Sunday, April 22, 2012

Critical thinking.

I reviewed Scorched Earth for Richmond.com, and I feel a little like I murdered a puppy. Okay that's slightly dramatic. More like I kicked a puppy. I am a young writer in the Richmond community, and at this point I know a few other writers, but I still don't have a grasp on the larger literary "scene." Probably because I am not in any way a part of it. But I'd like to be one day, and I realize that I may have just imploded any hope of that by giving a negative review to the local, very successful literary "hero" David L. Robbins, whose story was the main focus of my complaints.

I wanted to love this play. Honestly. I hated that I didn't. When I sat down to write my review, I kept starting with this sentence: "I wish it were better." That was the most honest thing I could think to say. I wanted to give it a rave, to support a local writer and a Richmond World Premiere. And I tried to still support it as much as possible, because I do think it's worthy of anyone's time and that Richmonders should go to support it. But when it came down to it, I still wish it were better, and my review reflected that disappointment.

As a writer of the fiction variety (in my secret life-it even says so on my diploma! which is in my parent's basement), I couldn't get past the major flaws in the story, plotting, and characterization (on a literary level, on an entertainment level it's fun, and again, if I didn't emphasize this enough, GO SEE IT and support local theater). As I struggled with starting the review, there were moments where I wondered if I should just fudge it, so as not to piss off a whole lot of (powerful) people.

But then I told myself what I always tell myself, which is becoming increasingly more difficult as I become more familiar with theater people and start to really, really like the whole bunch of them. It's not my job to blow smoke up someone's butt, simply because that butt is particularly smoke-worthy (I apologize immediately for that analogy) It's my job to be honest.

It's just like in all those creative writing workshops, where it pained me, physically, to criticize other people's stories. I hated it so much that it was pretty much the major reason I never even considered getting an MFA in creative writing. And oddly enough I find myself faced with a similar task now. But I remind myself, as I did in those workshops, that anyone who does something creative, who puts that creativity into the universe, deserves honesty in return. Flattery, false praise-none of those things mean anything. They don't benefit anyone.

We have to be honest. And sometimes it sucks. Because I also remember being on the other end of that "honesty", going home and weeping for 24 hours after particularly brutal workshops. I would get angry, convince myself that my art was so MISUNDERSTOOD (I was 21 after all). But eventually, I would accept that my classmates weren't evil or mean or cruel. They were honest. They had to be.

All of this is to say, sometimes it's really hard to be honest. Especially for someone raised Catholic and who tends to be overcome by soul crushing guilt on a daily basis.

9 comments:

eraserhead said...

I hope no one holds this review against you. Honesty and an aversion to smoke-blowing is all too rare. At least you were not snarky, dismissive or just downright unpleasant, as some reviewers in this town can be.

Anonymous said...

I agree with eraserhead. I think that when you have an opinion and use examples that is the best form of criticism. When the review of one of my shows comes out and they ramble about not likeing something, but dont explain why, that is the real tragedy. If we know what specifically was not successful, we professionals can take that feedback and use it to make our work down the road that much more successful!

Anonymous said...

Frankly, your review WAS snarky. You wrote it not like a review but like a personal blog on your Facebook page.

An example: I found myself witnessing more hairpin twists and turns than a telenovela. I could even hear people around me whisper their "whodunit" guesses ("It was the sheriff. No, the preacher, with the candlestick in the library!").

This is indicative of, as you admit, your lack of knowledge and experience about live theatre, and the actual role of a review. Your job is not to carp and make snide, lighthearted swipes but to work seriously to improve the theater with your observations. You indulged yourself at the expense of the play, and frankly, made yourself look as callow and uninformed as out turns out you actually are.

How often, for instance, can you go to a show where the audience actually does what you complained about, make guesses about the plot, whisper to their comrades those guesses, stay so involved in the action that they can't help but express themselves? And a dozen other ill-thought out and poorly expressed comments in your review. Study theater, attend all you can, work on your craft and your respect for that of others. And the next time a world premiere comes your way, pass on reviewing it unless you truly believe yourself ready and capable of being among the first on the planet to comment.

Word of mouth about this play has made it a very successful run. You were right: no one read your review and no one who did acted on your advise.

Come back to the theater when you have mature ways to express yourself, and a better catalog of experience in the theater to draw from.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I knew 'ol David Robbins "back when," and find it fascinating that he has achieved the level of success that you all seem to believe he has. Your review was well written and thoughtful--don't sell yourself short nor take to heart the snarky ideas of one commenter here. Success in writing (as in any field) does not always depend entirely upon talent, but most likely upon whose arse you kiss. But offending him and his pals is far less likely to hamper your future career than offending people who are in a position to publish you.

liz ramsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liz ramsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave T said...

So, guessing from the comment a few above this one, David Robbins reads your blog!?!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Naive Dave T, Mr. Robbins would most likely read ANYTHING that a google search of his name would turn up--which would be the case with this blog.

liz ramsay said...

Dave, I was thinking the same thing.

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