Sep 12, 2008

Critical Crossover

In a microtrend worthy of note, the first two playwrights being produced in the Abingdon Theatre's new season are also theater critics: Robert Brustein, former ART director and New Republic theater critic, whose play The English Channel dramatizes the Shakespeare authorship debate, and Steven Leigh Morris, theater editor of the LA Weekly, whose Beachwood Drive grew in part out of his work years ago adapting Kushner's A Bright Room Called Day for Theatre of NOTE. Leonard Jacobs has a Back Stage piece with some noteworthy quotes about the place of the critic in the theater. Morris:
"Maybe it's a dated concept, but a critic is an investigator of the form and of the world. Critics probe, trying to understand what a play is about, what the world of a play is about. I think it was Suzan-Lori Parks who said a play is a big house and a critic is one of the people coming over to look at it. You can talk about how the house being constructed a certain way because a river flowed through it 600 years ago — and look how they used crossbeams — or you can say the walls are pink and how could they have done such a thing?"

So, much like a playwright, Morris says, "The critic's job is to investigate a feeling. I'm reluctant to pass judgment — that's not a side of criticism that interests me. It's trivial to the larger interests of a play."

The trouble with criticism, Brustein says, "is it's an extrinsic art. The poor critic is out of the room, waiting his turn, and when he gets in — I include myself in this — we don't see everything we're supposed to see."

How well I know the drill: waiting my turn to investigate a feeling, and not seeing what I'm supposed to see.

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