The Five Warning Signs of Lowbrow Criticism | Letters | Chicago Reader

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The Five Warning Signs of Lowbrow Criticism

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To the editors:

In response to Mary Shen Barnidge's overtly bitter review of Big Fun's Howard Be Thy Name [March 16], I must speak out against reviews as low-brow as this. While she raised a few valid points (yes, there were too many gunshots, yes, there were too many TV parodies), Ms. Barnidge quickly lapsed into blasting the show without substantiating any accusations. Is having one scene about Rhett Butler really a fool-proof barometer of comedic quality, period? Are two scenes with a person breaking down and weeping so rigidly inexcusable? I wish she had told us what took place in those scenes, why someone was crying, instead of simply checking off a list of ingredients in her no-no book.

Please, Ms. Barnidge, I read your reviews for a synopsis of a production's quality, not quantity. Filing a hate-list doesn't convince me that your attitude is that clear-headed. Anyone can churn out a hate-list for any production, at any time, and apparently, for any reason: Twelve Angry Men is appallingly sexist, Long Day's Journey Into Night has too many drunk scenes, and A Midsummer Night's Dream has (gasp) puns on the word "ass." I.e.: these acts are also in trouble. Heed the "warning signs."

I saw Howard Be Thy Name on its closing night, and found the show witty and surprisingly fresh. But it seems evident that it was doomed from the moment Ms. Barnidge walked into the Roxy. Either she was thoroughly missing the point (her misinterpretation of one scene as sexist marks a low point in the history of Reader criticism) or there must have been quite a chip on her shoulder over that rather arrogant invitation she reprinted in the review.

I feel compelled to print my own list. . . Warning signs for theater reviews, or you know there's something fishy going on when the review contains: 1) not one mention of any acting, directing, or tech production in the slightest, 2) a critique of the show's Playbill, 3) a critique of the invitation letter, 4) at least one gross factual inaccuracy (she wrote off a parody of the McLaughlin Group because it was based on a "daytime television program"; the McLaughlin Group airs on Saturday evenings at 6:30 pm), and 5) short-phrase synopses (such as the one depicting Jesus as a "personal servant, excuse me, savior") placing more emphasis on being sardonic than on informing her readers of what she is supposed to be critiquing.

Just who's the comedian here, anyway? I doubt many readers could laugh this one off.

Lisa Jassmen

Evanston

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