hot and bothered, he might have begun to consider what exactly these scenes coiled within scenes were supposed to mean. Because of course it's fine that Ed got sexually excited in Sleep No More - and it's ok if he mentions that in his review; hell, I saw Take Me Out twice! You get it where you can, etc.

    But can you see that he has misunderstood the content of the artwork under consideration? Indeed, he hasn't just misunderstood it - he has missed it completely; to an informed eye, his review is manifestly incompetent. I myself am not sure what connections Punchdrunk is trying to make between Woyzeck, Rebecca, and Macbeth, but at least I understand that pondering those connections is the critic's job.

    As for those reviews on the Theatre Mirror - Larry's unorthodox response to The Donkey Show seems entirely appropriate: there was nothing going on in it, so he had nothing to say about it. And in that rather eccentric ramble about England, Carl A. Rossi at least honestly admits his inability to interpret the work in question. Such self-awareness would actually count as a step up for Ed.

  3. Didn't mean to jump to his defense. I was actually more interested in poking some fun at him and I meant "reasonable" within a context that I think is clear here. Of course it's not the kind of review I like to read, on a blog or in a newspaper, and it's not even trying to come close to what you or I would like to see in the Globe. I'd actually rather hear what you have to say about the production. I just think that it's trying to fit into the new face of the ART, which obviously has a lot of clout with the Globe. They want all those rich connections you mention, but they don't seem to want them intellectualized. They want their productions to be different, but common and accessible; smart for those who want it that way and fun and unintimidating for those who want a night out that's not really at the theater. They want people coming into The Donkey Show who can't even pick out Shakespeare's characters. And they want people coming to Sleep No More who are looking for a haunted house, who will have the very uncritical experience Siegel describes. He seems to be going for that perspective and intentionally avoiding the other--this doesn't make it OK. At least with Shakespeare Exploded and Red Sox Nation, they want plays that work both ways and fly with a non-theater crowd and Sleep No More, although I haven't gone yet, is probably the best of the bunch at this.

  4. Well, I disagree with the idea that Siegel is "intentionally" playing along with the ART; I think you were closer to the mark when you called him a puppet. I don't see much evidence that he understands the ART's actual strategy - which is obviously to abandon its old claim (that it could revitalize classic texts via academic theory), for a new scheme of selling academic theory concealed within a commercial wrapper. Who's the wiser, after all, if everyone just makes up "their own" version of Macbeth in Sleep No More? (Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Ed and most everyone in the audience, the performers are muttering lines from Woyzeck!) This clearly works as a form of commercial production for the academy, but it's nevertheless dishonest, in that Paulus presents her plans as populist, when they're actually intellectually stratified and class-bound.

  5. Points well taken.

    As for the connections between the plays, genres, etc, IANAC, but I do note some hit-me-between-the-eyes themes and scene links with Woyzeck, and not just the obvious knives, murder, bloody hands, mention of ghosts (hmm, masked audience members...) and the like -- also the concept of semi-random scene-swapping (since nobody knows what order the scenes in Woyzeck were supposed to be played in, and it's been done countless ways), and then the message in both plays about free will, and the work of the doctor upon Woyzeck...

    I suspect in Sleep No More we are supposed to be the experimental subjects (a la Woyzeck) at the same time as we view the experiment of which we are a part (a play with a fixed outcome and which is very explicitly scripted and choreographed for each character, down to the minute, even though it appears to the audience to be different each time you see it) The creepy hospital room makes more sense now. So yeah, I'm guessing there was intended to be some sort of quasi-deep statement about free will injected into the experience.

    I have to admit, I'm a sucker for meta-storytelling (and meta-review). Was Siegel, like Woyzeck, simply a victim of being inescapably reduced to his own animalistic nature? And was Siegel clever enough to intentionally make that statement through his review, by appearing to be ignorant and fixated on physicality?

    Well, some things, perhaps, really are too absurd.

  6. It's actually the Rebecca part I don't get! You're right there's a case for a mash-up of Woyzeck and Macbeth - it's that "second Mrs. de Winter" thang that throws a wrench into the whole concept. Unless Punchdrunk is trying to equate Lady M. with Rebecca?? Let's hope not!