Reading a recent review of Frump Tucker Theatre Company's production of Reckless [November 24] spurred me to ask "Where's the beef?"--the meat of the criticism, of course.
What I did read, however, was an attack of the director's past side projects, a jokey putdown of the theater company's name, and a clever parallel to high school theater--all anecdotes that would make any aspiring curmudgeon clap their hands with joy but alas, does nothing to further the art of insightful theater criticism or even provide a reader with a clue to what the play was about.
I also attended Reckless early in its run and witnessed some limp direction in parts but watched a wonderful troupe of highly comedic actors fighting to soar above an outdated, sitcom-ish script. Even as my sole opinion, that single sentence alone was far more complex than anything I read in the Reader's recent three-paragraph review.
Should Mr. Helbig or any Reader reviewer loathe a production with the same fire of one that he or she loves? Absolutely. We expect it. But true criticism is hardly a string of zippy one-liners and gleeful put-downs. First, petty insults are insulting to the reader because they've wasted their time searching for an intelligent response to a show but have instead found themselves muddled within the reviewer's own desire to pontificate, not probe. Secondly--and perhaps most importantly--mean-spirited reviews are most insulting to the players involved in the show because their laborious work is presented in such a vicious and disrespectful light that it endorses a throwaway attitude towards the Chicago theater community instead of a nurturing, constructive one it so direly deserves.
The one who may suffer the most by a review like this is Mr. Helbig himself. In his words, such a "lifeless . . . lousy, blandly" written review prompts the reader to think: If a critic has had their share of bad theater and has replaced a basic respect for the people who work at it with nothing but bitterness and self-serving sarcasm, isn't it time to take some time off?