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I am confused about the role of a theater critic. What are their qualifications? What do they have to know about theater? Do they simply give random opinion, or do they need a background in theater? I have serious doubts to the perspicacity of one of your theater critics.

I have never attended a theater production as horrendous as a play called Popcorn, at the Profiles Theatre. This is, without a doubt, the worst piece of theater I have ever seen in my entire life. From the moment the first actor opened his mouth, screeching his first line, I thought, "My god, these people have reached a new level of awful."

Here are the reasons why the acting was bad: The first reason was that every actor literally screamed his or her lines. In a tiny venue, such as the Profiles Theatre, this actually hurt my ears. None of the actors had an objective: a personal need that must be fulfilled through the character's actions. They all used phony voices and phony line readings like bad vaudevillians. They all stunk.

Here are the reasons why the directing was bad: The director allowed, probably encouraged, the putrescent acting. The director found nothing original to say. The director failed to illuminate any super-objective of the play.

Here are the reasons why the writing was bad: It was borderline plagiarism of Natural Born Killers; it had the same plot, same male/female serial killer duo. The lines were not lines that would be naturally spoken by human beings. I am not kidding. Within ten minutes, at least half of the audience left in pure disgust, my friend and myself included. My friend wanted to leave after two or three minutes. I made her stick out ten minutes of torture.

Finally, ears almost bleeding, we retreated from the carnage.

This was a fairly expensive play, 25 dollars per ticket. We tried to get our money back from the theater, but they refused. I have never walked out on a piece of professional theater in Chicago, and have never before attempted to recoup the loss of my ticket. That should be an indication of the vileness of this production.

Here is the reason why I went to see the play: the review by Reader reviewer Jack Helbig [Theater listings, Section Two]. Mr. Helbig states, "There isn't a wrong move in [this] very funny dark comedy.... The play's targets are easy...but Elton [the playwright] manages to find something original to say about American violence....Director Patrick Wilkes...proves himself Elton's equal at every turn, [finding] just the right balance of humor and thrills." My question is, did he see the play? Was he influenced by a friendship with the theater? What was he thinking--that screaming and spitting across the stage constitutes truthful acting? Does Mr. Helbig possess any knowledge of theater?

In Mr. Helbig's review of Catch-22 at the American Theater Company [May 11], he criticizes Joseph Heller's play because of choices the director made. Mr. Helbig queries, "Why else would director John Mohrlein have underscored this American Theater Company production with merry melodies and cloying sound effects--most of them cadged from Warner Brothers cartoons--unless he felt he had to goose Heller's flagging material? Or ask his six cast members to approach the script as a romp, not a serious work of theater?" If Mr. Helbig thought those were mistakes in the production, it is a criticism of the director and not the playwright. Does he not know the difference? If the actors approached it as a romp, that is the director's vision--not the playwright's lack of talent. Why would ATC choose to do this play if they thought the script was lacking? If the sound effects and acting are not effective, it is the fault of the actors and director, not Joseph Heller.

To suggest otherwise is utter ignorance of theater.

He further states, "Micheli's portrayal [of Yossarian] never attains the existential pathos of Alan Arkin in Mike Nichols's 1970 film..." Existential pathos? Existential pathos!!!!! Any catharsis provided by the film was due to Mr. Nichols's ability and Mr. Heller's writing. Trust me, Alan Arkin was just acting truthfully, with a specific objective, he wasn't concerned with providing "existential pathos."

My theatergoing friend, a speech pathologist, said she would liken Mr. Helbig's misuse of language to the word salad characteristic of a traumatically brain injured individual suffering from fluent aphasia: words strung together in grammatical perfection without one meaningful point to be made. She is completely confused by his reviews.

Furthermore, apropos of nothing, the pastor of the church across the street from me complained about one of Mr. Helbig's reviews. It appears there is a cross section of Chicago theater patronage chagrined by Mr. Helbig.

I have seen theater in many different countries and venues: good and bad.

I've studied Shakespeare at Oxford University. I've studied classical theater at Stratford, Ontario, as well as Stratford, England. I've completed an MFA in acting from a renowned graduate school. I've taught acting at the University of North Carolina. I've worked on stage and screen. However, I have not read theater reviews this far off the mark in my life.

Thank you for your time.

Tim Klein


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