To the editors:
As an avid theatergoer and longtime "reader" of your publication, I am writing to point out a disturbing and ongoing trend evident among those charged with criticizing local theatrical productions and the work of the various professionals involved in local theater. While all Reader reviews include the words "in this production," generally there is little if any mention made of a production's technical aspects. Glaring examples of "criticism by omission" can be found in the November 12 edition of the Reader. In all, 12 productions are reviewed by eight critics. Only two devote more than a sentence or two to the lighting, sound, staging, choreography, or costuming. Of the dozens of technical professionals involved in these plays, only three are mentioned by name.
No one will argue that a review should focus on criticisms of the director's artistic vision, the actors' performances, and the script. However, these important aspects cannot be fully discussed without reference to the physical production. Left to their own devices, the readers of this kind of review are left wondering whether or not the actors appeared motionless in street clothes on an empty, unlit stage.
Specifically, compare Josefa Smith's review of Rubber Dolly to Lawrence Bommer's piece on The Master and Margarita. Smith makes an honest effort to criticize the physical look of the production, and in so doing she relays to the readers a sense of the entire theatrical experience. Bommer's only reference to the technical aspects of the production is a brief mention that the lead actress appears onstage naked during the performance. Having seen this play, I can say that among the several glaring technical omissions in the review is that no mention is made of the stunning effect created by the collaboration between Hillary Mac Austin (actress), Rick Helweg (director) and Kate Mitchell (costume designer) which makes the five foot tall Mac Austin appear to be a seven foot tall giant.
I have no personal axe to grind. I am not in any way involved in local theater. However, over time I have had the opportunity to meet several local theater professionals and I sympathize with their frustration that their efforts often go unnoticed, and therefore unappreciated. I believe that your readership is better served by including criticism of all aspects of a production, good and bad, in Reader reviews.
Give credit and criticism where they are due.
Michael S. Murphy
West Rogers Park