Thursday, September 01, 2005

Nattering Nabobs of Narm

Actually, this post isn't about Six Feet Under. I just like saying Narm!

It's about negativism. As you may have noticed, we here at TRS are not above a little gratuitous hostility in the same way that the sea is not above the clouds.*** But, hard though it is to believe, there are actually times when crankiness is not helpful.

Like in a theater review, sometimes. I love a good pan as much as the next woman. But when I was skimming through the Reader's theater section to find stupid stuff to make fun of, I noticed a weird disparity among the reviews. (Make that reviewlettes. Post-redesign, we need no longer toil through the well-developed ideas and relevant information that larded up the old 150-word boxed reviews. Thanks, Reader!)

Anyway, these reviewlettes. Almost without exception, the positive ones tended to be short and kinda dull. Except when they were unintentionally funny (see "Giving Sorrow Words" below). The negative ones, on the other hand, were usually much longer, more polished -- even entertaining! Viz:

--Raven Theater's American Rock Anthem: "Starts off as a supposedly humorous paean to absurd 1980s movies about disaffected teenagers, but the humor is on the sitcom level -- a laugh track would have helped." --Jennifer Vanasco. (2 1/2 column inches long, more or less.)
--Bailiwick's A Kiss From Alexander: "Undone by lame camp humor, swishy stereotypes and a callow portrayal of the Macedonian conqueror. Read Mary Renault's The Persian Boy instead." --Albert Williams. (1 3/4 column inches)
--Victory Gardens' The Living Canvas 2005: "The projected images reduced the performers' mostly hairless, fatless, uniformly young bodies to a soft, rather lumpy backdrop." --Laura Molzahn. (2 column inches)

--Steppenwolf's The Pain and the Itch: "The production is clean, well-paced and engaging, and there's some bravura acting." --Kerry Reid. (1 3/4 column inches)
--Second City's Big Bad Wolf vs. Lord Underwearface von Schtinker: "[A] quick-witted, quirky show." [What, both at once??] --Jenn Goddu. (1 1/4 column inches)
--Giving Sorrow Words at Loyola: "Smoke & Mirror Productions rages at the dying of the light in this adaptation." --Mary Shen Barnidge. (1 1/2 column inches)

Hmm. Those pans do a great job of telling me why I should avoid the shows in question. Only problem is, the picks do an awful job of telling me why I should go. Why would I allow my taste to be shepherded by someone who can't think of any better descriptors than "clean" and "well-paced"?

I should add that the editors are to blame for this, not the critics. It's a lot easier and more fun to pick on something than praise it (I ought to know). But when a show is good, it deserves to be reviewed with all the eloquence and detail the writer can muster. If the reviewer doesn't deliver, the editors ought to ask him or her for more.

Then there's the length issue. The Reader has newsprint to burn -- literally! -- but you wouldn't know it from the length of some of the picks. Meanwhile, the pans go on and on. It's like a perverse joke on would-be theatergoers. "What show should we see tonight, honey?" -- "Let's get the Reader. (Paper rustles.) Well, not that one, obviously. And certainly not that one. Maybe this one, but with only 7 words describing it, it's really hard to know." -- "Yeah, I'm stymied too. Wonder what Tivo's got saved for us?" (Curtain)

***Get it? get it? BWAHAHAHAHA! Though in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe that phrase referred to Vogons, not bitter bloggers. And how great is it that Wikipedia's entry for Restaurant is longer than its entry for An American Tragedy?


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