Several people are upset and have written to SFGN over the tag “WTF?!?” as part of a headline in an art review. Angry they are.
I don’t disagree that it stings, but that is why writers who review theater are called critics. Don’t be offended. Generally, no one really likes critics. Once asked to donate $10 dollars to help bury one, Milton Berle replied, “Here’s $20. Bury two.”
SFGN, distributed for free to you, has been reviewing theater in South Florida for over 10 years. One week before the review at issue, SFGN even spent half-page profiling the author’s world premiere at Island City Stage, just one of our town’s many terrific, magical local community theaters. Not every headline or story will salute a singular production though. Don’t expect it to.
Would you think any producer launching any production anywhere might have been happier with a headline that read: “Not an Easy Play to Watch”?
What if a review began with the headline “New Show is an Old Mess”? Would anyone have praised that? Caustic commentary is just that: caustic and biting.
Critics can be brutal, but heck, you can review the reviewer too. Michael Goodman does this week in a letter to the editor. We want to hear your competing thoughts, and respect divergent voices. We don’t hide from them. We print them.
JW Arnold is an award-winning writer who SFGN is fortunate to have as our theater reviewer. He is one of the best, but please, make your own call. The same play that our talented critic panned, dozens of others have praised on Facebook.
We have a wealth of shows and theaters, even restaurants, in this market and our town, for you to choose from. We want you to experience them all. There are only so many times you can see Ronnie Larsen barefoot and naked on the stage — not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love the guy and his shows, but one of his plays that had a cast of ten were all buried in one very small plot.
Percy Hammond once called dramatic criticism “venom from contented rattlesnakes.” Critics search for failure, highlighting planes that crash, cookies that crumble while you are baking them. That's what they do.
I have collected many biting remarks from reviewers over the years, like the journalist who wrote of one play, “The trouble with this show is that the theater is constructed improperly; the seats face the stage.”
Groucho Marx had a similar comment when he stated he “saw the show at a disadvantage. The curtain was up.” Sometimes those critics can get personal too, like the day a Dolly Parton show was reviewed with the comment that “she has one more bust than she needs.”
Anyway, neither SFGN nor our critic, JW Arnold, intended to hurt a great community theater or talented actors with a stinging headline that has apparently struck a nerve. But it was nicer than Dorothy Parker’s review of a young Katherine Hepburn’s performance in The Lake: “She ran the gamut of emotion from A to B.”
You can’t be thin-skinned in an industry that depends on exposing your craft and yourself to the public nightly. You gotta bite the bullet. One of my friends just said about a new Broadway show he hated, "I envied my feet; they were asleep." It's a tough crowd out there.
Secretly, under a pseudonym — a pen name — in an earlier life, I was a theater critic. Forgive me, for I have sinned. I was even a Carbonell Awards judge in their earliest years about a half-century ago. I am that old. But be grateful for the words of your reviewers. At least they are not critiquing your home cooking. They are helping you use your money wisely and choose your food and entertainment cautiously.
Don’t hold it against SFGN if we do a critical headline or review here and there. Feel free to chirp your own song; write your own letter to us. But please, stop and say to yourself that with 12 years of publishing behind us, at 52 issues a year, at least a couple of reviews an issue, we probably have run well over a thousand of them.
Add in the openings we have covered, the actors profiled, the theaters illuminated, and between the Mirror Magazine and SFGN you have probably the best two publications covering arts and entertainment in South Florida, from Key West to Palm Beach, and that does not even include when Joe Pallant and I do Karaoke together barefoot at the Alibi.
The bottom line is that our paper, like a critic, is probably a lot like your longtime lover: he can find a little bad in the best of things.
Be kind to critics. If they don’t deserve your respect, they may at least deserve your pity.