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Encouraging thought the main job of theater critic

Every now and then I like to open my mailbox to readers. I get a lot of thought-provoking letters, and I appreciate the intelligent opinions so many choose to share with me.

But.

There are several types of correspondence that sometimes tempt me to give it all up and head to a nice, quieter place like Afghanistan.

The most common note I get is, “Did you and I see the same play?”

No two people see the same play. Art isn’t science, and we bring who we are to what we see. The implication in this accusation is that the reader is correct in his reaction, and I am wrong. I’d offer another possibility: Maybe neither of us is “right” or “wrong.” Maybe we simply have legitimately different reactions.

Next gem: “I never agree with you.”

I think that’s supposed to be an insult, but how can I possibly write reviews that every reader agrees with? Lucky us that we’re all individuals with palates impossible to please en masse. I don’t think critics are here to predict what you will like – word of mouth and audience polls do a much better job of that sort of thing. The ideal reviewer gives you some idea of what the show is about (that alone may allow you to decide whether to go), and writes about it in such a way that provokes interesting argument.

Some make a point of telling me, “If you trash a show, I know I better go see it, because it must be good.” My job isn’t to discourage you from seeing a show. It’s to encourage thought. I’d think the worst thing one can do with the arts is not to pan something, but to ignore it.

Then there’s the reverse that makes me equally nervous: “I know if you like a show that I will enjoy it. I always trust your reviews.”

Oh, good reader, please don’t do that. I’ve never in my life met anyone that I always agreed with. Don’t be so cruel as to put on my shoulders the responsibility of predicting your reaction to anything.

Of course, there’s the frequent, “You obviously don’t know anything about theater. What are your credentials?”

I’m not sure what proper credentials are for a critic. I know people who are degree heavy but logically challenged. I get dizzy when I try to talk to them because I can’t follow their reasoning from sentence to sentence. Then there are teenagers who are self-educated and have an instinct for analyzing plays. Bottom line, I suppose, is that we read a critic and decide for ourselves if he has the right stuff.

And finally: “How come you don’t like what most audiences like? I was at a show that got a standing ovation, and you gave it a bad write-up.”

A critic is paid to give his opinion. And I would never presume to know what an audience is really thinking. Standing ovations have become as popular in Vegas (and New York) as campaign promises. I pity the producer who thinks a standing ovation is proof of a monumental show.

Ah, I feel so much better now.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

 

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