"If the clan in this play had been Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or Buddhist, no theater would have touched it" [Tent Meeting review by Mary Shen Barnidge, Section 2, May 11]. How could the play have been about Jews, Catholics, Muslims, or Buddhists, considering it's set in postwar Arkansas, and it centers around a family's journey to hold a Baptist tent meeting? Why even make such a nonsensical comment at the top of the review? And not just because it smacks of the sort of politically correct quasi-liberal writing that some believe passes for "intelligent discourse," but because it simply makes no sense in the context of this show. The writer seems to imply that a theater would not do a show about Jews, Catholics, Muslims, or Buddhists, but does not say why. Could it be because evangelical Christians being the dominant religion in the United States (and the proclaimed religion of our current "emperor in chief"), that it wouldn't be as funny to have such a story (again, out of context) about Jews, Catholics, Muslims, or Buddhists? Does the reviewer miss the obvious fact that it's simply funnier to make fun of those at the top? Surely she isn't that dense.
Ms. Barnbidge then goes on to insult the very people she seems to be defending in her opening sentence by calling them "stereotypical rubes," "caricatures," and "ham-handed." I was born and raised in (andluckily, escaped to Chicago from) the south, as were the authors of the show. Perhaps Ms. Bainbridge has not ventured south of the Mason-Dixon line in her travels; let me tell you that if anything, the characters in Tent Meeting are SUBTLE in comparison to real people such as these that one might meet in the Bible Belt. Please note that it isn't called the "Talmud Sash," the "Missal Cummerbund," the "Qur'an Girdle" or the "Tipitaka Fanny Pack." It's the BIBLE Belt. Some stereotypes and caricatures are true, unfortunately. The show merely reflects the character and mores of a period in the south. One wonders if Ms. Bainbridge, upon seeing Macbeth, would have decried the violent portrayal of 17th-century Scots. Theater is a reflection of life, not life itself. I can only hope that this reviewer realizes this before seeing a show that might cause her serious damage.
Having a Reader critic marginalize a play (and through that, insult the hard work of the actors, director, and technical staff involved with the show) simply because the reviewer in question lacks any understanding of a show's subject matter is not new territory for your publication, or indeed, for this particular reviewer. I can only hope that Ms. Bainbride's terribly inaccurate and off-base review does not keep theatergoers from seeing this gem of a show. The only ham-handedness in this particular situation is on the part of the reviewer.