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Excerpts from a reviled theater critic's most scathing reviews

Tom Boeker: 'This is a fungus that's festered in the back of the refrigerator for 20 years'



"If Benji were in this production, he wouldn't give a convincing performance as a dog." Medea, Black Ensemble (March 17, 1988)

"In a desperate attempt to report some favorable news about this production, I'm afraid all I can say is that the show is over in less than an hour. Also, there's a fine Chinese restaurant a couple blocks north of the theater. I recommend the orange beef, with shrimp toast as an appetizer. Bring your own wine or beer. The service, however, is slow, hopefully slow enough that you'll miss the show altogether." Four Portraits of Mothers, Fusion Theatre Group at Raven Theatre (May 19, 1988)

"Nicole Dreiske bills herself as 'internationally recognized as a major force in 20th-century theatre and education.' She also claims to have directed, taught, and/or toured her productions at either 200 or 500 (her accounts of her accomplishments conflict on this point) theaters and universities across the globe. Her program bio for Macondo begins: 'Stunning; "awesome," and "intense" are the adjectives used most often to describe the work of Nicole Dreiske.' Such a formidable estimation seems to beg for a second opinion.

"I went to Macondo expecting a dramatization of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's extraordinary novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. What I didn't expect was a total-immersion introduction to the 'Dreiske Discipline—a revolutionary new method of actor training.' Nicole Dreiske herself walked onstage before the performance and delivered a short lecture/demonstration of the method. With a curt command from Dreiske, her company of five performers sprinted onstage and raced through an absurd routine of leaps and somersaults. In between the usual twaddle about energy levels and vocal technique, Dreiske would turn to her company and bark commands like a ballet mistress. Once she had them freeze. It was sort of like Simon Says. I thought, at the time, it must be a joke.

"Then came the performance, which was a lot like the demonstration, only much, much longer.

"Sure, it's laughable and juvenile, but after a while it seems spooky. . . . It reminds you of L. Ron Hubbard or Sylvester Stallone. So, in the interest of establishing a sane and necessary dialogue, I'm going to pass on to you Dreiske's toll-free number: 800-331-6197. Give her a call sometime when you're out of town and ask her who she thinks she is. Then you'll be in a position to offer her some fresh adjectives for her bio." Macondo, Dreiske Performance Company at the Ivanhoe Theater (June 23, 1988)

"Only rarely does Alagazam stray from the fine line it walks between cliche and plagiarism into anything approximating originality.

"A few words to the authors, Tim Robbins and Adam Simon: grow up. This is not 'a political statement and a bona fide work of art.' This is a fungus that's festered in the back of the refrigerator for 20 years." Alagazam . . . After the Dog Wars, New Criminals at Blind Parrot Theater (August 23, 1988)

"Around Christmas, a lot of theaters—you know who you are—whip up something cute and confectionary in order to sponge up their share of disposable holiday income. I've often wished for some sort of poetic justice to be visited upon these mercenaries, but could never figure out what that might be. With Candyland, a prospect for revenge has arrived. Never, in my experience, has such a saccharine, exhaustively camp, consistently cloying production been mounted. All that remains is for the offending artistic directors to be rounded up and subjected to an evening of Candyland." Candyland: The Saga of Helen Brach and her Pet Poodle Sugar, Live Bait Theater (December 22, 1988)

"This play doesn't enlarge our understanding of how to deal with AIDS. This is a regression into paranoia, ignorance, and greater peril. The plague in Beirut revives misconceptions about AIDS transmission through casual contact, just when Surgeon General Koop has started to make some headway in educating the public. In Beirut there's no such thing as safe sex, which leads to the horrendous conclusion of, what the hell, why bother, just go ahead and do it anyway. . . That's why I find playwright [Alan] Bowne, although an amusing writer, an inept playwright and something of dickhead.  . . . If this is Bowne's conception of love, may he get syphilis from a toilet seat." Beirut, New Lincoln Theater (January 20, 1989)

Letter to the editor responding to the above review, February 2, 1989:

"After reading last week's review of Beirut by Tom Boeker [January 20] I feel compelled to write this semi-anonymous letter to the attention of Mr. Boeker and any reader who has ever been insulted by his reviews. . .

"I say that this letter is semi-anonymous because all that I will say about myself is that I am the Artistic Director of an off-off-loop not-for-profit theater which Mr. Boeker has reviewed several times to both good and bad notices.

"Mr. Boeker, after reading your description of Alan Bowne (Playwright of Beirut) as 'a dickhead,' I would like to go on notice with this warning: The next time you set foot into my theater, you will be thrust to center stage, mid-show, and held up to public ridicule. Believe me, there are plenty of actors and intelligent theatergoers who would like nothing more than to see you get yours live on stage.

"Everyone in the audience on the night you 'open' will have an evening of theater they will never forget. I want you to know that I don't know Mr. Bowne (though I did see and have mixed reactions to Beirut), but I have had enough of your mean-spirited and insulting reviews and I now feel it's time to strike back. Mr. Boeker, I don't wish syphilis on you, as you did on Alan Bowne, but I do hope that every time you walk into a theater to review a show, you'll wonder whether it will be your night to shine.

"I will keep my word and will review the 'performance' in this column at a later date.

"An Artistic Director TBA"

And a rare Boeker rave:

"I wouldn't have thought it possible that these two Eugene O'Neill one-acts could be performed so dynamically as monologues, but stripped of all the usual trappings of realism, including scenery and props, and even without minor characters, the language speaks eloquently for itself. Not by itself. That takes actors, like Cynthia Caponera and Bob Meyer (who also directs). I'd call their performances riveting, but that adjective has a staccato ring and an industrial bluntness that doesn't reflect the way Caponera graces her role and Meyer forges his. A noun would be more appropriate; this acting culminates in an effect, rather than simply displaying qualities. Somebody once defined acting for me as shaping one's identity through rapture. Rapture is the word." Hughie and Before Breakfast, Gare St. Lazare Players at the Royal-George Theatre (September 15, 1988)

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