Friday, September 7, 2012

Critical mess



As if I didn't have enough to do--what with running a staged reading, managing a monthly playwriting group, judging professional productions for Colorado's Henry Awards and, most importantly, writing my own plays--I also review the occasional show.

It's hard work, probably the hardest of the tasks listed above. After all, it forces you to use both halves of your brain. Not only do you need think in an analytical way about something as subjective and ephemeral as theatre, but you also have to be entertaining and fresh and concise in your analysis.

But what's even harder is having to slam someone you know and who you know is going to read your slam. Anyone who thinks critics revel in the attack has never been a critic.

I started back in 2008 with the Colorado Springs Gazette. Now I'm writing for the Colorado Springs Independent. For now, they appear online only, though I'm trying to convince the powers that be that there are thousands of people dying to read my stuff in print (don't hold your breath).

But even if I never see my reviews in ink, I'll continue plugging away. Why? Because it forces me to be honest about my own playwriting. How can I be sloppy or boring or contrived if I criticize it in others?

And then there are those free tickets.

I probably wouldn't even bother you with these. Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to review a wonderful new play by Samuel Butler titled The Whale. At the time, I was between newspaper gigs, so the only place I could post my review was on my own blog. I went to the play, scribbled my thoughts, posted them here and didn't give it another thought.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Internet forum. My review became the most popular post I ever wrote. Even now, eight months later, it has gotten twice as many hits as my second most popular post.

So without further ado, here's the start of my latest review for the National Tour of La Cage Aux Folles in Denver.
"I suppose there was time when La Cage Aux Folles seemed cutting-edge, maybe even shocking. But that time wasn't last Tuesday, when the national tour opened a three-week run at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Instead this show, which first opened on Broadway in 1983, just seemed tired and musty, like a rerun of a 1950s sitcom in which the characters look like real people but act completely different than anyone you've ever met."
The tour is based on the 2010 revival, which won critical raves as well as three Tony Awards. Set along the French Riviera, the story (adapted by the great Harvey Fierstein) centers on a homosexual couple who own the area's most popular drag club. Georges is the suave master of ceremonies and easily flustered "husband." Albin is the flamboyant boa-wearing star and wisecracking "wife."
In an odd bit of "star" casting, Georges is played by the eternally tan and apparently ageless George Hamilton, whom Baby Boomers will remember as the guest star of 1001 TV shows in the 1970s and 1980s and Generation X-ers won't remember at all. I say "odd" because I doubt there's a single person alive who would buy a ticket based on his name alone, and yet he doesn't really bring much in the acting or singing departments.

But I wish I looked that good in a smoking jacket.
To read the rest, click here.

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