Being a reviewer is a thankless job. I am employed to examine and critique, and yet it is often my credentials and even my personality which somehow becomes the subject of intense scrutiny.
There are several theaters in Tucson, each with a full program of performances. Clearly, not everything is going to be good. Some plays are excellent and others embarrassing while the rest assume graduated positions in between.
The Wildcat has received several letters this year objecting to my theater reviews. This type of response doesn't bother me. Just as I allow actors to occasionally deliver poor performances, I certainly do not exclude myself from the possibility of writing a poor review.
But for some reason people don't think it's enough to simply disagree with my opinions. The letters in large part continue to attack me as an intelligent and qualified writer. The last letter to the editor called me an ineffectual, irresponsible "liar."
This is where the problem surfaces. If someone doesn't like my opinions, they feel they have to prove that they are invalid by proving that I, myself, am also invalid.
Theater was created for, and is to be appreciated by, the average person. Average means reasonably intelligent and perceptive. It does not mean that everyone who attempts to appreciate theater must be educated in acting, directing or theater arts. If a discipline cannot be criticized unless it has been mastered, then every letter to the editor should be disregarded since not one of the authors holds a journalism degree or any reviewing experience that I am aware of.
My job is to view and respond to a performance as one of these audience members. I am qualified because I am an articulate writer who simply responds to a play.
No matter how modern the lighting techniques or how perfectly balanced the stage, a play is successful only if people enjoy it and pay to come see it. You can argue all you want about artistic brilliance, but if no one wants to see it it doesn't much matter.
Clearly there are brilliant works out there which go publicly unappreciated, or even publicly scorned. The mark of a beautiful creation is not directly connected to the money it makes. But plays are written to be performed. They are performed to be appreciated, and most of us who view them are average people. We value them for the way they manipulate our emotions or how well we identify with a character.
We expect a play to have some sort of universal application or appeal. If it doesn't affect us or convince us of anything, it hasn't been fully successful. Of course the play can have intense personal value to its author. Similarily, the entries I write in my diary each night may not be profoundly literary, but they are very valuable to me. The difference is, I'm not trying to perform my diary entries. I'm not performing them on a stage, placing them before an audience and expecting an agreeable response.
Therefore, I feel perfectly justified in responding to a play as a typical audience member. My intention is never to hurt feelings. When I criticize an actor, it is his performance I am reacting to, not his personality.
I ask people to remember this. When writing a protest to the way I have "cruelly" judged someone's performance, which happens to be his passion and his personal art form, remember that my writing is also my passion and my personal art form. They deserve equal respect.
. is a weekly column where an arts reporter airs a personal opinion, literary or otherwise Read Next Article