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Monday, February 26, 2007

On Exiting at Intermission

posted by on February 26 at 14:50 PM

In this week’s theater section, I gave Craig Trolli and his theater company Bad Actor Productions a two-sentence review:

Super Females
Bad Actor Productions at Northwest Actors Studio
Through March 3.

An alleged comedy about a day spa in “Oceanattle.” The production company is aptly named. BRENDAN KILEY

Understandably, Mr. Trolli and his pals are a little upset, accusing me on his livejournal blog of being “lazy” and “too cool for stool [sic—or sick].”

I know where you’re coming from, Craig. I used to think it was unethical and lazy to leave a play before it was over. For years, I proudly suffered through godawful slop to see if the second half somehow redeemed the first.

Of the hundreds of shows I’ve seen, it has never happened. Not once. Ever.

My change in thinking is recent—sometime in the last year—but I began to believe it is a critic’s prerogative to turn off the record, close the book, stop eating the meal, or leave the theater when he or she just can’t take it anymore. I don’t split often, maybe once out of two dozen events, but when I do I don’t feel even a little bit guilty. If you can’t make us believe that things are going to get better, that you are capable of giving us a payoff in the second act, you’ve failed.

Or, as David Schmader put it in his essay on the subject in 2005: “If alleged theater artists refuse to justify the attention they’ve demanded, audiences shouldn’t feel bad about withdrawing it.”

As for the two-sentence review: I could’ve gone on and on about the tremendous suckage of Super Females but Christopher had a lot to say in his review of Crumbs Are Also Bread. I thought that was a better use of the space.

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Especially if there's some attempt at a linear narrative, I've found that that if the first act hasn't drawn me in, I don't care about whatever happens in the last act, surprise element or not. The problem being that a number of playwrights who think they are not "tied to" linear narrative are simply using it badly, rather than experimenting with something altogether different in its place.

Posted by MvB | February 26, 2007 3:38 PM

Have to agree - I have seen hundreds of plays and thousands of movies, and probably only left four or five in total - but if they totally lost me and it's just not working by about the mid-point - then it's time to just leave.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 26, 2007 3:55 PM

I can't believe I stayed for all of Voices of Christmas.

Posted by Lindy | February 26, 2007 3:58 PM

I think you can pretty much tell if a play works or not in the first 20 minutes. By then the characters will either be compelling or not. A play with characters that don't work is a failure, and the only reason for sticking it out is to wait around for some possible redeeming features of the production. Nudity for instance generally helps, of course depending on the actors/actresses.
Also I think a reviewer actually does well to wax prolix [he types on regretting his sudden indulgence in pointless euphony] in bad reviews. That way those who wish to give the play a try anyways are not too turned off by the review.

Posted by kinaidos | February 26, 2007 4:01 PM

I did something similar a few years ago -- left a film fest that I was reviewing because the show was awful and the seating was physically painful. We had to balance on narrow planks of lumber, so close together some people were curled in a fetal position, while interpretive animation was thrust at us. I was criticized for reviewing a show that I left early, but there's only so many ways you can say "it stinks" -- after a certain point, a critic just doesn't need to collect any more material.

Posted by Mattymatt | February 26, 2007 4:02 PM

I love leaving stuff. It's like getting a little extra life. My girlfriend and I have a system. One of us puts out our hand with 1-5 fingers showing. Then the other person does the same. If the two hand ad up to 5 we bolt.
The giddy/naughty feeling of leaving a lecture or a play mid-stream almost makes up for the money and time spent watching crap.

Posted by tim | February 26, 2007 4:07 PM

Everyone who creates what they believe to be art wants validation. They want to be rewarded for what they've created, the effort and thought that went into it. Even if they don't receive praise, they want their work to be taken seriously and given consideration. Worse, they look to the media merely to "spread the good word" so that others will pay similar attention to what they've done.

"Everyone thinks that their baby is beautiful."

The problem is...not every baby is beautiful and not every work of art is deserving of consideration or being taken seriously--much less deserving of praise.

And, if you simply want people to be told that your art exists--buy an ad.

As a former reviewer myself, I know the draw of a perfectly worded, concise demolition of someone's hopes and dreams.

"For your album 'Shark Sandwich'--the review was just two words: Shit Sandwich"--This is Spinal Tap

It can be very easy to deliver a quick, cynical thrashing to something that may or may not deserve it.

It's also easy to gush praise upon something. To write glowingly about a triumph...anyone who has missed their "bitter poet in a coffee shop" phase can dash that off in the blink of an eye. The problem is--such heapings of positive thought can be easily dismissed, either by a self-deprecating artist or a public looking to make an decision informed by the thoughts of an outside knowledgeable source (aka Mr. Reviewer.)

