Thursday, December 27, 2007

50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism 6-10

6. As George Jean Nathan wrote in Passing Judgments (1935):

The quality of a critic is best to be appraised by the quality of his enemies. To analyze his worth it is only necessary to analyze the worth of those who detest him.

7. As John Mason Brown wrote in his Dramatis Personae (1963), the critic

...catechizes himself with such questions as the following, and finds asylum in the easiest answers. Is he writing to tell his public what happened and who was there? Is he only an audible member of the audience whose reaction are valuable mainly as they serve as a common denominator to what the town may think? Is he trying to help the actor and the playwright by constructive suggestions, or is he merely to describe them for prospective ticket buyers? Is he a middleman or an autocrat, a press agent or a synopsis manufacturer? Do his readers want to know what he thinks or learn about what they may like? Is he to parade his understanding or his adjectives, his knowledge or his enthusiasms? Is he to treat each production as an isolated unit, or judge it by comparative values? Is he paid to analyze technicalities or to amuse his public? Is he to turn crusader and fight for a play or a production or a group in which he believes, even when they are not ripened enough to warrant his praise, or is he to pass judgment only on the finished product? Is he to measure what he is asked to see by a general theory of the theatre, or come receptive, with his mind and body fresh for new impressions? In short—and this is more important than it may seem—is he to be a reporter, a reviewer, or a critic?

8. As Percy Hammond wrote in his But -- Is It Art? (1927):

Play reviewers are the most contented of men, although, as a rule, they profess not to be so. As you see them on first nights, sitting sullen at their machines, you fear that they are the repositories of most of the human woes. While others in the audience are indulging in applause, the critic remains grim and forbidding. He smiles not, neither does he clap his hands. Nevertheless, he is having a good time. If he likes the entertainment, he is enjoying it behind his gelid mask; and if he doesn't, he is happy in comtemplating revenge. His dejected exterior is but a part of his equipment, along with his stick, his spats, and his knowledge of Life and Aristotle. An ex-dramatic critic (Max Beerbohm, perhaps) has written that the most miserable of human beings is an ex-dramatic critic, excepting, possible, an unfrocked priest or an ex-senator of the United States.

9. As John Gassner wrote in his Theatre at the Crossroads (1963):

The proposal of those who periodically suggest that reviewers confine themselves to reporting instead of reviewing is impractical. A report also reflects an attitude (it is possible to summarize even Hamlet, as Voltaire once did, and make it seem pretty dreadful). The reader of the neutral report is unlikely to be sufficient impelling to rush to the box office. He may even construe mere reporting as a patent warning to stay away, for how could a reviewer remain neutral in encountering excellence? One solution, a producer's and press agent's dream, is that the drama critic contribute no neutrality but a contagious enthusiasm for dramatic art that will send readers pell-mell to the theatre. But the critic whose praise is indiscriminate will not hold his followers either, for no reader is likely to be subservient enough to take guidance for long from a reviewer who persistently overrates productions.

10. More from Gassner, after discussing how the critic interfaces with playwrights, directors, actors, and the like:

An effective critic ultimately commands the respect of these creators even when his criticism is negative. He earns the right to be listened to by the closeness of his reasoning, the scrupulousness of his analysis, and the interest and originality of what he has to say. It must be evident that his condemnation is not born of mere whim, prejudice or obtuseness. If his comments are astringent it is more probably that those he hurts will be in no mood to appreciate his uninvited censure. Its salutary effects are never immediately apparent; if his criticism has any vale it will be recognized only after the wound his closed. If the critic is not heeded by those who have some vested interests in the theatre of the present, he may instruct those who have none -- a new generation pressing close upon the heels of the old.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: