Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On writing previews and reviews

I knew this was gonna happen.
Somebody anonymously posted this a couple of days ago:

It's too bad you missed reviewing a great production of "String of Pearls" at the studio theatre... I guess you were too busy compiling "tidbits" that related to you personally.

I intended to review String of Pearls. I don't know why I didn't. My workload's been heavy lately. I didn't mean any disrespect to Susan Hardie or the five actresses in her cast.
And I can see the poster's point: Bobo goes off on his lah-dee-dah theater jaunt, writes a bunch of long, manic reviews about shows that nobody around here has seen, then comes back to town and doesn't even perform the most basic services for the theater community here.
(I will try to rectify that problem, very belatedly, in a Special Theatrical Sidebar, coming soon to a blog post near you.)

But here's the deal. In my nine years at The Inlander, it's always been made clear: For plays, you can either do a PREview or a REview, not both; there's not enough interest in the community at large (i.e., among non-theatrical Muggles) to merit what would be, in effect, double coverage of a single arts event when there are so many other arts events across all the genres also clamoring for attention. (Ironically enough, the second exception to that occurs in tomorrow's issue: Both times Lion King has roared into town, I've written about it both before and after opening night.)

But that's for print. And blogs and Websites change the rules: As long as I get my work done, my boss doesn't care if I blog at epic length about what comes out of my nose when I pick it.

Space is no consideration on the Web; no word counts to hit there.

And if theater were my only beat around here, I'd pre- and review the hell out of every show in town.

But I'm also the point man (not the whole team, but it's kinda, go to Bowen for this one) on (in rough order of demands placed on me):

classical music, books, movies, sports (mostly Hoopfest and Bloomsday, but also stuff like College Hoops Preview) and jazz

(I'm even in the Food section this week, though that's rare.)

Oh, and I do holistic edits and line-edits on most of the paper each week. (There are five of us who can sign off on articles; two of those five have to read any given story before it's laid out on the page, whereupon one of us does a third read. I relinquished the arts editor position because I couldn't handle all that AND do all the scheduling and assigning of articles. I'm a writer, not a manager. Besides, I'm an old fart with a bad ticker who's facing the end of being able to do triathlons, woe is me.)

So boo-hoo for Bobo, he has to work so hard. Tough gig.

Just man up, wimpy.

But those other beats get in the way of simply getting to shows, much less doing the research on them beforehand for a preview and then gathering my thoughts about them for a review afterwards.

I read my print reviews on KPBX; we're experimenting with video previews of plays.
And I'm a narrow-focus guy who doesn't do well juggling lots of plates at once.

You get the idea.

The agreement with the Civic, both this season and last, is to PREview the downstairs, less well known plays, and REview the upstairs, better-known titles.

For String of Pearls, there was a print preview. (And I sincerely hope that my screwing up days and times did not impact attendance at that show. I feel bad about that.) Before that, we had the video preview on this blog, along with the Jean Hardie interview.

I'm doing what I can, folks.

[photo from]

A very belated review of String of Pearls (which obviously I cannot do justice, since I saw it weeks ago):

A very wonderful, insightful production that argues for the Circle of Life in a less cartoonish, more grownup way than The Lion King does.

It's a little off-putting at first, when women stroll out and assume, confusingly, multiple identities -- some of which they're clearly not suited because of age. But you get used to it.

Very well directed and acted. Seeing it in performance, as opposed to reading it as I did (twice), made connections clearer: how this woman is related to that one, how the string of pearls ended up with her, and then with her daughter, and then inside a fish, and so on.

Director Susan Hardie achieved a magical effect at the end of the divorced-and-skinny-dipping-women sequence, with three actresses bathed in light, their arms extended upward toward some spiritual source.

All five actresses were always interesting and sometimes riveting to watch. I particularly welcomed the versatility of Sarah Denison: from vapid and drugged-out art student to toddler brat; from the Italian-American working class woman, snapping her gum with great cultural awareness and buried beneath cascades of greasy pin-curls to the obese gay gravedigger.

Katie Carey as a resentful housewife, gnashing her teeth as her career passes her by; Kate Vita as a bitchy resentful daughter. Ela (Jean Hardie) who doesn't want to get involved, gets involved.

Playwright Michele Lowe creates surprises in how the pearls get passed around, and how (by implication and metaphor), the magic of vitality touches our lives at unexpected moments.

One of my favorite moments (out of several) involved an encounter between Tami Rotchford (as the downtrodden undertaker's assistant who has labored for years in taking care of her incapacitated mother) and Kate Vita (as a rich woman's daughter, determined to carry out her resentment against Mom even into the grave): Lowe teaches us here not to trust appearances. The daughter who had been faithful judged herself unworthy; the daughter who had hated her mother gets to be regarded, unknowingly, as a woman who must have really loved her mother.

Rotchford stayed within herself; Vita made her resentment clear; neither went to extremes of over-acting, and the moment was all the more powerful for it.

There are ironies and surprises like that all through String of Pearls, and Susan Hardie's production embodied them movingly.



At November 19, 2009 8:40 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thou Doth Protest To Much".Can't you just apologize without going on and on .Phew!! And you appear to be showing a pattern Bobo, of scarcely veiled sarcasm when it come to plays dealing with womens issues.Why is that do you suppose?

At November 19, 2009 9:53 AM , Anonymous Joey H. said...

Really, "Anonymous?" You shouldn't act so entitled to things. I don't see you providing any coverage of local theatre or anything constructive at all. I think the reason it appears to you like he uses sarcasm in those situations is because that is what you want to believe. Don't act like you know people you don't.

At November 20, 2009 8:06 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, what's with that Bobo?

At November 20, 2009 2:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why did you bother writing a review at all if it's going to be that dismissive and cursory? What a way to add insult to injury! You're not doing anybody any favors -in fact it seems you're just digging yourself into a deeper hole.

At November 21, 2009 9:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joey, Part of having a blog is to solicit people opinions about what your writing.Wake up and smell the feedback.


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