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Oh, Michael…

I believe critique is an art.

Funny coming from the guy who argued that an actor isn’t an artist, I know.

 There are a lot of things that make a good critic. They include but aren’t limited to knowledge and appreciation for the medium, some form of education (formal or informal) on examining it, and having a passion for the medium.

 Pointing out minor continuity errors isn’t one of them.

 Recently, freelance writer Michael Eck reviewed Curtain Call Theater’s production of King O’ the Moon for the Albany Times Union. I haven’t seen the piece, so I can’t judge whether he’s right or wrong on some of the calls he makes. But one item in particular made my jaw drop.

 From the review:

 In a similar way, Lori A. Barringer’s sound design pulls focus from the play, in that Santana’s “Evil Ways” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” were not released until after the play’s action had taken place.



What does that have to do with the price of tea in IT’S SONGS THAT PLAY IN-BETWEEN SCENES. Who cares if it’s not hyper-relevant to the day of the play’s setting?

I wrote a comment in reply that I’m not positive will make it through the screeening process (I’ve edited out some typographical errors I made in haste):

Jimmy Cupp, not Jimmy Culp. He mis-spelled an actor’s name.

This is going to seem a bit harsh, but bear with me, because there’s a very important point to be made.

I haven’t seen the play, but I have to ask what exactly the relevance is of pointing out that “Evil Ways” and “Fortunate Son” were used for the show even though it was released after the events of the play? It’s a minor continuity error at best. Unless it’s actually in the play itself and part of the plot, what does it matter? Do the music choices need to be hyper-relevant to the action taking place? At what point do we have to care about these songs, and do we at all? Can’t it convey the general sentiment and feel of the period without being released the same week on the Billboard charts?

I’m not doing this for the sake of being smarmy, but it’s a shame when I read stuff like that from you, because it makes me completely discount the rest of your review. It’s absurdly and obscenely nitpicky to the poitn of self parody. If a film reviewer exposed a minor continuity error that didn’t impact the plot, pacing, or character development (even though it would be more relevant to do so in that medium) and presented it as critical analysis, s/he’d be mocked and ridiculed by peers.

Again, I haven’t seen the play for myself, so I can’t speak on the other merits. But if you’re including this in your piece, it indicates that you are using it as a criteria for judgement of the play. As such, it brings into question your ability to accurately convey the worth of other, more relevant aspects such as performance, staging, lighting, etcetera.

So don’t do that!

Two things I need to point out. One is that my reaction doesn’t stem from the fact that I know people in the play, even though I do know actors portraying the principal characters. In fact, one of them – Isaac Newberry – was in a performance of I Hate Hamlet that Eck similarly skewered. The cast and director (whom I also know personally) were very put off by what he had to say. And even though I think he framed the argument poorly (using a five-minute Saturday Night Live sketch as a barometer for the effectiveness of a two hour play is a highly questionable judgement call), I actually agreed with most of his assessment. I even publically chastised them for reacting the way they did, saying they should prove the reviewer wrong in future performances but that being bratty about it didn’t make them look any better.

The other is that Eck’s real passion is music. He’s a musician, and his critique of music is far superior than that of theater. If you look through, you’ll notice a chasm in quality of critical writing between his reviews of plays and his reviews of music.

I’m not trying to beat up on Michael Eck here or with my comments. I just want people to know that there really is a point that many critics reach where they become a parody of themselves. And it drives me crazy.


Thank you.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 28, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Speaking of theatrical elements that take place outside of the realm of the story itself, you know what really took me out of The Importance of Being Earnest? The fact that Two-Bite Lemonade Cupcakes were being sold at the concession stands when everyone knows FULL WELL that Two-bite lemonade cupcakes had not been invented until the twentieth century at the EARLIEST. And MERCIFUL PERCIFUL, everyone, could we PLEASE shut off the air conditioning during the show? Nothing takes me out of a performance more than an electrical humming sound that is totally anachronistic! And perhaps most irksome of all, the curtain speech was NOT DONE in a proper English dialect. Join me as I exhale a loud “harrumph” squarely in the direction of these so-called “acteurs.”

    • May 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

      Folks: I didn’t write this so everyone could beat up on the guy. I wrote it so that we could really examine what makes a critique and perhaps understand why you should (or shouldn’t) have the reactions some have had to them.

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