I set this blog up as anonymous because I work in NYC theatre, I have good friends in the biz and, in general, I want to be a booster for theatre. I just want it to be better.
I tend to talk in ideas and abstracts, but sometimes the specific is good. And, frankly, sometimes, I have opinions. So I’ll be taking advantage of my anonymity and sharing some thoughts on shows I see.
I have no interest in being a reviewer, both for personal and career reasons. I don’t intend to slog anyone unnecessarily, but I might have harsh judgments and who wants that coming back to bite you in the ass. And personally, my impulse is to cheer my friends on, to generate good will, but sometimes, you have to call them as you see them.
A few years’ back, a play of mine received a particularly bad review. It was one of my first and one of the only really negative reviews I’ve ever gotten. And the writer was a fellow playwright. Of course that bad review ate at me for years, literally. I wasn’t particularly friends with the playwright in question, but our circle of friends and collaborators overlapped. And I would say to myself, whenever I saw him across a crowded room, or read about his work being produced or workshopped, I’d think to myself, I owe that guy a pop in the nose! Finally, after a benefit for some mutual friends, we found ourselves at the after party and, of course, the review came up. And, no, I didn’t pop him in the nose. He seemed more disturbed by it that I was, frankly. It was the only review he’d written and he felt terribly, not just about me, but about others involved in the same production he’d been less than kind to. Needless to say, I no longer wanted to punch him; he’d very much gotten the worse end of the deal.
I do believe in karma, so I don’t want to be in that position. But I do want to share my thoughts on what’s actually happening on New York stages, as I see it. So these aren’t reviews, just responses. One guy’s thoughts on shows. Always after opening and after other reviews have hit. I may be an anonymous gadfly but I’m one who follows traditions.
So I saw this show the other day and this is actually a bit kind, if you ask me. This is a company I have a lot of respect and admiration for. They fill a vital place in the playwriting world. The scariest moments in a playwright’s life are the ones right after you leave a university program and are left to your own devices. The support and opportunities they provide are unbeatable. So this isn’t meant to tear it down in any way. And the show is slick and entertaining and a ton of fun. I have nothing against entertainment or fun, especially in theatre.
But…I felt they could do better. Ask for more from some very talented writers. Push them harder. Expand the playing field. The oldest cliché in writing, “write what you know” is as much axiom as advice: you write what you know. And, inevitably, young writers come back to two subjects: parents and sex. This particular evening is full of both: out-of-touch parents, bratty girls and sullen boys, sexual insecurity and awkwardness, lovers both hopeful and jaded. They’re written with varying degrees of skill and insight, but really, it’s the same story over and over, told in similar ways (naturalistic two-handers). It’s not bad, just…ordinary. One of the things I’ve loved watching this group over the years has been the variety of styles and subject matters. Read this, this and this for some background. (I link to these not as an endorsement of their content, but for the descriptions of the plays. I have my issues with the Times, to say the least.)
Not all of these plays were successful, or, in some cases, even good. But they were trying to reach past the easy stories to larger things. I was disappointed to simply be entertained at their latest show.