open letter to the A.R.T., he asked that I open a discussion on reviewing style on the Hub Review. Which I agreed to do. I suppose I wasn't quick enough in doing so, however, for today I received the following message in my inbox, which I agreed to would post. Comments are welcome. My thoughts will come in due course.
I was quite serious when I suggested you open a discussion of "style" in your blog; but since you haven't I will.
Specifically, I see a difference between "negative" reviews versus "destructive" ones - and I see a difference between real criticism and mere assertion.
It's probably because I was schooled by a very hard editor who always demanded that I Justify any assertion with demonstrable facts from the stage. My mere Opinion that something worked or didn't was never enough.
The older I get the more correct Joe Hanlon's approach seems to be. If you Explain an opinion - good or bad actually - then the readers Learn something. Without it, all they can do is compare their opinions with yours (assuming they see the same show you did) and either praise your insight or damn your stupidity. An Explained opinion in a negative review is, actually, a positive thing.
But negative assertions without explanation are often destructive. They leave the reader no recourse but anger when they disagree. They benefit no one - except perhaps the ego of the critic.
Actors in plays cannot fight back; they haven't the critic's megaphone, and any complaint of injury, however true, is always construed as whining. The creators have to "suck it up like true professionals" at least outwardly. Destructive criticism is simply shooting fish in a barrel.
I remember reading a Globe review - can't remember the show - that asserted that, though the audience loved the show, They Shouldn't! That to me was a classic case of "elephantiasis of the ego' - and a stupid misapprehension of what theater is for.
That should get things started, I think.
- Larry Stark