The harder thing is to write a nuanced or conflicted review--and I think at some level, self-aware artists want THAT. They want to know what worked, what didn't work...and what THEY need to work on for their next effort.

I remember the article that the right honorable David Schmader wrote about the show I produced. David was neither completely dismissive nor gushing with praise over the show. I agreed with him about his criticisms (the phrase "nominal framing device" sticks with me to this day, long after the show has ended--and if I do ever put on another show, I'll make certain that the concept is better incorporated) and didn't begrudge him making his opinions known.

I was also amused by the fact that many of the performers in my show came up to the reviewer looking for instant praise and validation for what they'd just done on stage--while the show was still going on--and that David commented upon that in his piece in The Stranger.

It may be a simple truism, but it holds up that every kid in every school play is simply seeking their parents' love and their peers' respect.

That continues to this day.

When a reviewer doesn't give those brave little kids the love or respect that they're looking can be quite jarring. A reviewer, however, has no obligation to give unconditional love to the performers who are NOT their children.

If I can bring out my inner James Lipton--a kid in a school play getting unconditional love from their parents is never going to get better...nor is someone going to get accurate information on whether or not they'll enjoy the school play from the gushing words of a parent whose child is in the play...

We, the public, want the reviewer to help us know if we'd like what they've just seen. We, the artists, should strive to improve our efforts knowing that not everyone will simply love what we've done for the simple fact that we've done it.

My only criticism of the short negative review is as a member of the public wanting to make an informed decision. "I hated it"--only matters to me if I share your tastes and opinions. "This is why I hated it"--can help me translate your description to my own tastes.

I've enjoyed movies that reviewers I trust and understand have panned--because when reading THEIR opinion, I may see things that they didn't like as a thing that I might like...given the proper set of expectations. seems to be the case here, I understand the thinking that "If something is truly just shit, why waste the time and effort?"

At which point in time, the best response from any creator of art comes from Dr. Frank N. Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show: "I didn't make him for YOU."


Posted by pgreyy | February 26, 2007 4:47 PM

At least when you leave a movie, you're leaving a creative effort set in celluloid, or zeroes and ones. I wish critics wouldn't come to the opening of theatrical productions - too many agendas at play, and in the house, from too many quarters - and I would like them to see a performance frankly twice, before rendering judgement - verisimilitude being the tricky, elusive creature that it is. Booth wrote in the 19th century:

an actor is a sculptor who works in snow

Frozen crystals of ice are just that; each snow fort is a different wonder of creation.

Paying audiences should be completely and guiltlessly free at the interval to vacate their seat(s). I'm intrigued by the Lustrum Rule of tim and girlfriend @6, but have to wonder how many good productions of great plays kinaidos @4 may have up and left. Pozzo doesn't come on for a good half-hour; KABUL doesn't even begin until the hour of HOMEBODY has passed; Moriarty finally appears just before the act break.

No less an actor than Orson Welles once commented that the best stage roles are those spoken about by others all during the first act, only to make their mark in the second. Even in one of the best films of all time, The Third Man, Harry Lime doesn't slither into view until a good hour into the movie.

Posted by Laurence Ballard | February 26, 2007 4:50 PM

If Kinaidos (#4) left the movie "Psycho" twenty minutes in, would it have merely been "yet another robbery gone bad" movie?

Posted by pgreyy | February 26, 2007 5:02 PM

I have no issue with audiences leaving in the middle of a show (unless they try to do it, say, at Freehold, where they have to cross the stage to leave, while something is actually happening onstage). And a scathing review is fine, if it's well informed.

But I don't think a review should be printed if the reviewer doesn't stay for the whole thing. I mean, it's the reviewer's job to see the whole thing, isn't it? You could even bill it as I Sat Through This So You Don't Have To if you must, but I think if you can't stick it out through the whole thing, you shouldn't bother writing about it.

Hey - if a show is so bad that no Stranger reviewer can bear to stay to the end, why not send Our Worst Enemy Cienna?

Posted by genevieve | February 26, 2007 6:16 PM

because that would require two people to see something not worth seeing. reviewer's job is to cull so that other's don't have to. somewhere in the city, there's real work going down. see it yourself if you want completeness.

Posted by 9 times | February 26, 2007 6:33 PM

Of course the one piece that is missing is this: what about the rest of the audience? Was it a full house of hysterical people loving the show or was it sparsely attended, no one laughing? The audience reaction should be all that the theater artist cares about and the reviewer (Brendan) is an audience of one. All reviewers have hated shows that the audience loved and every theater should resist playing to the critic. If every artist where to play to The Stranger, then every theater would be WET, wouldn’t it? (on offense to WET, they are lucky to have such vocal media support, wouldn’t we all).

