I got in some hot water when I “reviewed” a show I’d directed over the summer. I didn’t realize I was writing a review at the time, but that was the perception, so guilty as perceived. There’s no way I can honestly evaluate my recent project, The God Game (I directed and also played one of the characters.) But I knew somebody had been in the audience Saturday night with both the experience and balls to tell the truth, so I asked him if he’d write something I could publish. He turned me down, but this morning he bought me a cup of coffee and offered the following during a 90-minute conversation that covered the show and a lot of other ground.
“First of all, I’m glad you did [The God Game]. Of course, I’m wondering why you chose this particular piece. There was nothing theatrical about it. I kept imagining the three of you up there, behind podiums, giving these long speeches – that would have worked just as well…”
“You wore that white shirt, standing up there all sure of yourself. And this other guy is looking at his feet, pleading with you to do something. What’s he pleading for? You’ve already made up your mind, there’s no interaction there. But you kept looking at him, paying attention to him, which meant we had to pay attention to him. And then he kept going on, and eventually you stood up. Then you sat on the edge of your desk, because you were tired – which is very funny! The dialogue got boring, and I didn’t buy into the characters…”
“Then she put her hand on his arm, and I’m thinking, ‘Why do that? Is she making a pass at him? What’s going on here?’”
“The ending was very nice – FINALLY something theatrical besides people just entering and exiting the stage. But it was a cop-out. The playwright didn’t challenge the audience, and it felt tacked-on. But what are you going to do? At least you got to move to a new place on stage and change the lighting.”
I appreciate these comments. (I also love my fellow company members, and pray they won’t unfriend me over this.) I’ve also received other comments, which I’ve shared with the company already, but haven’t requested permission to reproduce here.
I had no idea I looked tired (I wish my director self had mentioned something. It’s true we were both tired…)
I’d considered doing The God Game as a reading. I ultimately decided that a “theatrical” presentation would engage the audience more, so it’s interesting that the critic thought the final product wasn’t theatrical enough. Surely a directorial failure – and a lot for me to think about. I’ve already written that this project was more difficult than I’d anticipated. Finding ways to move three people around the stage as they make speeches was not as simple as I’d expected.
As the title of this post says, “One guy’s opinion.” He prefaced several remarks with the disclaimer, “I don’t say any of this to be mean.” I understand – how many of my own pieces include the same (unwritten) sentiment? (He actually pointed out times I’d failed in that intention – to not be mean. I’ll be reviewing my stuff more carefully in the future because of his input.)
My critic’s main point always came back to, “Why are you doing this?” The question applies to the playwright, the director, and the actors. Sometimes I knew the answer, but it hadn’t been clear enough to the audience. Sometimes I didn’t, and I realized I should have given some things more thought. He also suggested instances from my own writing (on other topics) where I might have known a specific “why,” and chose instead to criticize based on a different take. In his opinion, it’s not fair to reference professional productions when talking about amateur shows. I’m reserving judgment on that – the informed viewer and surely directors and actors have their own references; why not bring those into the conversation? Still, let’s remember to consider it all in terms of WHY. I can get behind that.