Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The curtain falls on Louise

I'd heard nothing from the rumor mill about it, so I was shocked, shocked to discover Louise Kennedy was departing her role as lead theatre critic at the Boston Globe (Don Aucoin, who filled in during a sabbatical last fall, will apparently take over, at least for the time being).

I know, I know - I might as well close the blog! My frustration with Louise's reviewing has fueled who knows how many posts at the Hub Review. I think I even rated a veiled reference in her farewell - a generally classy piece of writing, frankly.

Still, the issues that have bugged me for the past four years were very much in evidence even in her swan song. She admitted that "reviewing personally" was "the only way she knew how" - and then cited Kevin Kelly (a truly dreadful critic, far weaker than Louise) as her justification for this dubious practice.

Poor thing, so confused. Obviously all criticism is "personal" in some sense - but that doesn't mean the critic should stumble into simplistic equations between emotional response and artistic greatness. After the death of her father, for instance, Kennedy was moved to tears by Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice - which is (need I point out) largely concerned with the death of a father. To a bystander, this might have counted as merely predictable - but to Louise, it was proof positive of Ruhl's greatness; and it has taken her literally years to see through her mistake. Other examples abound - feminism is a core concern for Louise, for instance, so anything that could be construed as sexist was automatically suspect; she wasn't even entirely sure about that guy Shakespeare (and I think that case is pretty much settled, don't you?). And woe unto any playwright (like David Mamet) whose plot mirrored an event in her own life - if Louise took umbrage, well, clearly that playwright had made an artistic mistake!

But a penchant for the "personal" isn't actually what got Louise into trouble; ironically enough, it was her occasional brilliant review that drew raspberries from the Globe readership. Her critique of the Huntington's crassly-conceived Pirates!, for example, merely described the production accurately - but that accuracy led to an avalanche of invective from Huntington subscribers (egged on by that theatre's managing director, Michael Maso). The review probably counted as a high point in Kennedy's career - and the response, a low point in Maso's.

Perhaps that imbroglio made her shy further away from the controversial - for it must be said that in four tumultuous years on the Boston theatre scene, I can't recall her ever offering many (or any) salient thoughts on the pressing issues of the day. Nothing on Diane Paulus and the commercialization/destruction of the A.R.T.; nothing on the financial crises at Shakespeare and Company and the (former) North Shore Music Theatre; nothing on anything, frankly. Even she admits, in her farewell piece, that all she can recall from her tenure is a handful of impressions -"scraps," actually; she just doesn't seem to appreciate what that means.

Still, her list of the best productions of recent years is a solid one - and do I expect much better of Don Aucoin? Not really (I'm just glad the job didn't go to Joel Brown!). And frankly, I kind of doubt Aucoin will give me nearly as much material as his predecessor; if he strikes me as less error-prone than Louise, he also strikes me as blander. So here's something I never thought I'd say - I may actually miss Louise Kennedy.