My review of the scenery around Los Alamos, New Mexico
An adverse reaction to a review I posted here a couple of days ago convinces me of the necessity of this public declaration that I hope will make one thing abundantly clear: unless you have some unmistakable reason to suspect otherwise I would be more than ecstatic never to be invited to your shows ever again. This means YOU.
I don’t mean that I don’t wish to buy tickets to your shows. I don’t even wish to be COMPED to your shows. The most valuable thing to me in my life is my time, and spending that time in activities which I know will either be productive or that I will enjoy. And the odds that your show will rate that description (unless you already know that I am a friend or a fan) are infinitesimal. So much do I value my time that I can’t put a dollar amount on it. Would it be worth $10,000 to me to devote four hours of my life (two hours in travel time, two hours for the performance) to watching your shitty show? I should say not. Not when I could be walking in the woods, writing, reading a book, having a conversation with my brilliant girl friend, or watching far superior entertainment on that machine across from my sofa in the comfort of my own home. I have already said as much here. You got that? Not only don’t I want to attend for free, I WOULDN’T TAKE $10,000. Well, I’d take it but I wouldn’t like it.
This isn’t to say that I don’t go to the theatre or that I won’t ever go to the theatre. In fact I often love the theatre. Just look at this and this. But it is to say that whatever theatre I do so see struggles against an innate handicap. It begins in the red and it will have much to do to break even, let alone get ahead. Don’t ever suffer any misapprehension that you are doing me a favor by letting me attend your performance. I don’t care if it’s a hit, I don’t care if Ben Brantley called it the greatest invention since Wonder Bread, if I don’t want to be there (I almost always don’t) you are STEALING SOME OF MY SHORT TIME ON THIS EARTH. Instrinsically. I don’t attend theatre to socialize, I don’t give a shit about keeping up with the Joneses, and if you’re “hot”, then so much the worse for you as far I’m concerned, because all that means to me is that you swindled a lot of lemmings into walking off your cliff. If there’s one thing I pride myself on it’s seeing with my own eyes and forming my own opinions.
I remember a couple of years ago a friend, stung by a bad review asked the evergreen question, “What good are critics anyway? One guy wrote a good review, and one guy wrote a bad one, so what good are they?” The answer in 2015 (the era of democracy, the internet and a woeful lack of education even among “educated” people), is that a large percentage of them — almost all of them — are worthless. It is my considered opinion that even most contemporary PROFESSIONAL critics are unequal to the task they purportedly undertake, never mind the vast army of citizen journalists who throw in their two cents, both of which are counterfeit. Almost all of them are worthless, that is, except….
I won’t say my own opinion is unerring, but I will say that I am uncommonly well informed about the theatre. I began taking courses in theatre history when I was 13 years old, I had read every extant Greek and Roman play (including the fragments of Menander) by the age of 19, and subsequently every play of Shakespeare’s and most of the other Elizabethans, all the classics of the Restoration and the French classicists, every significant American play (including every single available play by O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Odets, Maxwell Anderson etc etc), scores and scores of 19th century melodramas and comedies by people you never heard of, everything by Shaw, Wilde, and many of their contemporaries, everything by Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward, all the Absurdists, everything by Brecht, the American musical theatre canon, and I’m sure I’m still leaving out hundreds of others.
Reading plays is one thing; from the time I was a teenager I’ve also seen hundreds upon hundreds of productions, most of them in the course of reviewing for publication: I wrote nearly 100 pieces for Time Out New York, 30 for the Village Voice, numerous ones for American Theatre during my fellowship there, a monthly column for The Villager for four years, and pieces for The New York Times, The New York Sun, Reason and others (including this blog). To learn to write reviews I read widely in the criticism of Shaw, Wilde, Max Beerbohm, George Jean Nathan, Dorothy Parker, Harold Clurman, John Mason Brown, Walter Kerr, John Lahr, and many others. By “read widely”, I mean hundreds and hundreds of essays. I also studied criticism at NYU, and am a trained and experienced actor, playwright, director and producer. And of course there have been all those years researching vaudeville, burlesque and theatre history in general, resulting in things like books.
I left a lot out because I don’t want to brag. Consequently when I take a black eye from reviewers and critics myself in reaction to my own productions, it’s rarely from a place of “Why, that pompous, superior ass!” it’s generally more like “How dare they send that retarded teenager to judge my masterpiece? The orangutan they sent as a reviewer is not qualified to evaluate my farts!” And I can generally be fairly certain that I’m correct.
How do you do? This is an introduction to me. You may have known me for several years without knowing THIS. Invite me to your show, I will be only too glad to tear out your jugular vein in revenge for depriving me of my walk in the woods. I might well love your show. The odds are fairly certain, for example, that I will love what I’m seeing tonight. But I generally have a pretty good instinct for seeking out and finding what I think I will like and not resent on my own. I make no pretense of ever being “fair” about this highly subjective undertaking. But I will say that if you don’t badger me to see your fuckin’ show, you’re on safe and solid ground.