With that in mind, theater artists shouldn’t be afraid to fail artistically (i.e. produce a very bad show). Our failures are the foundation upon which we build something greater. No one goes into a production saying, “This will be the worst piece of crap ever” – at least not in Seattle when there are few jobs that are available to take for the money. A failure merely demonstrates the conviction of one’s artistry (which may just happen to be painfully terrible). If you are the audience and it is a failure, leave! Critic or no critic. There certainly are plays that have better Act 2 than an Act 1 but it’s only in sports where something that is failing deserves another chance because, “they are due”.

I don’t think there should be any obligation in theater. Both laugher and condemnation are infectious. I have certainly seen and Act 2 audience loosen up after an Act 1 hater has left the building. Everybody wins in that situation.

Posted by GDC | February 26, 2007 7:07 PM

Do your job and watch the whole show. I mean you already get to tell everybody how bad it is in print.
I'd love to be able to expect more from you people.

Posted by forserio | February 26, 2007 8:20 PM

I personally stay until the last bitter moment in all truly awful shows, but that's so that I can cite the very most heinous line or moment in the entire play. No praise-hungry actor or director should want me to do that, n'est-ce pas?

The truth is, Mr. Trolli would have been far more upset had Brendan written nothing at all. He's milking the Stranger's disapproval for all it's worth, and more power to him.

About some works of art, the less said the better. I'm writing a movie review of a comedy about ovarian cancer (!) that belongs to this exact category. It's going in Film Shorts, and none of you will even notice.

Posted by annie | February 26, 2007 9:00 PM

All well and good, Brendan, but if you're going to selectively quote his blog, show some courtesy (or is it balls?) and include a link to the original post.

Posted by Sean | February 26, 2007 10:43 PM


Mr. Trolli used to do some very witty cartoons lampooning the Stranger.

Dreary old payback I fear.....from the dreary old Paybackers.

Or maybe just the generation gap showing, new lions pissing all around and old lions growling sort of thing.

Posted by eric | February 27, 2007 12:29 AM

I think the real issue here is how incredibly childish and petty it is for Brendon to post this on the slog in the first place. A livejournal entry is generally for friends alone, and so Craig bitching about you in that forum is totally acceptable. But you posting about this on the Slog is like being a bully on a playground. You've not only torn apart their play (which was totally acceptable) but done your best to humiliate an individual in front of half the damn city.


Posted by kasa | February 27, 2007 9:24 AM

"A livejournal entry is generally for friends alone"

If its on the internet...

Posted by bodoo | February 27, 2007 9:34 AM

So you are saying that it is not childish and petty for someone to bitch and whine about someone else on their public blog so long as very few people read it.

Is there a specific number of actual readers that blog must be limited to before it loses it's moral superiority?

Or in other words the childishness and pettiness of something has nothing to do with content or context but how many people are paying attention.

Posted by GDC | February 27, 2007 10:36 AM

Um, the livejournal in question is clearly not a personal diary. And you can lock livejournal entries if you don't want them to be public.

Posted by annie | February 27, 2007 11:02 AM

come on. don't be ridiculous. of course a critic should leave midway through if a show sucks. especially if it's a play. any fool can see when a play won't get better. it's like expecting a daguerrotype to turn into a painting. good for you, brendan. bad for you, theater.

Posted by SEAN NELSON, EMERITUS | February 27, 2007 11:10 AM

oh please. This "blog" is not equivalent to someone else's "blog." This is the on-line extension of a NEWSPAPER, ladies and gentlemen, though you could also argue that The Stranger has always been something of an in-print blog, seeing as editing is at a minimum and personal opinion is at a premium.

The Stranger, like Richard Nixon, sees enemies everywhere. Even an actor/producer who DARES to post on-line, saying that a two-line review of his show is perhaps less than adequate, somehow must be dealt with. Annie, Brendan, and the rest of you: grow up.
Or at least pick on blogs your own size.

Posted by Sam Chanderson | February 27, 2007 4:24 PM

If the reviewer has to leave at intermission, that's all well and fine. I do say it's lazy, however, particularly if you fail to mention that you left. You left, you hated it. Great. But do you mention the wild applause, the general buzz of the crowd AT intermission, etc?

Posted by Ellen | March 4, 2007 2:57 AM

If a show sucks a show sucks! Reviewer or not you have a right to leave something you consider unpleasant- and what i've hear super females was extraordinairily UNPLEASANT.

ppgrey said it all for me with his quote

"Everyone thinks that their baby is beautiful.The problem is...not every baby is beautiful and not every work of art is deserving of consideration or being taken seriously--much less deserving of praise."

You go Brendan!

P.S. You weren't the only one to walk out of this show!

Posted by Lola | March 5, 2007 9:46 AM

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